FOLIO WEEKLY SALUTES THIS GREAT COLLECTION OF WWI MOVIES

November 12, 2014
by
2 mins read

Originally released a few months ago to coincide with the 100th anniversary of World War I, the new DVD collection from Warner Brothers, World War I Centennial Commemorative Collection, makes excellent viewing for film buffs anytime of the year. Veterans’ Day, however, couldn’t be more appropriate.

Starting with the latest first, Sergeant York, released roughly two months before Pearl Harbor, stars Gary Cooper as the iconic WWI hero Alvin York, who went from conscientious objector to Medal of Honor winner. Handpicked by the real-life York to star in the story, Cooper won his first Academy Award for this film under the direction of the great Howard Hawks. Ironic in hindsight, given Hawks’ future prominence in American film history, Sergeant York earned him his sole Oscar nomination over his long career.

Sticking with ironies, The Dawn Patrol (released in December 1938, three years before Pearl Harbor) was a remake of Hawks’ 1930 film of the same title, which had won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. The later version, directed by the more pedestrian Edmund Goulding, incorporates many battle scenes from the original, but flies high enough on its own. The presence of Errol Flynn at his most dashing, with good supporting work from David Niven and Basil Rathbone (with whom Flynn famously crossed swords earlier that year in The Adventures of Robin Hood), make the film. Most of the action involves banter of one kind or another among the three stars, playing aviators caught up in the derring-do and waste of the war above the trenches. Somewhat static by today’s standards, The Dawn Patrol still captures the glamour that was Flynn, at the same time focusing on the painful realities that are part of any war.

The two best films in the collection are both from the silent era. Wings (1927) won the first Academy Award for Best Picture and includes some aerial photography that’s unmatched today for its realism. A big-budget production, the film’s direction was handed over to William A. “Wild Bill” Wellman, a then-unlikely candidate whose personal experience as a WWI fighter pilot helped make Wings one of the most successful in the history of silent films. And it holds up magnificently today. A story of two pilots in love with the same girl (Clara Bow), the film also featured Gary Cooper (irony again!) in a very small role that would help catapult him to stardom. He was already scoring big time with Bow (the “It” girl) in real life.

The oldest of the four films, maybe even better than Wings, is King Vidor’s powerful The Big Parade (1925). Starring John Gilbert, one of the great silent stars best known today (somewhat unfairly) for his pairing (on- and off-screen) with Greta Garbo, The Big Parade details the horror and disillusionment of The War to End All Wars, much like the later, better-known All Quiet on the Western Front. It’s a technical masterpiece, like Wings, demonstrating the dynamic creativity of the movies before they learned to talk.

Folio is your guide to entertainment and culture around and near Jacksonville, Florida. We cover events, concerts, restaurants, theatre, sports, art, happenings, and all things about living and visiting Jax. Folio serves more than two million readers across Jacksonville and Northeast Florida, including St. Augustine, The Beaches, and Fernandina.

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