To Hell and Back (1955)

Back at the war, To Hell and Back is the classic gold standard of biographical war pictures. Audie Murphy stars as Audie Murphy based on the book by Audie Murphy in a sterling portrayal of military courage that led the Infantryman to become one of the most decorated soldiers of WWII. The thoroughly entertaining film takes us from his early days as a poor sharecropper, abandoned by his father, all the way through his most heroic action: single-handedly repelling a German force on the edge of a forest on the border of France by using the mounted machine gun in a tank that could have exploded at any minute. Audie Murphy was a complete badass who was initially rejected by every branch except the Army because he was short and looked like a child.

The Cockleshell Heroes (1955)

Yet another war movie inspired by real-world events, José Ferrer’s movie has a definitive comic feel to it (if the video of the be-Speedoed men running around the firing range with a mine didn’t tip you off) on top of its poignant, heartbreaking story of valiant loss. It’s most prominent performance is probably from Trevor Howard, who also appeared in The Third Man.

The event the movie portrays is Operation Frankton, which saw men use military canoes (code named “Cockles”) to infiltrate the Nazi-held port of Bordeaux where the Allied crew would place limpet mines on enemy cargo ships. It’s an excellent war film with a different type of mission than you normally see fictionalized.

Wages of Fear (1953)

When looking for inspiration and masterclass advice on creating tension for Dunkirk, this is the film Nolan turned to. Which makes sense. Henri-Georges Clouzot was dynamite (or nitroglycerin in this case) when it came to crafting movies that sent you off the edge of your seat. Wages of Fear focuses on four people forced by straitened circumstance to drive trucks full of nitroglycerin over treacherous mountain roads to put out an oil well fire. Unstable explosives. Winding mountain paths. Clouzot mines this for all it’s worth, although for my money, his follow-up Les Diaboliques is the one you really need heart medication for.

Dunkirk Prologue Playing Before Kong Skull Island

The Mix

I hope this is a good blend of real-world war stories, action films, and some surprises. No doubt you’re already populating your own list with Black Hawk DownRescue Dawn and a hundred more.

If you’re really looking to branch out, consider that Dunkirk is only about 70 kilometers away from a little town called Bruges. Just saying. The guidebook says it’s a must-see.

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