Category Archives: War film

Lee Marvin: 10 essential films

Prime CutThe iconic American actor, Lee Marvin was born today, February 19, 1924. To celebrate the occasion, my latest piece for the British Film Institute looks at his 10 essential movies.

You can check out the piece in full here at the British Film Institute site.

The 50th anniversary of Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers

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The most disturbing aspect of viewing Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers half a century after its release is how familiar the images of the civil conflict involving Western soldiers in an Arab country now feel.

The strange sense of familiarity kicks in from the very beginning, a small, dingy cell where white men in military uniform stand over an Arab male. The traumatised look on his face tells us the Arab has been tortured. That he has given his captors information against his will only adds to the pain and shame etched on his bruised features. His captors dress him in one of their uniforms and take him as they raid an apartment block, no doubt based on the information he has revealed. The soldiers identify a hidden section in one of the apartments where two men, a woman and a child hide. The soldiers wire it with explosives and threaten to detonate unless those hiding surrender.

A decade and a half of reportage on the West’s military involvement in the Arab world, particularly post the mass circulation of images from Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, and their pop culture reflection in countless movies and television series give Pontecorvo’s chilling iconography of civil strife and military repression an almost everyday feel.… Read more

The 10 essential films of Stanley Baker

Stanley Baker in Val Guest's 1960 thriller Hell Is a City.Welsh born actor Stanley Baker didn’t live to see his 50th birthday, but he left an impressive body of work. Like his friend Richard Burton, he escaped life as a coalminer for acting after a chance sighting in a school play by the casting director of Ealing Studios led to Baker’s first role in the 1943 war drama, Undercover. His rugged physique and hard grace meant he was most often cast as the tough guy in crime movies and spearheaded the evolution of the British film criminal from the gentlemen thief to more ruthless figures, often working-class, in films such Hell Drivers (1957), Joseph Losey’s The Criminal and Peter Yate’s 1967 heist film, Robbery.

Last weekend he would have been 88, were he still alive. To mark his career, I have a piece on the British Film Institute site looking at his 10 essential films. You can read it in full here.

American Snipers

Deadly Tower

Watching Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper (2015) reminded me of Sunday nights spent in front of the television with my parents in the late seventies and early eighties.  It was a time before the plethora of viewing options available now and  the Sunday movie was a big deal, sometimes the highlight of the week’s viewing. Commercial television was my parent’s drug of choice. More often than not, it seemed, the movie on offer was a war film.

American Sniper is about the life of Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), a former US Navy Seal and one of the most lethal snipers in US military history. It is recorded that he had as many as a 160 ‘confirmed kills’, which were accumulated during four tours of duty in the second Iraq war. The film is based on a bestselling book of the same name that Kyle helped write (which I have not read). Prior to watching the film, I’d heard about the controversy around  it, including numerous claims it is little more than a pro-Iraq war, Republican Hawk propaganda piece. I am always sceptical when such sweeping statements are used to describe a film. Indeed, despite his conservative views, Eastwood is a veteran director  with a proven ability  to create a reasonably nuanced depiction of America’s involvement in war.… Read more