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To Victory!: 10 Classic WWII Films [3 Discs] [DVD]

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Overview

Synopsis

The Steel Claw
George Montgomery directs, stars, and co-scripts this routine, somewhat dated wartime drama set in the Philippines during World War II. Capt. John Larsen (Montgomery) has to go behind enemy lines at the beginning of the war to rescue a general from Japanese captivity. Instead of breezing through the assignment, Larsen discovers that the general has died, and it is almost impossible to get back to his rendezvous point. Filipino guerrillas help him out, but then he is handicapped by an injured woman in need of medical attention. The "steel claw" of the title is a hook that the one-handed Larsen fastens onto himself, a prosthetic straight out of Peter Pan. ~ Eleanor Mannikka, Rovi

The First of the Few
The First of the Few is a dramatization of the life of R.J. Mitchell, the aeronautical engineer who designed the Spitfire fighter plane, which saved England in the Battle of Britain. Produced, directed by, and starring Leslie Howard, with David Niven as a pilot friend of the engineer, the movie starts with the 1940 Battle of Britain and flashes back, as wing commander Geoffrey Crisp (Niven) recounts his friendship with Mitchell and the years from 1918 to 1937, across which he helped move aviation into the modern age -- starting with racing competitions after the First World War, Mitchell is depicted as a design visionary, perceiving both the possibility and then the desperate need for faster and better aircraft. The latter becomes a matter of national survival, and he sacrifices the last years of his life to perfecting the plane that makes him a legend. As with most biographical films of this era, the picture does take some liberties with fact -- Mitchell did not spend time watching and talking dreamily of birds in flight, and comparing them to the box-like bi-planes of the early 1920s; and he never visited Germany in the early Hitler years and, thus, never heard first-hand hints (or threats) about glider clubs masquerading as training units for military pilots, an event depicted here as his motivation for designing the Spitfire; and the man's own son felt that Robert Donat, rather than Leslie Howard, would have been a more accurate portrayal of Mitchell. But in the main the movie -- which was made with the approval of Mitchell's widow and son, who were present for much of the shooting -- gets the essentials correct, and is surprisingly suspenseful for a bio-pic of this type. As a result of the presence of David Niven in the cast, The First of the Few was picked up for distribution in the US by Samuel Goldwyn, who had Niven under contract, and distributed by RKO in an edited 88 minute version under the title Spitfire, by which it is best known in the United States. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi

Convoy
Clive Brook heads the cast of this low-key British war film. Brook plays the skipper of a tiny English cruiser, performing convoy duty in the north seas. A German battleship targets the cruiser for a deadly game of cat and mouse. Just when it seems that Brook and his crew will be blown out of the water, a battle squadron comes to the rescue. One of the first World War II combat films, Convoy features future stars Stewart Granger and Michael Wilding in very minor roles. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

They Raid by Night
Directed by serial specialist Spencer Gordon Bennet, They Raid by Night is a PRC "special" dealing with the activities of the commandos in WWII. Lyle Talbot plays Capt. Robert Owen, the head of a three-man commando squad who parachute into Norway to rescue an Allied general (Paul Baratoff) from a Nazi concentration camp. One of the men is Norwegian-born Von Ritter (Victor Varconi), who is reunited with his former sweetheart Inga (June Duprez). Unbeknownst to our heroes, Inga has turned "Quisling," and tips off the local Nazi commandant as to the commandos' whereabouts. Later on, Von Ritter is captured by the Gestapo and tortured into revealing the plans of his compatriots. Eventually, Owen is able to complete his mission, thanks in no small part to a local Fifth Columnist who decides to switch allegiances at the very last moment. Most of They Raid by Night is enacted in front of a grainy back-projection screen, rendering the story line even more unbelievable. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Commandos
A combined force of Italian and American commandos are ordered to attack and take over an air base in North Africa with only two days to do it. The Italian film, dubbed into English, is also known as Sullivan's Marauders. ~ John Bush, Rovi

Go for Broke!
Robert Pirosh wrote and directed this little-known World War II drama from MGM that commemorates the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a combat unit composed of Japanese-Americans who fought valiantly during World War II, with many of the actual veterans of the combat unit appearing as actors in the film. For the most part, the film follows the standard Battleground plot line -- there is Sam (Lane Nakano), the wise sergeant; Chick (George Miki), a lazy private; the enervating Ohhara (Henry Oyasato); and Tommy (Henry Nakamura), a crack sharpshooter. Van Johnson plays Lt. Michael Grayson, a bigoted Texan assigned to shape these men into a fighting unit and who learns to respect their valor and bravery. ~ Paul Brenner, Rovi

Escape from Sobibor
During WWII, Sobibor was a notorious Nazi death camp. This gripping, fact-based drama chronicles the courage of an inmate who managed the largest escape from such a place. Thanks to him, over 300 prisoners were freed. ~ Sandra Brennan, Rovi

Special Forces
Hell in Normandy is a mosaic of stock footage, haphazardly staged action sequences and subpar English-language dubbing. The film is set during World War II in the days just prior to the D-Day invasion. A special parachute unit is sent out to destroy a German flame thrower installation on Omaha Beach. Heading the operation are Peter Lee Lawrence and TV's onetime "Wild Bill Hickok", Guy Madison. The color photography in Hell in Normandy elevates its entertainment value ever so slightly. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Gung Ho!
Accepted in 1943 as standard wartime propaganda, Gung Ho can be seen today as an outrageous exercise in raging machismo. Randolph Scott plays Thorwald, a marine colonel assigned to assemble a crack squadron of fearless jungle fighters for the all-important raid on Japanese-held Makim Island (which in real life was recaptured only a few weeks before the film's release). Thorwald seems determine to select the dregs of the earth for this mission: most of his squadron is comprised of misfits, barroom brawlers, borderline psychos and outright murderers. It is suggested that these sociopaths are the only men truly qualified for the mission at hand, and by film's end the squadron members-living and dead-are lauded as true-blue patriots. Once one gets past the questionable premise, Gung Ho is a fairly exciting WWII melodrama, with a particularly thrilling climax. The film is currently available in its original form and in a computer-colorized version. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Way Ahead
The Immortal Battalion has a bit of a convoluted history. It started life as a training film, The New Lot, which ran 44 minutes. When Winston Churchill approached David Niven about creating a film that would do for the British Army what In Which We Serve had done for the Royal Navy, he contacted Carol Reed and suggested expanding The New Lot. The result, written by Eric Ambler and Peter Ustinov, was the acclaimed The Way Ahead. For its U.S. release, Way Ahead was edited to a shorter length and retitled The Immortal Battalion. In either of its feature length forms, the film is concerned with the training of a bunch of raw recruits into a capable and efficient fighting regiment. Niven stars as Jim Perry, a lieutenant and former ordinary guy who finds that he must learn to take a tough line in order to make his wildly diverse crew come together and understand the importance both of the war and of their place in it. Although it takes time and constant effort on the part of Perry and his sergeant, the eight men eventually overcome their different backgrounds and feelings, and transform themselves into a unit which performs its tasks with admirable skill and dexterity, preparing them for their battle against the Desert Fox in Africa. Told in a semi-documentary style, Battalion also features the screen debut of Trevor Howard. ~ Craig Butler, Rovi

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