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Dig Deeper: Award-winning History Professor Recommends Films Exploring Rarely Seen Sides of World War II

Marc Gallicchio

In celebration of the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion in Normandy, June 6, 1944, first we take a look at World War II with Marc Gallicchio, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of History, who was named a winner of the prestigious Bancroft Prize in American History and Diplomacy for his book Implacable Foes: War in the Pacific, 1944-1945.

Implaceable Foes Book Cover

Dr. Gallicchio, who is not a fan of actual war films, offered recommendations for American films that deal with aspects of war not normally captured on film. (Films are in chronological order by subject portrayed.)

The Last Emperor (1987). “This lavish film is based on the memoir of Puyi, the last emperor of China and the nominal ruler of the Japanese-created puppet state of Manchukuo. The movie takes viewers from the overthrow of the Qing dynasty in 1911 to a few years after the creation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

“The parts of the movie dealing with Japan’s takeover of Manchuria in 1931 and the subsequent creation of Manchukuo, the first acts in Japan’s invasion of China, are particularly well done.”

(AVAILABLE VIA INTERLIBRARY LOAN.)

Empire of the Sun (1987) “Directed by Steven Spielberg, the movie is based on the autobiographical novel by the same name by British science fiction writer J.G. Ballard. This movie begins just before the attack on Pearl Harbor when Japan has already been at war with China for four years.”

“As the movie opens, its central figure, a young boy named Jaime (played by Christian Bale), is living the privileged life of Englishmen in the Shanghai International Settlement. That existence abruptly ends with Japan’s attack on American and European possessions throughout the Pacific, including the Shanghai International Settlement. I included this film because it vividly portrays that period before the war before U.S. entry that many Americans rarely see depicted in film.”

(AVAILABLE VIA INTERLIBRARY LOAN.)

Letters from Iwo Jima (2006) “This is the companion film to Flags of Our Fathers, both of which were directed by Clint Eastwood. Letters from Iwo Jima tells the story of the battle from the Japanese perspective. By this time in the war, February 1945, the main Japanese objective in continuing the fighting was to make the war as costly for the Americans as they could.”

“The Japanese had long lost any hope of victory in the war. Their ultimate goal was to stave off unconditional defeat by bringing a war-weary United States to the negotiating table.  The movie does an excellent job of depicting the Japanese defensive strategy based on heavy fortification inland from the beaches. The whole island had been turned into a fortress by the time the Americans attacked.”

(AVAILABLE IN THE LIBRARY’S DVD COLLECTION.)

The Americanization of Emily (1964). “Vanity Fair called this little known gem one of the most subversive American films ever made. It stars James Garner and Julie Andrews and was based on a novel by journalist William Bradford Huie, who, coincidentally, was a war correspondent on Iwo Jima.”

“Garner plays a confirmed coward who got his first and last taste of war in the assault on Tarawa in the Pacific. From that point on, he ingeniously avoids combat and becomes an adjutant to rear admiral stationed in London before the Normandy invasion. The movie is a dark comedy enlivened by sharp provocative dialogue.”

(AVAILABLE VIA INTERLIBRARY LOAN.)


Shawn Proctor

Shawn Proctor, MFA, is communications and marketing program manager at Falvey Memorial Library, and is proud to have watched half of these films in the theater as a kid.


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Last Modified: June 5, 2019