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100 Great War Movies: The Real History Behind the Films. By Robert Niemi. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2018. 374 p. Acid-free $94 (ISBN 978-1-4408-3385-4). E-book Available (978-1-4408-3386-1), call for pricing.

The one hundred films covered by Robert Niemi’s 100 Great War Movies: The Real History Behind the Films were selected using an eclectic array of criteria (the preferences of the author based on his experience as a film teacher, the preferences of his friends and colleagues, and a survey of numerous best-of lists), and the result is of course a rather eclectic collection of entries. Coverage includes famous well-regarded films that most readers will expect to find in a collection such as this: The Bridge on the River Kwai, From Here to Eternity, and Saving Private Ryan. But readers will also encounter films with which they may not be as familiar, such as Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence starring David Bowie, and the film adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five. The films included also cover a wide range of ideological viewpoints: from patriotic World War II–era films to more recent films that take a more skeptical view of warfare.

The aim of the book is “to present a wide sampling of the best of the genre and to provide sufficient background information about how the film came into existence and how it relates to the real history it purports to represent in either broad or very specific terms” (x). Each entry is comprised of the following sections: “Synopsis,” “Background,” “Production,” “Plot Summary,” “Reception,” and “Reel History Versus Real History.” The “Reel History Versus Real History” sections are especially interesting since they provide detailed discussion of how well or how poorly the films reflect the historical events upon which they are based. Not surprisingly, the demands for a marketable story often lead to inaccurate portrayals of people and events. A good example of this is the discussion of the movie Patton, in which the author reveals many of George S. Patton’s traits and actions the filmmakers ignored in an effort to portray Patton as a sympathetic character.

Niemi does not shy away from criticizing those whose work and ideologies he finds objectionable. This will often lead to insightful discussions such as his observations on John Wayne’s role in glamorizing combat despite Wayne’s never having served in the military. But Niemi’s antipathies can also prompt him to go out of his way to offer debatable opinions, such as his claim that Wayne would have been a poor choice for the starring role in Patton because the title character was “markedly more educated and intelligent” than Wayne (243). In his discussion of Sands of Iwo Jima, he dismisses Wayne as “rather old” for the role and credits only the screenwriters for making Wayne’s character “believably flawed” rather than the “cardboard hero he so often played” (271). Many would no doubt question this dismissive view of Wayne’s performance given Wayne’s Oscar nomination for the role.

100 Great War Movies is recommended (with the above reservation) for academic and public libraries. Libraries are also encouraged to purchase the comparable work The Hollywood War Film by Robert Eberwein (Wiley, 2009), which covers far fewer films but offers a lengthy historical overview of the war movie genre.—Edward Whatley, Instruction and Research Librarian, Georgia College & State University, Milledgeville, Georgia

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