Photo: Warner Bros.

At this point, the cumulative hours of film devoted to reenacting World War II in movies (not to mention History Channel specials detailing every Hitler-related conspiracy theory dreamed up) probably outstrips the actual length of the war.

Mel Magazine’s Tim Grierson navigates the genre through a small sampling of more than half a century of WWII movies, describing not just the films themselves but also the historical context of their production and release. Each entry is broken down into two paragraphs—“What’s Going On In America?” and “What’s Going On In Hollywood?”—that pretty clearly spell out what makes the article more worthwhile than the average “best WWII films of ALL TIME” rundown.

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As Grierson puts it, “Hollywood’s evolving depiction of World War II can serve as a handy guide to what was going on in the film business, and America, at different times.” From a look at 1942’s Casablanca, made while the war itself was still being fought, through to a (slightly premature) evaluation of this month’s Dunkirk as a reaction to the current mainstreaming of far-right politics, it presents a compelling reminder of the way the culture surrounding a movie’s creation influences its view of history.

Part of what makes the WWII film endure is that there’s no “right” approach to a war that spanned the globe and whose affects are still felt in modern politics. The ways we tell the stories that make up our history are always changing, the past always shaped by the present. That said, no, there is never any reasonable explanation for a society that produces stories about Nazis flying through alternate realities in UFOs.