SHAKO: At War, at Christmas in the Movies [UPDATED]
No, this isn’t about the war on Christmas. Veteran 4GWAR readers may remember we posted a similar list last year. We have expanded it with two movies we forgot last year — and two others we haven’t yet seen but were cited by others. We look forward to any comments, criticisms or suggestions about future listees. Enjoy, discuss and Happy Holidays.
Jingle bells, mortar shells, bullets all the way
Already gotten your fill of warm and fuzzy Holiday movies from Miracle on 34th Street to the numerous versions of A Christmas Carol (including the one starring Mister Magoo)? If so, you might want to check out one of the 10 films listed below. They are not Christmas movies per se, but they all take place during the holidays in wartime. Christmas is not the focus in any of the plots but it plays a significant role in all of them.
1. Stalag 17 (Paramount, 1953 black and white) — Hundreds of escape-minded U.S. Army sergeants find themselves confined behind barbed wire in a German POW camp during Christmas 1944. A comedy-drama deftly directed by Bill Wilder that won William Holden a best actor Oscar.
2. Battleground (MGM, 1949, black and white) — The “Battered Bastards of Bastogne” are encircled during the German breakthrough at the Battle of the Bulge. In one touching vignette, Leon Ames, as a Lutheran chaplain, gives a moving, ecumenical sermon on Christmas Day 1944.
3. The Lion in Winter (MGM, 1968, color) — King Henry II of England gathers his patricide-plotting sons and banished wife Eleanor for the Yuletide at the castle of Chinon in Medieval France. The film opens with a clash of broadswords and nearly ends with a scramble for daggers. Katherine Hepburn won her third best actress Oscar for her portrayal of scheming Queen Eleanor.
4. Castle Keep (Filmways Pictures, 1969, color) — Another war film set at Christmastime during the Battle of the Bulge. In this offbeat and downbeat picture, Burt Lancaster plays an eyepatch-wearing major in command of a band of dilettantes, goldbricks and head cases holed up for the holidays in a Medieval castle in the Ardennes Forest.
5. The Crossing (A&E Television Networks, 2000, color) — To save the faltering Revolution, General George Washington crosses the frozen Delaware River Dec. 26, 1776 to attack a regiment of Hessian mercenaries who made too merry the night before.
6. A Midnight Clear (A&M Films, 1992, color) — Still another Battle of the Bulge story. This time about a squad of U.S. soldiers who encounter a German unit of old men and boys who want to forget the war — at least for Christmas.
7. Battle of the Bulge (Warner Brothers, 1965, color) — Another movie about the Battle of the Ardennes Forest. Henry Fonda plays a mid-level Army intelligence officer trying to convince his superiors that the Germans are up to something big. But the brass, convinced the war is nearly won, are focusing on holiday preparations.
8. White Christmas (20th Century Fox, 1954, color) — We know this is already a popular Christmas movie but it does start on a Word War II European battlefield during Christmas and ends with an Army Division reunion at — wait for it — Christmastime.
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And here are two films that have been recommended, but we haven’t seen yet.
9. Joyeux Noel (SONY Pictures Classics/Nord-Ouest Productions/ Senator Film Produktion, 2005, color) — The brief unauthorized Christmas Eve truce on the Western Front during the first year of World War I.
10. Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (Universal/Recorded Picture Company/National Film Trustees/Oshima Productions, 1983, color) — Another World War II prisoner-of-war movie. In this one the camp is run by the Japanese and the POWs are mostly British.
If you have a favorite film that’s not on this list — but meets the criteria of Christmas in wartime – send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or add a comment below.
Thanks, Happy Holidays and please stay safe!
Your 4GWAR Editor
SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress or parade uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.
Entry filed under: National Security and Defense, SHAKO, Technology, Traditions, Unconventional Warfare. Tags: Army, Battle of the Bulge, Christmas in wartime, Henry II, Middle Ages, offbeat Christmas movies, prisoner-of-war camp, Revolutionary War, Topics, winter warfare, World War II.