Pearl Harbor at 70: good and bad films

Pearl Harbor, HI. Thick smoke rolls out of

Pearl Harbor, HI. Thick smoke rolls out of a burning ship during the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, December 7, 1941. (Credit: History Photo/)

Today marks the 70th anniversary of one of our nation's defining tragedies: Japan's bombing of the Pearl Harbor U.S. naval station at Oahu, Hawaii, triggering America's entry into World War II.

Over those 70 years, the attack has served as the backdrop for several movies, some good, others not so good:

THE BEST

From Here to Eternity (1953) The classic, soap-operatic adaptation of the James Jones novel about U.S. Army soldiers stationed near Pearl Harbor won eight Academy Awards, including best picture, director (Fred Zinnemann), adapted screenplay (Daniel Taradash), supporting actor (Frank Sinatra, in his comeback role) and supporting actress (Donna Reed). The beach scene of Sgt. Warden (Burt Lancaster) embracing the wife (Deborah Kerr) of his commanding officer in the pounding surf is iconic.

In Harm's Way (1965) New York Times critic Bosley Crowther called it a "cliche-crowded melodrama," but director Otto Preminger's adaptation of the James Bassett novel has been lauded by others for its Pearl Harbor attack sequence and a high-powered cast, including John Wayne as a naval officer seeking redemption, Kirk Douglas as his conniving aide-de-camp, Henry Fonda, Patricia Neal and many others.

The Final Countdown (1980) Kirk Douglas, Martin Sheen and the aircraft carrier Nimitz (actually used in the film) time-travel to 1941 Pearl Harbor in this cult film that TV Guide calls "a lengthy 'Twilight Zone' episode."

 

THE IN-BETWEEN

Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970) A lavish Japanese-American coproduction that flopped here, it won an Oscar for special effects. Its war footage has been repurposed for many films, as recently as 2008's "Australia."

 

THE BAD

1941 (1979) Director Steven Spielberg's sprawling comedy misfire about a panicked Los Angeles in the wake of Pearl Harbor never recouped its $35 million budget in the United States.

Pearl Harbor (2001) Explosion impresario Michael Bay's wartime love-triangle drama with Ben Affleck, Kate Beckinsale and Josh Hartnett was a big-budget dud in critics' eyes (although it was a box-office success).

 

THE CURIOSITIES

Remember Pearl Harbor (1942) A Republic Pictures B-movie, it's no great shakes, but it's fascinating as a contemporaneous, pop-culture response to the attack of only months earlier.

I Bombed Pearl Harbor (1961) Toshiro Mifune plays a Japanese flyer who participated in the attack and later begins to doubt his government's righteousness.

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