Frank's Faves: Pearl Harbor movies

Frank's Faves: Pearl Harbor movies

"Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy ... " — Franklin Delano Roosevelt

It was 76 years ago today, and FDR was right as rain. The day of the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor was indeed a date that has lived in infamy.

And in movies.

And some of those have actually been pretty good — faves, in fact. That doesn't mean they all pass muster as 100 percent factually accurate, but they all do what movies about this particular chapter in U.S. history should do.

They remind us of a day none of us should ever forget — not only because of the awful price America paid in human lives, nor because of its historical significance in providing the pivotal event that launched this nation into the last World War — although both of those are reason enough.

But also we need to be reminded so that such a day never happens again. Sure, the Japanese are now among our closest friends and allies, so getting blindsided that way by them again is pretty unlikely. But surprise attacks? We live in an age of those, dating back to another infamous date: Sept. 11, 2001. Thus, a reminder to remain vigilant to such unprovoked, international aggression has never been more timely.

So, this Pearl Harbor Day, allow yourself to be both informed and entertained by the following faves. But be reminded as well. That's the lesson to be learned from:


— "Pearl Harbor" (2001). The critics weren't kind to this blockbuster war-romance about a love triangle between Army Air Corps pilots Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett and Navy nurse Kate Beckinsale that comes to a head just a few hours before dawn on Dec. 7, 1941. I'll admit that that part of this three-hour epic isn't what makes it one of my favorite war movies. It's director Michael Bay's eye-popping re-creation of the attack that knocks my socks off. Throw in Cuba Gooding Jr. as a cook shooting down a Japanese plane — along with Jon Voight as FDR and Alec Baldwin as Maj. Jimmy Doolittle — and finish the whole thing off by including Doolittle's bombing raid on Tokyo, and you've got yourself a fave. Maybe not the most historically faithful (the Japanese didn't attack any U.S. hospitals, for example), but a fave to remember all the same.

— "From Here to Eternity" (1953). This multi-Oscar-winner is best remembered for Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr as an Army sergeant and his commanding officer's wife rolling around in the Hawaiian surf. But it also stars Montgomery Clift and Frank Sinatra as fellow soldiers struggling with unjust, and ultimately tragic, treatment at the hands of superior officers, thus serving as a hard-hitting indictment of military life. Oh, yeah, and there's that inconvenient Japanese attack, too, to provide a bombastic climax. One might even suspect an allegorical undertone in the disillusionment and quiet deception shared by military significant others Kerr and Donna Reed in the final scene after the attack. Or not. Either way, a classic.

— "Tora! Tora! Tora!" (1970). Omit the romantic distractions, stick to the historical record and ensure fairness by sharing directing duties among a trio of U.S. and Japanese filmmakers, and you have this thoroughly engaging, Vietnam-era fave. I first saw it at a local theater with my best friend a week or so before my 12th birthday, and trust me, we didn't miss the usual Hollywood romantic treatment one bit. Still don't.

— "The Final Countdown" (1980). If war romances or straight history don't do it for you, how about science fiction? In this "alternate history" spin, Kirk Douglas and Martin Sheen sail the USS Nimitz (the real one, circa 1980) through a vortex and wind up between the Japanese armada and still-intact U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 6, 1941. Do they destroy the attackers or let history unfold without interference? Suffice to say that the predictable return of that time-warp storm at just the right (or wrong) moment fudges on the question of whether altering history is desirable or even possible, but it's an entertaining voyage all the same.

— "1941" (1979). A comedy about Pearl Harbor? Not exactly. Even going on four-score years later, there's still nothing funny about what happened on 12/7/41. But what came after? That's fair game for director Steven Spielberg and his ensemble cast in this cult fave set in Los Angeles a week after the attack. The plot is loosely based on actual events, and it stars comic faves John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd and John Candy. Banzai!

Topics (2):Film, Television