War Movies in the 1950s

Three Came Home
Three Came Home

WWII had just ended and while the United States and Russia were busy with the Cold War, Hollywood was churning out war movies. War movies made in the fifties were based on outstanding heroics as well as POWs, which of course can easily be included in the 'heroics' title. Some of the greatest war movies of all time were made in the fifties and they included the top names in Hollywood. In my previous writing about war movies in the 1940s I include one about Audie Murphy, To Hell and Back, even though it was made in 1955 because Audie Murphy was a real life hero in WW II and starred in the movie I decided to include it in the forties. Even though I did it rightfully belongs in this writing and supports my 'heroics' theory. Additionally, I added a war movie about a particular person, Three Came Home.

Although the first color movie was made in 1918 ... a movie called Cupid Angling...color movies were very expensive to make. By the fifties, however, about half of the movies made were in color. Color was beginning to become more affordable for film makers and a new dimension was added to war movies. So half are color and half are still black and white in the fifties.

War Movies of the 1950s

Halls of Montezuma 1950
The Flying Leathernecks 1951
Operation Pacific 1951
From Here to Eternity 1953
The Caine Mutiny 1954
Paths of Glory 1957
Run Silent Run Deep 1958
Paths of Glory 1958

The Bridge on the River Kwai

From this writer's perspective one of THE greatest war movies ever made was "The Bridge On the River Kwai". It is said to be loosely based on history. I don't know exactly how loosely. However it is fact that the Burma Railway was constructed in 1942-43. Actually due to it's excellence this film was selected by the United States Library of Congress National Film Registry to be preserved. (The National Film Registry names to its list up to 25 "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant films" each year to be preserved.) The film also won seven Academy Awards.

It's about a unit of British soldiers that have been captured and sent to a Japanese prison camp. There is a battle of wits between the British Commanding Officer and the Commander of the Prison Camp. The British Officer is a true officer and believes that what he and his men undertake must be done right and with honor even if it is for the Japanese benefit. He wants the Bridge Over the River Kwai built perfectly. Though his men are horrified he remains steadfast. In the meantime an escaped prisoner, after being badly wounded is told to participate in a mission to destroy the bridge. He is horrified but since he was impersonating an officer he finds himself in a position where he can only accept the temporary assignment.

Without revealing too much more of what transpires in the movie, let me just say the British Commanding Officer comes to his senses at the very end of the movie. If for some strange reason, you haven't seen this one, I highly recommend it!

The African Queen

Many of the men reading this may not agree but another great 1950s war movie was "The African Queen". By virtue of the leading actors alone, Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn, this film is a classic, but it is the story line that raises it above other films.

Starting out in German East Africa during WWI, it is the story of a very straight-laced lady missionary and a boozing boat captain who delivers mail to their outpost. After her brother is beaten by the Germans and dies, Katherine Hepburn's character decides that she and Charley (Bogart's character) can sink a German gunboat which is on a large lake down river. Their journey down the river is one fraught with complications and many dangers. Oh yes it is a love story too but that's not what makes the film great. It's their journey to the lake.

They quarrel along the way, they have problems with weather, with Charlie's beat up steamship, but they make it to the lake. I won't divulge the ending in case you haven't seen this one but I will say it's a great ending!

Stalag 17

Another of my favorites is more of a man's war movie, Stalag 17. This one is American Airmen in a German WWII prison camp. If you've ever watched TV's "Hogan's Heroes" you have an idea of what this movie is like without all the laughs.

"The inmates spend their waking hours circumventing the boredom of prison life; at night, they attempt to arrange escapes. Despite the seriousness of the situation, Stalag 17 is as much comedy as wartime melodrama, with most of the laughs provided by Robert Strauss as the Betty Grable-obsessed "Animal" and Harvey Lembeck as Stosh's best buddy Harry. Other standouts in the all-male cast include Richard Erdman as prisoner spokesman Hoffy, Neville Brand as the scruffy Duke, Peter Graves as blonde-haired, blue-eyed "all American boy" Price, Gil Stratton as Sefton's sidekick Cookie (who also narrates the film) and Robinson Stone as the catatonic, shell-shocked Joey." (http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/stalag_17/)

The drama stands out with the suspicion of a traitor in their midst. There are tense moments and an ending you don't suspect.

Three Came Home

No look at war movies is ever complete without at least one based on a true story. "Three Came Home" starring Claudette Colbert is Agnes Newton Keith who was imprisoned in several different Japanese prisoner of war camps. She was an American writer with a British husband and young son living in Borneo. When the war breaks out they are taken prisoner, but, prison camps there were divided; one for women, one for men and one for children. I have always liked Claudette Colbert, she's done many fine comedy and dramatic roles. This is probably one of her best though the movie is not one of the most well known.

The Japanese officer in charge takes an interest in Keith but is unable to protect her from everything that happens in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. She is tortured, starved, and humiliated by the guards. This film shows the brutality and lack of any morals the Japanese soldiers displayed during the war. It also shows Mrs. Keith as a very brave woman who care deeply for her family and tries to befriend this strange Japanese officer.

According to answer.com;

Jean Negulesco has directed beautifully; there is barely a misstep in tone or pacing through the entire picture, and he has created a film that is at all times vibrant, even when it is horrific. Three is also blessed with the sensational star performance of Claudette Colbert, who is simply riveting and whose stellar presence holds the film together from beginning to end.

It was difficult to find a short video on this movie because it has moved into the Public Domain and the entire movie can be seen on the Internet.

We all know my lists are inconclusive. Why not add your comments and/or your favorite fifties war movies in the comments section?

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Of the four movies above, I have:

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Comments 30 comments

mjboomer profile image

mjboomer 4 years ago from Oregon

Great Old Movies.....I recall hiding under the dining table to watch them because they came on TV after my bedtime....

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

All good movies but of these, The African Queen is my favourite; I never get sick of seeing it.

Voted up etc.

fpherj48 profile image

fpherj48 4 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

Till....These hubs obvioulsy require a good deal of time doing research.....and you have done an incredible job on both, movies through the 40's and this one.

I could repeat my comment again about not especially liking war movies, but I have seen African Queen more than once and love it.....I believe it has a lot to do with the cast, especially Katherine Hepburn. She was beyond brilliant as an actress.....even as she aged, she had great roles (On Golden Pond...love this!!)

Although I saw none of the movies you listed (that I can recall)....I read both books, "From Here to Eternity" and "the Caine Mutiny."

Excellent as always, my friend! Voted UP ++

billybuc profile image

billybuc 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

I agree with Paula, Mary...you do a wonderful job of researching on these hubs, something I'm not good at at all. Great hub and I'm a little bothered that I have seen every one of these movies...says something about my age for sure.

xstatic profile image

xstatic 4 years ago from Eugene, Oregon

Really a grea Hub! I love old movies like the ones mentioned. One made in 1950, starring Tyrone Power is one of my favorites-- American Guerrilla In the Philippines. Another, from 1955, is a Marine war film from a novel by Leon Uris called Battle Cry, starring Aldo Ray, Van Heflin, and a very young Tab Hunter.

UP for sure on this one.

joanveronica profile image

joanveronica 4 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

Hi, wonderful Hub, I have seen several of these, at the time they were produced, actually! The African Queen is clear in my mind and so is The Bridge... Wonderful movies, thanks for bringing them to mind! Voted up, awesome, beautiful and interesting,

Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England

Excellent article. I never really thought of The African Queen as a war movie before. River Kwai and Stalag 17 are films I watch every year. Have to admit I've never seen Three Came Home.

Thanks for the link.

Voted Up and Interesting.

profile image

iamaudraleigh 4 years ago

Hi there! I really like movie hubs. Stalag 17 i a great movie that I have seen several times! Have you ever seen the war movie "Mr. Roberts"?

Voted this great hub up!

tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York Author

Mjboomer, I would imagine as a child these movies could be very scary. Except for the ones meant to be lighthearted they are not exactly 'sunny' movies.

Jools, I have a feeling African Queen is a favorite of many!

Effer, I've never had a problem with research. I guess I like 'digging'! Hepburn was irreplaceable...there will never be another actress of her caliber. Three Came Home can be hard to watch at times but is a really good movie. (I'm just saying.)

Billy this is not a hub about age, if it was I'd be right there with you ;)

Xstatic are you a war movie fan? I don't remember American Guerrilla but do remember Battle Cry.

Joanveronica thanks for the vote. Those are two of my favorites!

Steve you really should see Three Came Home. It is an excellent movie but not your typical war movie since it focuses on a civilian.

Loved Mr.Roberts Audra, can't even count the times I've seen it. Cagney is one of my all time favorite actors and Henry Fonda is great too!

Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

Hi, great films, I haven't seen Three Come Home, but I do love these old films. My favorite film from way back then was A Matter Of Life And Death with David Niven. He was a pilot who bailed out of the plane without a shute, but lived and then he kept getting 'time slips' happen to him. Time would stop and he would see a french 18th century guy appear and talk to him, saying he was on borrowed time. It was brilliant, if you haven't seen it you should try to find it, it was great for its time, and the 'time' stopping moments were done really well, I think it was the fifties, maybe forties? loved this, cheers nell

tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York Author

I don't remember that one Nell. I will have to try it as I always liked David Niven and his films. It sounds like a really good one.

fpherj48 profile image

fpherj48 4 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

Yes, Til...I see you do like digging! For research AND in the garden......maybe you were an archeologist in a former life!

tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York Author

I never thought of that Effer, but I bet you're right!!

moonlake profile image

moonlake 4 years ago from America

I have seen all of them. I now love to watch them but when I was younger war back than seemed so close I didn't like watching war movies. Voted Up.

tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York Author

I have to agree. I actually didn't start to appreciate them until I was an adult. Thanks for stopping by Moonlake.

CrisSp profile image

CrisSp 4 years ago from Sky Is The Limit Adventure

Curious...I've noted all the films recommended here and will be watching them whenever I get the chance. Will start off with, "The Bridge On the River Kwai". Thanks for this great hub. I found some old yet new films for me to enjoy.

tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York Author

I think they're all good films and you'll enjoy them. Bridge on the River Kwai is a really good one to start with, but they're all good.

Cogerson profile image

Cogerson 4 years ago from Virginia

My dad loved The Bridge on the River Kwai and Stalag 17.....as he seemed to like William Holden movies. My grandmother loved The African Queen.....that and Wizard of Oz were the only two movies she owned on VHS. So needless to say I have watched these three movies lots of times. The only I have not only not seen but only have a vague memory of is Three Came Home....but I will be sure to include it on my list of movies to watch....voted up and awesome....I have really enjoyed reading your movie hubs....keep up the great work.

tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York Author

Thanks Cogerson, coming from you a compliment on my movie hubs is very appreciated!

ThoughtSandwiches profile image

ThoughtSandwiches 4 years ago from Reno, Nevada


It would appear that (from the 50s) Stalag-17 would reign supreme in my book, I would, however, be fully willing to sign your African Queen petition. It's perhaps one of the best WW! films ever made. To show you what a nerd I am...sometimes when I'm sitting up at Lake Tahoe, I picture the German gunboat chugging towards me from around a bend. Yeah.


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York Author

I agree, obviously, Thomas, however, I question sitting at Lake Tahoe an picturing German gunboats ;) I have a feeling you do other things there as well, or hope you do ;)

xstatic profile image

xstatic 4 years ago from Eugene, Oregon

I thought about, and watched again, one of my favorite 50s war movies. It wa from a best selling novel by Irving Howe, called the Young Lions, and starred Montgomery Clift and Marlon Brando (Brando as a blonde German Army officer). Oh, Dean Martin is in it too, doing his patented drunk, but noble role. I like him anyway. Hope Lange, Barbara Rush and many familiar faces are in it too. It has a bit of a forties flavor since it was a WW II flick, and even a happy ending.

xstatic profile image

xstatic 4 years ago from Eugene, Oregon

Oooops, I misspoke about the author. It was Irwin Shaw, and a great book. ( I got an A for the book report in high school)

tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York Author

I haven't seen that one Xstatic but you can be sure I've added it to my list! Thanks for the recommendation.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 4 years ago from Dallas, Texas

Loved the run down you gave on the movie particulars. Your great review of Three Came Home makes me want to see that one I missed as a kid. These movies were the staples of our childhood trips to the theater along with dozens of other Navy war movies. I remember learning to whistle that song from The Bridge On the River Kwai. Anything playing that starred Humphrey Bogart, Ward Bond, John Wayne, Spencer Tracy, Van Johnson and countless others of the era, my Dad was up for the show. Thanks for the great trip down memory lane!

tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York Author

Glad I could bring you down memory lane. Though the movie subjects are sad Peg, the memories are good. Thanks for stopping by.

rcrumple profile image

rcrumple 4 years ago from Kentucky

When I looked to the movie listings in the box, I didn't see my one of my favorites listed. Then, the very next time I scrolled, there it was, "Stalag 17." However, you also have listed my favorite movie of all time in any genre, "The African Queen." The whistling tune "The Colonel Bogey March" is echoing in my head now! lol And, even though I'm rambling, who can forget Bogart's speech about the strawberries while he rattled the marbles in his hand in "The Caine Mutiny?" Another Great Effort!

tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York Author

Its great when you ramble ! I cannot believe I forgot "Stalag 17" I thought that was a great movie and William Holden did a great job being the guilty but not guilty guy...it really ticked me off when they beat him up...uh oh, now I'm rambling.

rcrumple profile image

rcrumple 4 years ago from Kentucky

I rambled so rapidly, I forgot to mention the whistling was from "The Bridge On The River Kwai." See what your hub did to me! lol Great Stuff!

tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York Author

I've been trying to teach my bird that song but he's stuck on Happy Birthday ;)

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    Mary Craig (tillsontitan)945 Followers
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    Mary has been a movie fan since she was a little girl. She watched movies every night of the week on Million Dollar Theater..

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