My Favorite Tear-jerker Movies in WWII

Who doesn’t love a good tear-jerker? These dramatic movies draw you into the plot and, when something terrible happens, you can’t help but cry. During the 40’s lots of these emotional movies were made. The few listed here are ones that I’ve watched over and over.

5. The White Cliffs of Dover (1944)

This one is a real tear-jerker and maybe a little too sentimental. Starring Irene Dunn the film begins during WWII, with Nurse Dunn at a British hospital waiting for the wounded to be brought in. While she waits, in a flashback, she remembers coming to England in 1914, falling in love with an English Baronet and marrying him. World War I breaks out and the Baronet goes off to war. He is killed leaving Dunn and their baby son. When the boy grows up, he stubbornly follows in his father’s footsteps and joins the Army. I won’t give away the ending but as I said, it’s a real tear-jerker.

4. Arch of Triumph (1948)

I recently watched this one. I hadn’t seen for years. You may not have heard of it, but it is definitely worth watching. Set in Paris before the German invasion, Charles Boyer plays a doctor who is a refugee with no papers. He meets Ingrid Bergman on a rainy night and helps her find a place to stay. As the movie progresses they fall in love, but when the French deport Boyer, the impatient, flighty Bergman takes up with someone else. Boyer manages to return to Paris. He and Bergman go back and forth. And, of course, the tear-jerker ending. Boyer and Bergman give excellent performances and you’ll love the doorman.

3. Desire Me (1947)

Desire Me is another movie many have never heard of. Greer Garson plays a Parisian who fell in love with a fisherman from Britany played by Robert Mitchum. Garson remains in their cottage by the sea when Mitchum goes off to war. Captured, Mitchum spends much of the war in a German prison camp where he makes friends with the Robert Hart character. When Hart shows up at the cottage and tells Garson that he saw Mitchum killed, the news devastates Garson. Hart wants to stay and help. His uncanny knowledge of her, the cottage and the area, unsettles Garson but he explains that to stay sane in the camps Mitchum talked constantly about his wife and home. As a viewer you will sympathize with Garson, the loss of her love and the loneliness she has endured. Hart’s peculiar words and actions will have you wondering about him. I won’t spoil the ending. I’ll just say you’ll get caught up in the story and characters and you’ll have to watch to the very end.

2. I’ll Be Seeing You (1944)

In another unusual story set during WWII, Ginger Rogers plays a young woman who is serving a prison sentence for involuntary manslaughter. She’s allowed to come home for Christmas. On the train, she meets Joseph Cotton, a war veteran suffering from shell shock (what we call PTSD today). He likes her and decides to get off the train when she does. Rogers’ aunt invites the soldier over for a meal. Rogers keeps her convict status from him but her cousin, played by Shirley Temple, doesn’t like her and ends up telling her secret. The revelation spoils the budding relationship between Rogers and Cotton. Rogers fears no one will ever get past her convict status as she returns to prison only to find Cotton waiting for her. Sorry to give away the happy but poignant ending. I really love this movie because it shows how two damaged people can fall in love. I couldn’t find it available to watch anywhere. You might catch it on TCM one day. Watch it if you can.

1. Mrs. Miniver (1942)

Mrs. Miniver is my all time favorite WWII tear-jerker movie. In fact, it’s one of my favorite WWII movies ever. Set on the English home front, at the beginning of the war, Greer Garson portrays Mrs. Miniver, a beloved English housewife carrying on for her family as life changes due to the war. Walter Pigeon is Mr. Miniver, Richard Ney is their son in the RAF and Teresa Wright is their daughter-in-law. Village life in England during the war, with its cast of characters, makes a beautiful contrast to the bombings, the dangerous rescue at Dunkirk, and the threats of invasion. If you haven’t seen this movie, you’ve really missed out on a great one.

If, like me, you love romance with a dose of heartache, you will enjoy all of these movies. If you’ve read my books, you know that’s what I write and it’s what I read, too.

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My Top Five Pacific & Asia WWII Movies

Although I tend to focus on the European Theater in WWII, the world war was fought all around the globe. One theater of war that tends to be forgotten was the “CBI” or China-Burma-India Theater. Not many movies were made about this theater. “Objective, Burma!” starring Errol Flynn is set in Burma and “Flying Tigers” starring John Wayne is set in China. These are good movies, but they aren’t my favorites. My list includes non-navy films set in Hawaii, The Philippines, Burma, and islands in the Pacific.

5. From Here to Eternity (1953)

Set in Honolulu, Hawaii, in the lead up to the attack on Pearl Harbor, “From Here to Eternity” is an iconic film that everyone should see. The ensemble cast consists of Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr, Montgomery Cliff, Frank Sinatra, Donna Reed and Ernest Borgnine. There’s no way I could leave this one out of my top five.

4. Father Goose (1964)

Cary Grant (one of my favorites) plays a coast watcher alone on an island when Leslie Caron and a dozen young girls are stranded there. Grant and Caron clash as Grant has to take responsibility for a group of females. Although there are Japanese attacks on the island, this fun film could be called a Rom-Com. A very enjoyable movie.

3. Never So Few (1959)

You may not be familiar with this film, but it is one of my favorites. It stars Frank Sinatra and Steve McQueen along with Paul Henreid, Gina Lolobridgeda, Peter Lawford, Charles Bronson and Dean Jones. Set in Burma, Sinatra leads a special operations group that joins with the locals to fight the Japanese. The fighting in the jungles of Burma may remind some of Vietnam.

2. They Were Expendable (1945)

Set in The Philippines when the Japanese invade right after Pearl Harbor, it stars John Wayne, Robert Montgomery, Donna Reed and Ward Bond. Wayne and Montgomery command torpedo boats who attack the Japanese as well as serve as messengers between the islands. Reed, a nurse and Wayne’s love interest, evacuates to Corregidor. As the Japanese take over the islands, the torpedo boats are ordered to transport General MacArthur and his family to a waiting submarine. As the title suggests, these men were expendable, left to fight a guerilla war alongside the locals.

1 Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957)

Some of you may not be familiar with this film. I highly recommend that you find it and watch it. Filled with drama, action and poignant personal relationships, The movie stars Robert Mitchum as a stranded sailor who washes up on the beach of a South Pacific Island to find Deborah Kerr, a nun, its only inhabitant. Mitchum hides and protects Kerr when the Japanese occupy the island again. The movie is almost a love story except that Kerr remains loyal to her vows and Mitchum respects her decision as he sabotages the Japanese installation. Now I want to watch it again.

My Top Five WWII Home-Front Movies

Some of my favorite WW II films are set in the United States or on the “home-front.” These helped inspire me to write stories set on the “home front” as well as overseas. On the “home-front” almost everyone contributed to the war effort so there are many, many stories to be told. Here are my top five favorites in reverse order.

5. Saboteur (1942)

This Alfred Hitchcock thriller is a wartime, “home-front” movie as well as a romance. In the film Robert Cummings tries to clear his name by chasing down an arsonist only to become entangled with a spy ring trying to blow up Hoover Dam. Priscilla Lane and her uncle help him, and she becomes caught up in the action. Cummings suspects Norman Lloyd as the German spy. In New York the German sympathizers attempt to destroy a new battleship and are foiled by Cummings and Lane. They chase the spies through Radio City Music Hall. The climactic scene at the top of the Statue of Liberty is incredible, especially considering the technology of the time. Of course, Cummings and Lane get together in the end.

4. The Clock (1945)

This movie is definitely a wartime love story. Judy Garland accidently trips over Robert Walker’s foot in Pennsylvania Station. He’s on 48 hours leave before he has to ship out. He asks her out that evening, and they agree to meet under the Clock at the Astor Hotel. After dinner they end up spending the night delivering milk then have breakfast with the milkman and his wife. Garland and Walker become separated in a crowded subway and desperately try to find each other without knowing last names. Back at the train station they reunite and Walker asks Garland to marry him. They spend his last day of leave fighting red tape to get married before he leaves. Then they must say good-bye until he returns from the war. (Tear-jerker time)

3. The Human Comedy (1943)

Mickey Rooney stars as a teenager in a small town who delivers telegrams for Western Union. The poignant drama depicts the human side of war as Mickey delivers the news of a loved one lost in battle, while his own brother is serving overseas. A romance between his boss and a local girl stalls when he joins the military and leaves for service. Over time the whole town feels the effects of the war. This is my favorite Mickey Rooney movie.

2. Since You Went Away (1944)

Claudette Colbert’s husband leaves wife and daughters (Jennifer Jones and Shirley Temple) to fight the war. Life quickly changes – from taking in a boarder to losing their cook to war work to Jones working in a hospital full of wounded soldiers to Jones falling for a soldier to Colbert learning to weld. The family evolves and grows and learns to cope with all the changes brought on by the war. I love the depiction of strong women on the “home-front” not only keeping life going but also contributing to the war effort.

1. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

Absolutely my favorite WWII movie. Three men, a soldier (Frederic March) a sailor (Harold Russell) and an airman (Dana Andrews) return home together and try to adjust to civilian life. There’s awkwardness between March, his wife (Myrna Loy), daughter (Teresa Wright) and teenage son and trouble returning to his banking job. Russell must adapt to life without his hands and decide whether to marry his long-time girl friend. Andrews struggles to find work while his war-time bride (Virginia Mayo) wants to party all the time. The film won several Oscars including Best Picture.

Some other “home-front” movies I recommend are: Miracle in the Rain, Tender Comrade and A League of Their Own.

Swing Music In the Movies of WWII

Swing! That’s what they called it. And I fell in love with it. I even have Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood” for the ringtone on my phone. That’s how much I love it.

Swing music was popular in the late thirties and forties and is often associated with the Second World War. This upbeat music provided a fun outlet for young people and a way to escape the world-wide political turmoil. Famous “Big Bands” performed live in venues around the country and on the radio. Some bands appeared regularly on radio broadcasts that reached regional and sometimes national audiences making it the most popular music of the day. Local bands, phonograph records and juke boxes brought the swing music to every city, small town and country village. The most popular “Big Bands” made it into the movies where we can see them today.SunValleySerenade[1]

My first exposure to “swing” music was watching those old movies and I was hooked. I’ve never been much of a fan of musicals, but the ones that featured big bands always caught my eye and my ear. I can remember trying to jitter-bug in our living room while one of those old musicals played on the TV.

Glenn MillerGlenn_miller_story[1]

My favorite of the swing era is Glenn Miller and his orchestra. Miller not only led the band but, like most of the big band leaders, he also wrote and arranged music for the band. And like most band leaders he played an instrument which in Miller’s case was trombone.  The bio-pic “The Glenn Miller Story,” starring James Stewart and June Allyson, features many Miller favorites like “Tuxedo Junction,” “String of Pearls,” “In the Mood,” and “Pennsylvania 6-5000.” Made in 1954 the movie tells of Miller’s rise to fame, his Army service and his tragic death in 1944. My favorite film featuring Glenn Miller and his orchestra is “Sun Valley Serenade” (1941) where a magnificent performance of “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” is captured on film, dance routine and all. There’s also a performance of one of my favorite Glenn Miller songs “In the Mood.” Another good movie featuring Miller and his orchestra is “Orchestra Wives” (1942) with Jackie Gleason, George Montgomery, and Cesar Romero as band members. The music includes “I Got a Gal in Kalamazoo” and “Moonlight Serenade,” Miller’s theme-song.

Benny GoodmanStage_Door_Canteen_poster[1]

We can’t talk about swing music without talking about  Benny Goodman. His “hot” clarinet brought jazz out of the night clubs and juke joints and into Carnegie Hall. To learn more about “The King of Swing” watch “The Benny Goodman Story,” a 1955 movie starring Steve Allen and Donna Reed, with Gene Krupa, Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton. A favorite film of mine featuring Benny Goodman is “Stage Door Canteen.” Made in 1943 it depicts the real canteen in New York City and features cameo appearances by numerous movie stars of the time, as well as lots of fun music and dancing.  Other WWII films featuring Goodman are “Syncopation” (1942), “The Powers Girl” (1942), “The Gangs All Here” (1943) and “Sweet and Low Down” (1944).

Harry James

Talk about a trumpet player! Harry James played the swingingest trumpet of the era. He and his band, the Music Makers, were also featured in Hollywood musicals during the 1940’s. Watch “Springtime in the Rockies” from 1942 which starred Harry’s future wife, Betty Grable. Harry James also appears in “Private Buckaroo” (1942) and “Best Foot Forward” (1943). Experience his “Concerto for Trumpet” in “Private Buckaroo.”Springtimeintherockies[1]

The Dorsey Brothers – Tommy and Jimmy

Brothers Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey organized a band in the 1920’s, playing and recording together until 1935 when the two musically talented siblings split and formed their own bands. Tommy, the trombone player, hired Frank Sinatra away from Harry James in 1940. Sinatra’s appearances and recordings with Tommy’s orchestra between 1940 and 1942 garnered Frank’s first big successes. You can catch an early Frank Sinatra performance with Tommy’s Dorsey’s band in the movie “Ships Ahoy” (1942).

Brother Jimmy played clarinet and saxophone as the leader of his own orchestra. The 1942 film “The Fleet’s In” showcased Jimmy’s band performing the famous “Tangerine” and “I Remember You.” If you are a fan of Abbott and Costello you can catch Jimmy Dorsey’s orchestra in their film “Lost in a Harem” (1944). Another fun film featuring Jimmy’s orchestra is “Four Jills in a Jeep” from 1944. Stars Kay Francis, Carole Landis, Martha Raye, and Mitzi Mayfair play themselves on a USO tour of Europe and North Africa in a non-sensical movie with no real plot and meant only to entertain.

Other Swing Performances

The harmonizing Andrews Sisters perform “Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy” in the 1941 Abbott and Costello comedy “Buck Privates.” The upbeat “Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive” is sung by Bing Crosby in “Here Come the Waves” (1944).

Numerous movies made during World War II utilized swing music as part of their soundtracks. Most of these films showed the big bands as themselves playing in night clubs or in front of audiences.  I especially enjoy watching the musicians perform. Nothing like struggling to play an instrument in a high school band to give you an appreciation for the immense talent of the musicians. Watching the dancers is fun, too.

The young people of that era were our parents and grandparents. And, yes, they were young once. Swing music was their music. Thanks to the preservation of the old films as well as the recordings from that time we can enjoy this same music. And we can imagine what life was like back then. Check out some of the many video clips on Youtube.

Note that the low-resolution poster images in this post qualify as “fair use” under the copyright laws. My intent is only to illustrate the discussion of the films depicted in the posters.