Sometimes an historical epic or period piece that can stand perfectly well on its own takes on added meaning when paired with another film. Certain movies with cult followings actually received double billings - think Harold and Maude and King of Hearts - while others offer complementary perspectives on significant events and personages when viewed together. Here are some suggestions for some history films that go rather well together.
Paths of Glory (1957) and All Quiet on the Western Front (1930): Stanley Kubrick's film underscores the horrors of trench warfare in stark black and white, and the demands of the French high command to make scapegoats of innocent men driven beyond the limits of human endurance. It parallels the more familiar story told from the German perspective in the classic All Quiet on the Western Front.
Das Boot (1981) and The Cruel Sea (1953) I grew up reading The Cruel Sea, and am aware of no other book that so successfully evokes the desperate years of convoy escorts and U-boat warfare during the Battle of the Atlantic. The movie version is excellent, with Jack Hawkins as the grizzled commander of the doomed HMS Compass Rose. Das Boot, on the other hand, manages to depict the claustrophopia, desperate fear and vulnerability of the U-boat crews so hauntingly that even one such as I who was weaned on stories of blackout shades and U-boats just off our coast could appreciate that those below the surface might well have felt like the underdogs, especially as the war progressed.
Becket (1964) and The Lion in Winter (1968) Peter O'toole stars as King Henry II in both films, and manages to bring a fresh interpretation in each performance. The cast of The Lion in Winter is especially fine, with Anthony Hopkins and Katherine Hepburn in fine fettle.
Breaker Morant (1979) and Gallipoli (1981) Aussie films that are as much about British notions of class and colonial prejudices as they are about the havoc and moral ambiguity of modern war. One takes place during the Boer War, and includes one of the most dramatic trial sequences in film (others in this post also share that distinction, including Paths of Glory and especially To Kill a Mockingbird). The other is about wasted potential and the futility of trying to outrun death in frontal assaults made obsolete by machine guns.
The Vikings (1958) and The War Lord (1965) These obscure films deserve wider exposure, particularly for their attention to period detail. Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis and Ernest Borgnine sail up the fjords in longboats straight from the Osberg ship burials or the Bayeaux tapestry. As for The War Lord, it is the tapestry itself come to life, kite shields and all, and stars Charlton Heston.
The African Queen (1951) and King Solomon's Mines (1950) Both were filmed in Africa within a year of each other, and both are a feast for the eye. The trek into the unknown parts of interior East Africa by Quartermain and company takes advantage of the extraordinary scenery, wildlife and cultures of the region, while Bogart's battle with the leeches and running past the guns of the German Askaris and over the falls are epic moments in cinematic history.
The Grapes of Wrath (1940) and To Kill A Mockingbird (1962) Both of these films captures different aspects of the American experience around the time of the Depression so cdonvincingly that they have become cultural benchmarks for those times and places. Whether it is Tom Joad and family's desperate oddysey or the crippling weight of racial and class predjudice that oppresses black and white alike where even an honest man like Atticus cannot make justice prevail, the films take us to some of the hardest places in our past without crushing the faint hope of redemption.
Which other history films go well together?