Poetry and the Second World War
Select Filmography 1939-1946


The following is a list of films made on the eve of, during and immediately after World War II. It is not of course exhaustive, but it is reasonably complete as far as British films are concerned, and offers a selection of the best of the rest. All these films were made in the shadow of WW2, but they are not necessarily directly about WW2. The order is chronological by year, then alphabetical by film title within the year. The star-rating and some of the summaries, for rough guidance only, are from Halliwell's Film Guide (1991).
 

1939

Confessions of a Nazi Spy US, 1939 *** Directed by Anatole Litvak
Semi-documentary. How G-men ferreted out Nazis in the US.
Starring Edward G. Robinson

An Englishman’s Home  GB, 1939  Directed by Albert de Courville
An English family plays unwitting host to a spy.

Gone with the Wind US, 1939 **** Directed by Victor Fleming et al.
Southern belle survives the Civil War.
Starring Vivien Leigh, Merle Oberon.

The Lion Has Wings  GB, 1939 *  Directed by Michael Powell
Documentary drama tracing the steps leading up to the outbreak of war.

Proud Valley  GB, 1939 *  Directed by Penn Tennyson
A black stoker (Paul Robson) helps Welsh miners re-open their pits.

The Spy in Black  GB, 1939 ** Directed by Michael Powell
Romantic melodrama set in the Orkneys in 1917.

Wuthering Heights US, 1939 *** Directed by William Wyler
Superb Hollywood production of Bronte novel.
Starring Laurence Olivier, Merle Oberon.
 

1940

All This and Heaven too US, 1940 ** Directed by Anatole Litvak
19th c. French nobleman falls in love with governess and murders wife.
Starring Charles Boyer, Bette Davis.

Arise My Love  US, 1940 ***  Directed by Mitchell Leisen
Anti-isolationist reporters in Europe on the eve of war.

Convoy  GB, 1940  Directed by Penn Tennyson

Foreign Correspondent  US, 1940 ****  Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
American journalist embroiled with European spies in 1938. Final speech a plea against American
isolationism.
Starring Joel McCrea, Laraine Day.

The Grapes of Wrath US, 1940 **** Directed by John Ford
Screen version of John Steinbeck’s novel.
Starring Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell, John Carradine.

Jew Suss  Germany, 1940 *  Directed by Veit Harlan
Infamous travesty of the 1934 anti-racist British film of the same title.

Let George Do It  GB, 1940 **  Directed by Marcel Varnel
A ukele player goes to Bergen instead of Blackpool and is mistaken for a spy. Generally thought to be the best of the George Formby comedies.

London Can Take It  GB, 1940  Directed by Humphrey Jennings
Co-directed Harry Watt. Documentary depicting London during Blitz.

Night Train to Munich  GB, 1940 ***  Directed by Carol Reed
Comedy suspense in which a British agent poses as a Nazi in order to rescue a Czech inventor.

Quiet Wedding  GB, 1940 ***  Directed by Anthony Asquith
Wedding praparations are complicated by family guests.

Rebecca US, 1940 **** Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Adaptation of the novel by Daphne du Maurier.
Starring Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, George Sanders.

The Sea Hawk US, 1940 *** Directed by Michael Curtiz
Elizabethan adventure story.
Starring Erroll Flynn.

Waterloo Bridge GB, 1931, remake 1940 ** Directed by Mervyn LeRoy
Tragedy of a ballerina married to an army officer killed in battle.
Starring Vivien Leigh, Robert Taylor.

1941

All that Money Can Buy  US, 1941 ****  Directed by William Dieterle
Transposition of the Faust story.

Citizen Kane US, 1941 **** Directed by Orson Welles
Chef d’œuvre, anti-isolationist.
Starring the Mercury theatre.

The Common Touch  GB, 1941 * Directed by John Baxter
A rich young man poses as a tramp to save a dosshouse from destruction.

Cottage to Let  GB, 1941 * Directed by Anthony Asquith
Comedy-thriller set in Scotland.

Dive Bomber US, 1941 * Directed by Michael Curtiz
Romance and propaganda
Starring Errol Flynn.

Forty-Ninth Parallel  GB, 1941 *** Directed by Michael Powell
Five stranded U-boat men in Canada try to escape to the US. Music by Vaughn Williams.
Starring Eric Portman, Laurence Olivier, Anton Walbrrok, Leslie Howard, Raymond Massey.

The Heart of Britain  GB, 1941  Directed by Humphrey Jennings
Documentary examining effects of war on provinces.

The Little Foxes US, 1941 *** Directed by William Wyler
A family of schemers in the post Civil war South.

The Magnificent Ambersons US, 1941 **** Directed by Orson Welles
A proud family gets its come-uppance.
Starring the Mercury theatre

The Maltese Falcon US, 1941 **** Directed by John Huston
Classic film noir.
Starring Humphrey Bogart.

Pimpernel Smith  GB, 1941 **  Directed by Leslie Howard
A professor of archeology goes into war-torn Europe to rescue refugees.

The Prime Minister  GB, 1941 * Directed by Thorold Dickinson
Episodes in the life of Disraeli.
Starring John Geilgud.

Sergeant York US, 1941 ** Directed by Howard Hawks
Hillybilly farmer becomes a soldier in WW1.
Starring Gary Cooper.

Ships with Wings  GB, 1941 * Directed by Sergei Nolbandov
Flagwaver.

Target for Tonight GB, 1941 **** Directed by Harry Watt
Classic RAF semi-documentary.

Words for Battle  GB, 1941  Directed by Humphrey Jennings
Documentary matching inpired images with inspirational text.

A Yank in the RAF US, 1941 * Directed by Henry King
Silly but entertaining flagwaver.

1942

Across the Pacific  US, 1942 ***  Directed by John Huston
Starring Humphrey Bogart.

Arabian Nights US, 1942 * Directed by John Rawlins
Oriental adventures.

Arsenic and Old Lace US made 1942, released 1944 *** Directed by Frank Capra
Black comedy.
Starring Cary Grant, Josephine Hull, Jean Adair.

Casablanca US, 1942 **** Directed by Michael Curtiz
Chef d'oeuvre.
Starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman.

Coastal Command  GB, 1942  Directed by J.B. Holmes

The Day Will Dawn  GB, 1942 *  Directed by Harold French
Norwegian resistants destroy a U-boat.

The First of the Few  GB, 1942 **  Directed by Leslie Howard
Story of R.J. Mitchell who anticipated WW2 and invented the Spitfire.

The Foreman Went to France GB, 1942 ** Directed by Charles Frend
Story by JB Priestley, based on a true incident during Dunkirk, music by William Walton.

For Me and My Gal US, 1942 *** Directed by Busby Berkeley
Just before WW1 an artiste has to choose between two partners.
Starring Judy Garland, gene Kelly, George Murphy.

The Great Mr. Handel  GB, 1942 *  Directed by Norman Walker
Earnest biopic.

In Which We Serve GB, 1942 **** Directed by Noel Coward, David Lean
Dated but splendid flagwaver.
Starring Noel Coward, John Mills, Celia Johnson.

Journey for Margaret  US, 1942 *  Directed by W.S. Van Dyke
An American correspondent brings back an orphan from the London Blitz.

Listen to Britain  GB, 1942  Directed by Humphrey Jennings
Co-directd by Stewart McAllister. Documentary evoking sounds of nation at war.

Mrs. Miniver US, 1942 ** Directed by William Wyler
The courage of an English housewife in WW2.
Starring Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon.

Next of Kin  GB, 1942 *** Directed by Thorold Dickinson
Entertaining propaganda film demonstrating that careless talk costs lives.

Now Voyager US, 1942 *** Directed by Irving Rapper
Psychiatric suffering in mink.
Starring Bette Davis.

One of our Aircraft is Missing GB, 1942 * Directed by Michael Powell
Grounded bomber crew are helped by the Dutch resistance.

Random Harvest  US, 1942 ***  Directed by Mervyn LeRoy
Adventures of a shell-shocked officer from 1918.

To Be or Not to Be US, 1942 **** Directed by Ernst Lubitsch
Comedy in which Warsaw actors get involved in an underground plot.
Starring Jack Benny, Carole Lombard.

Thunder Rock  GB, 1942 ***  Directed by Roy Boulting
A journalist disgusted with the world of the 30s retires to a lighthouse on Lake Michigan and is haunted by the ghosts of immigrants drowned a century before. Based on the anti-isolationist play by Robert Ardrey.
Starring Michael Redgrave.

Wake Island US, 1942 * Directed by John Farrow
Terse violent flagwaver, set in South Pacific.

Went the Day Well? GB, 1942 *** Directed by Alberto Cavalcanti
Villagers resist German invasion and fifth columists.
Starring Leslie Banks.

Why We Fight  US, 1942-5 ****  Directed by Frank Capra, Anatole Litvak
Series of 7 feature-length documentaries commissioned by the US War Office. All were edited by William Hornbeck, with music by Dimitri Tiomkin and commentary by Walter Huston.
1. Prelude to War 2. The Nazis Strike 3. Divide and Conquer 4. The Battle of Britain 5. The Battle of Britain 6. The Battle of China 7. War Comes to America.

Wings for the Eagle  GB, 1942  Directed by Lloyd Bacon
Aircraft workers doing their bit.

Yankee Doodle Dandy US, 1942 *** Directed by Michael Curtiz
Life story of dancer George M. Cohan
Starring James Cagney.

The Young Mr. Pitt  GB, 1942 * Directed by Carol Reed
Britain’s youngest PM quells threat of Napoleonic invasion.
Starring Robert Donat.

1943

Air Force US, 1943 * Directed by Howard Hawks

Background to Danger US, 1943  Directed by Raoul Walsh

Battle for Music  GB, 1943 *  Directed by Donald Taylor
Wartime ups and downs of The London Philharmonic.

Le Corbeau France, 1943 ** Directed by Georges Clouzot

Corvette K- 225 US, 1943 * Directed by Richard Rossen

The Demi-Paradise GB, 1943 * Directed by Anthony Asquith
In 1939 a Russian inventor is sent to observe the British way of life.
Starring Laurence Olivier, Margaret Rutherford.

Desert Victory GB, 1943 **** Directed by David MacDonald
Classic war documentary.

Destination Tokyo US, 1943 * Directed by Delmer Daves
A US submarine is sent into Tokyo harbour.
Starring Cary Grant.

Douce France, 1943 * Directed by Claude Autant-Lara

Edge of Darkness US, 1943 * Directed by Lewis Milestone
Norwegian village patriots resist the Nazis.
Starring Errol Flynn, Ann Sheridan.

L’Eternel Retour France, 1943 * Directed by Delauney

Fires Were Started  GB, 1943 ** Directed by Humphrey Jennings
Poetic documentary depicting a day and a night in the life of a Fire Service unit in the London Blitz.

Forever and a Day  US, 1943 **  Directed by René Clair et al.
Sketches tracing the history of a London house from 1804 to the Blitz.

The Gang’s All Here US, 1943 ** Directed by Busby Berkeley
Frenetic wartime musical.

Goupi Mains-Rouge France, 1943 * Directed by Jacques Becker

Guadalcanal Diary US, 1943 * Directed by Lewis Seiler
Marines fight for vital Pacific island base.

Gung Ho ! US, 1943 Directed by Ray Enright
Adventures of the Marines in the Pacific war.

The Human Comedy US, 1943 * Directed by Clarence Brown
Telegram boy brings tragic news to small town during war.
Starring Mickey Rooney.

The Immortal Sergeant US, 1943 Directed by John Stahl
A tough but inspirational sergeant is killed in the North African campaign.
Starring Henry Fonda, Maureen O’Hara.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp GB, 1943 Directed by Michael Powell
British soldier survives three wars and falls in love with three women. Film that Churchill tried to ban.

Lumière d’été France, 1943 Directed by Jean Grémillon
Written by Jacques Prévert.

The Man in Grey  GB, 1943 ** Directed by Leslie Arliss
Costume melodrama, first of the Gainsborough school.
Starring James Mason, Margaret Lockwood, Stewart Granger.

Millions Like Us GB, 1943 **  Directed by Frank Launder & Sidney Gilliat
Tribulations of a family in wartime.

Mission to Moscow US, 1943 ** Directed by Michael Curtiz
Russian career of US ambassador Joseph E. Davies, rare and fascinating portrayal of Russians as warm-hearted allies.
Starring Walter Huston.

The More the Merrier US, 1943 *** Directed by George Stevens
Romantic comedy set in wartime Washington.
Starring Jean Arthur, Joel McCrea, Charles Coburn.

Sahara US, 1943 ** Directed by Zoltan Korda
During retreat from Tobruk, mixed bunch find water and haress Nazis.

San Demetrio, London  GB, 1943 * Directed by Charles Frend
In 1940 survivors of a crippled tanker bring it back home.

The Silent Village  GB, 1943 ** Directed by Humphrey Jennings
Recreation of the Lidice massacre in the Welsh village of Cwmgiedd.

The Silver Fleet  GB, 1943 *  Directed by Vernon Sewell
Gripping propaganda story set in occupied Holland.

They Met in the Dark  GB, 1943  Directed by Karel Lamac
Spy romance set in Blackpool.

This is the Army US, 1943 ** Directed by Michael Curtiz
Army recruits put on a musical revue.

We Dive at Dawn GB, 1943 Directed by Anthony Asquith
Adventures of a submarine disabled in the Baltic.
Starring John Mills.

Western Approaches GB, 1943 *** Directed by Pat Jackson
Torpedoed Merchantmen in the Atlantic are used by a U-boat as a decoy. Shot on location.

1944

Address Unknown US, 1944 ** Directed by William Cameron
Wartime thriller about a fifth columnist.
Starring Paul Lucas, Carl Esmond.

Aventure Malgache  US, 1944  Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Bon Voyage  US, 1944  Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

A Canturbury Tale  GB, 1944 **  Directed by Michael Powell
A mad magistrate is unmasked by a land girl, an army sergeant and a GI.

Cover Girl US, 1944 ** Directed by Charles Vidor
Wartime glamour musical.
Starring Rita Hayworth, Gene Kelly, Phil Silvers.

Double Indemnity US, 1944 **** Directed by Billy Wilder
Archetypal film noir. Script by Raymond Chandler.

English Without Tears  GB, 1944 * Directed by Harold French
Satirical comedy about a rich ATS girl who falls in love with her butler who has become a lieutenant.

Fanny by Gaslight  GB, 1944 ** Directed by Anthony Asquith
One of the Gainsborough costume melodramas.

The Fighting Lady US, 1944 * Directed by William Wyler
Documentary.

Hail the Conquering Hero US, 1944 *** Directed by Preston Sturges
An army reject is mistaken for a war hero when he returns to his small-town home.

Henry V  GB, 1944 ****  Directed by Laurence Olivier
Stirring and inventive film.

Lifeboat US, 1944 ** Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Survivors from a torpedoed ship include the U-boat commander. Shot entirely in studio.

Love Story  GB, 1944  Directed by Leslie Arliss
A Cornish romance with Margaret Lockwood and Stewart Granger.

Meet Me in St. Louis US, 1944 *** Directed by Vincente Minelli
Musical set at turn of the century.
Starring Judy Garland, Margaret O’Brien, Harry Davenport.

The Memphis Belle US, 1944 * Directed by William Wyler
Last mission over Germany of a Flying Fortress.

Pin-Up Girl US, 1944 Directed by Bruce Humberstone
Washington secretary meets navy hero.
Starring Betty Grable

Since You Went Away US, 1944 *** Directed by John Cromwell
Wartime family putting on a brave face. Symposium of Hollywood values and techniques of the time.

Thirty Seconds over Tokyo US, 1944 ** Directed by Mervyn LeRoy
How the first American attack on Japan was planned. Writer Dalton Trumbo.
Starring Spencer Tracy.

This Happy Breed  GB, 1944 **  Directed by David Lean
Life between the wars for a London family.

Tunisian Victory GB, 1944 Directed by Roy Boulting

Two Thousand Women  GB, 1944  Directed by Louis Levy
Two pilots try to rescue women from French concentration camp.

The Way Ahead GB, 1944 *** Directed by Carol Reed
Semi-documentary depicting adventures of a platoon of raw recruits. Written by Eric Ambler, Peter Ustinov.
Starring David Niven, Stanley Holloway, William Hartnell.

The White Cliffs of Dover US, 1944 * Directed by Clarence Brown
Tearful flagwaver, including poem by Alice Duer Miller.
Starring Irene Dunne.

Wing and a Prayer  US, 1944 *  Directed by Henry Hathaway
Life aboard an aircraft carrier.

Winged Victory  US, 1944 ** Directed by George Cukor
Pilots are inducted, trained and sent on a mission.

The Woman in the Window  US, 1944 *** Directed by Fritz Lang
Brilliant psychoanalytical thriller.
Starring Edward G. Robinson, Raymond Massey, Dan Duryea.
 

1945

The Affairs of Susan US, 1945 ** Directed by William A. Seiter
Four men in Susan’s life see her differently.
Starring Joan Fontaine, George Brent, Walter Abel.

Anchors Aweigh US, 1945 ** Directed by George Sidney
Musical about two sailors on leave,forerunner of On the Town (1949).
Starring Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly.

And Then There Were None  US, 1945 ****  Directed by René Clair
Classic adaptation of the Agatha Christie novel.

Burma Victory GB, 1945 Directed by Roy Boulting

The Clock US, 1945 ** Directed by Vincente Minelli
A girl meets a soldier at New York's Grand Central Station and marries him during his 24-hour leave.
Starring Judy Garland, Robert Walker.

Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne France, 1945 * Directed by Robert Bresson

A Diary for Timothy   GB, 1944-5 **** Directed by Humphrey Jennings
Documentary interpreting the events of the last winter of the war for a newly born child. Text by E.M. Forster, narrated by Michael Redgrave.

Les Enfants du Paradis France, 1945 **** Directed by Michel Carné

I See a Dark Stranger  GB, 1945 **  Directed by Frank Launder
An IRA sympathizer comes to England as a spy but falls in love with an English officer.

Journey Together  GB, 1945 * Directed by John Boulting
Semi-documentary about trainee pilots in England and America before they go on their first mission. Written by Terence Rattigan.

Objective, Burma  US 1945 * Directed by Raoul Walsh
Exploits of an American platoon in the Burma campaign. Caused a diplomatic incident by not mentioning the British effort. Not shown in Britain till 1952, with an apologetic preface.

Open City Italy, 1945 ** Directed by Roberto Rossellini
Italian underground workers defy the Nazis in Rome towards the end of the war.

Pride of the Marines US, 1945 * Directed by Delmer Daves
The story of marine Al Schmid, blinded while fighting the Japanese.
Starring John Garfield.

The Seventh Veil  GB, 1945 **  Directed by Compton Bennett
Modern psychiatric melodrama involving a concert pianist.

The Story of G.I. Joe US, 1945 ** Directed by William Wellman
Journalist follows fighting men into the Italian campaign.
Starring Burgess Meredith, Robert Mitchum.

They Were Expendable US, 1945 * Directed by John Ford
Focus on torpedo boats in the Pacific war.
Starring John Wayne, Robert Montgomery.

The True Glory GB, 1945 **** Directed by Carol Reed
Story of D-Day to the fall of Berlin told with Shakesperian fervour via newsreels.

The Way to the Stars GB, 1945 **** Directed by Anthony Asquith
WW2 as seen by people in a guest house near a British airfield. Written by Terence Rattigan.
Poem by John Pudney.
Starring John Mills, Rosamund John, Michael Redgrave, Douglass Montgomery.

The Wicked Lady  GB, 1945 * Directed by Leslie Arliss
Most successful of Gainsborough costume melodramas.

1946

The Best Years of our Lives US, 1946 **** Directed by William Wyler
Three men return home from war to small-town community.

Brief Encounter GB, 1946 **** Directed by David Lean
Classic romance, featuring the Rachmaninov piano concerto.
Starring Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard.

From This Day Forward  US, 1946 ***  Directed by John Berry
After WW2 a New York couple think back to their early years in the poverty-stricken 30s.

It’s A Wonderful Life  US, 1946 ****  Directed by Frank Capra
A man is prevented from committing suicide by an elderly angel.

A Matter of Life and Death  GB, 1946 ****  Directed by Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger
Outrageous fantasy starring David Niven. Aka Stairway to Heaven.

A Walk in the Sun US, 1946 *** Directed by Lewis Milestone
Exploits of a single army patrol during the Salerno landings of 1943, on one vital morning.
 
 
 
 
 

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