Memorial day used to be a day full of war movies, from morning to evening WWII was played out numerous time on the TV screen. That was the last war we really won decisively but it is fading into memory as the last veterans pass away. I for one still go back and watch a few of the films that were made after the war, while it was still fresh in everyones mind.
My best list of five films of the period are as follows:
First place is William Wilder's "The Best Years of Our Lives". This three hour film still places number 37 of the best 100 films ever made and won the academy award for best picture in 1946 and best supporting actor for Harold Russel in his first and only film. Stephan Spielberg says he watches it once every year and he rates it number one. Well worth watching
Second for me is "The Gallant Hours" with James Cagney as Admiral William Halsey covering his time in 1942-43 as commander of Naval Forces during the Guadalcanal campaign. Really an excellent film with Cagney and Dennis Weaver and produced by James Cagney and Robert Montgomery.
Third is the "Cain Mutiny" with Humphrey Bogart and Fred McMurray. This is a great film, the characters are true to the Navy in every way except there was no mutiny resulting from the typhoon depicted. However Herman Wouk based this part on the actual experience of the USS Hull, a destroyer in Halsey's 3rd Fleet that capsized and sank during that 1945 storm. The ship was caught without power broadside to the storm and the captain refused to take action to bring her about. The officers attempted to relieve the Commanding officer (Lt Cmdr Marks) but the XO prevented it.
Fourth is "They Were Expendable" John Fords 1945 film about the last squadron of PT boats left to pose some delaying action against the Japanese invading the Philippines in 1941. This was based on actual events although some of the spectacular special effects of ships exploding from torpedo hits stretches what actually took place somewhat, but watching those Elco PT's running at full speed is well worth the time. Ford was very hard on John Wayne during the filming because he had not taken part in the war and berated him once on the set because he could not salute properly. Still Wane and Robert Montgomery (who actually skippered a PT boat during the war and at the time of filming was a full commander in the USNR) both give good performances and is as usual an excellent John Ford film.
Fifth in my book is "Mr. Roberts" just because I like it. Henry Fonda reminds me of some of the best officers I served under or with during my time in the Navy and it all just is done right.
Finally as a special mention I like "12 O'Clock High" with Gregory Peck. The opening scene with Dean Jagger riding his bicycle out to the closed Allied Airdrome in England and recalling the war as introduced by the starting cough and gradual clearing of a B-17's radial engine always is a favorite scene for me.
Best wishes to those who served and should never be forgotten.