If there’s one thing we can expect from Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, released on August 21, it’s a fair helping of violence. After all, the movie poster shows Brad Pitt standing on top of a pile of Nazi corpses, so that there should be a bit of death along the way doesn’t seem like an unreasonable assumption. Plus, this is Tarantino, a man who has routinely shocked audiences with depictions of violence in movies like Reservoir Dogs, Death Proof and Kill Bill. There’s certainly nothing wrong with this—it’s simply part of Tarantino’s style.
But not all World War II movies have bloody battle sequences. And while certain films masterfully combine ruthless realism with quiet introspection—Saving Private Ryan comes to mind—violent films aren’t for everyone. What do you do when you want to watch a World War II movie but the sight of blood makes you ill? It is with you unlucky souls in mind that we’ve put together this list of the best non-battle-heavy World War II movies, aka “World War II Movies for the Squeamish.”
directed by Michael Curtiz
Rated in 2007 by the American Film Institute as the third best American film of all time, Casablanca truly is a landmark film. All of the performances are spot on, though special recognition should go to Peter Lorre, whose performance as conman Ugarte is memorable despite having limited screen time. The movie tackles serious issues, such as duty to one’s cause during wartime, while still presenting the audience with an entertaining romance. Some characters do get shot (I won’t tell you who, so as not to spoil the surprise for the two of you who haven’t seen the film yet), but the violence is not graphic and should upset only those of the audience with the very weakest stomachs.
The Caine Mutiny (1954)
directed by Edward Dmytryk
It’s not fight scenes and explosions that make director Edward Dmytryk’s tale of a WWII minesweeper crew a great movie (take note, Michael Bay), but rather Humphrey Bogart’s performance as the mentally unstable Lt. Cmdr. Philip Francis Queeg. OK, so the romance subplot between main character Ensign Keith and his girlfriend seems a bit out of place, but The Caine Mutiny is a classic nonetheless. Although, if we’re talking World War II romance movies starring Humphrey Bogart, we’ve already touched on the one that really stands head and shoulders above the rest…
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
directed by David Lean
More than any other film on this list, The Bridge on the River Kwai deals with the ethics of war. As Alec Guinness’ Colonel Nicholson and his men are made to build a bridge for their Japanese captors while in a POW camp, Nicholson remains steadfast that the “rules of war” must be followed in the most extreme circumstances. There is very little violence in the film; though there is some torture, it is non-graphic for the most part. The final minutes of the film are a testament to Guinness’ extraordinary acting skills, as he begins to realize that war is not so simple as he had thought.
Guns of Navarone (1961)
directed by J. Lee Thompson
Though The Guns of Navarone drags a bit, it’s worth watching it to see Gregory Peck’s performance as Captain Keith Mallory. Peck has mostly been remembered—for good reason—for his portrayal of Atticus Finch in Robert Mulligan’s adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird, which was released a year after The Guns of Navarone, but his work here is just as deep and nuanced. The characters of Finch and Mallory are quite different; while Finch is a morally upright father figure, Mallory is near-ruthless in his willingness to sacrifice his friends for the greater good. There is as bit of violence—some characters get shot and another is threatened with torture—but it is the mission Mallory and his men undertake, not the violence they encounter, that is the focus of the movie.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971)
directed by Robert Stevenson
Could anything be more non-violent and peaceful than Disney? Sure, the good-naturedness of most Disney films can grate on ones nerves after a while, but luckily, Bedknobs and Broomsticks manages to avoid becoming too saccharine. For the majority of the movie the war is mentioned but never seen: Apprentice witch Eglantine Price (played by Angela Lansbury—and honestly, how violent and traumatic could an Angela Lansbury movie be?) speaks of learning magic so that she can help with the war effort. It isn’t until later that Price uses a spell to bring an army of suits of armor to life to fight off a group of Nazis that have—for some reason—decided to invade Price’s small English village.
Empire of the Sun (1987)
directed by Steven Spielberg
Christian Bale plays Jim Graham, a British child who has to survive in a Japanese internment camp in China, in one of his first acting roles. Bale’s performance in this Spielberg-directed film is the major selling point of the movie. While the film itself is beautifully shot and directed, it is Graham’s strength when faced with the horrors of war that makes the film so poignant. There are some disturbing scenes, but nothing too graphic.