Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Eisenhower movies: A comparison of some films

There's something about war heroes and statesmen that holds the fascination of many; and so there have been a number of movies about the life of Dwight Eisenhower. He fits both categories, being both a victorious Allied general in World War II; and a President of the United States during the 1950's. Thus, there have been a number of films about him since his time.

The first one I'll mention is a brief TV movie (only an hour and a half), called "Ike: Countdown to D-Day." The movie actually stars Tom Selleck in the title role; and though he bears little resemblance to the real Eisenhower physically, he has his mannerisms down, and manages to give a solid dramatic performance as Ike. The movie has strong supporting cast, and manages to make the most of its limited budget. It's a war movie without any battle scenes - just the complicated planning for the invasion of Normandy. So many things had to be anticipated and planned for, from the sand on the beaches to the weather for the planes (not to mention the reaction of the Germans); and the logistical and other planning for the D-Day invasion stands out among the more complicated military operations in history.

General Eisenhower

Eisenhower meets with paratroopers - June 5th, 1944
(the day before D-Day)

If you're after the full story of Eisenhower, this may not be what you're looking for; as it covers only one brief period in Ike's life. (I'll mention full biographies later.) But it is a dramatic movie about managing everything from military strategy to complicated international alliances, from the comparatively tame British-American rivalry to the more serious problems handling Charles de Gaulle and the French. (And I understate here greatly.) Like George Washington, Eisenhower was a political general trying to hold together a fragile coalition of political entities, and win a war against a formidable enemy at the same time. (And like Washington, he did an excellent job.)

Invasion at Normandy, Omaha Beach - June 6th, 1944 (D-Day itself)

Eisenhower and other Allied commanders shortly after Germany's surrender, 1945

As far as comprehensive biographies go, I've been able to find two about Ike's life. One of them is by A&E, which despite its interesting assortment of interviewees is not a terribly impressive documentary (to put it mildly). A&E's biographies tend to be both poorly made and painfully brief, and this one - unfortunately - fits the pattern. I wouldn't necessarily recommend against watching it; but if you're after a comprehensive biography, there is a better option available - an option I will review now.

The best film biography of Eisenhower is the one made by PBS; which adroitly weaves real photos and footage of the man with interviews, of both biographers (like Stephen Ambrose) and eyewitnesses like Ike's son John and grandson David. With the excellent narration of David McCullough, this documentary devotes over two hours to Ike's story, with special emphasis given to both the wartime general and the peacetime president. While I've seen longer documentaries about various individuals, I've not found any longer about Mr. Eisenhower, and so this is the best you're likely to find of him in video form.

Eisenhower in occupied postwar Berlin, June 1945

Some cautions should be given about the difficulties of obtaining this. Last time I checked, Amazon offered DVD's of this movie; but when they're in stock, they're ridiculously expensive (over $100), and unless you have some unusual means, I don't recommend getting a DVD of this one. I was able to obtain a VHS on Amazon for $50; which is still expensive, but much more reasonable than $100. This is the only biography in my considerable collection of documentaries that I was forced to get on VHS, because PBS hasn't been as good about making it readily available. (Considering how well they market their other biographies, I'm surprised they haven't done a better job of doing so with this one.)

President Eisenhower

If you do manage to get ahold of it, though, it's an excellent way to spend two hours, as this is probably the definitive film biography of Eisenhower. If you want something more in-depth, you'd probably have to go to a book, like Stephen Ambrose's many Ike biographies (which I have not read), or any of the other numerous book biographies of Eisenhower. But in the world of video, this is probably as good as it gets; and I'd like to reiterate my support of the "Countdown to D-Day" movie as well.

Eisenhower is a fascinating subject; and there's lots of things out there to satisfy one's curiosity about the man. I hope this has helped someone to build a more informed opinion about Eisenhower media.

"Ike: Countdown to D-Day" DVD at Amazon

Eisenhower documentary DVD at Amazon

Eisenhower documentary VHS at Amazon

If you liked this post, you might also like:

Franklin D. Roosevelt movie

Winston Churchill movies

World War II miniseries

Harry Truman movie

Korean War miniseries

Cold War miniseries

John F. Kennedy movies

(I included the Cold War because of Ike's involvement in it - especially Korea - and JFK because he was Eisenhower's successor as president.)

Part of a series about
The Presidents

George Washington 1789-1797
John Adams 1797-1801
Thomas Jefferson 1801-1809
James Madison 1809-1817
John Quincy Adams 1825-1829
Andrew Jackson 1829-1837
Abraham Lincoln 1861-1865
Ulysses S. Grant 1869-1877
Theodore Roosevelt 1901-1909
Woodrow Wilson 1913-1921
Franklin Delano Roosevelt 1933-1945
Harry Truman 1945-1953
Dwight Eisenhower 1953-1961
John F. Kennedy 1961-1963
Lyndon B. Johnson 1963-1969
Richard Nixon 1969-1974
Jimmy Carter 1977-1981
Ronald Reagan 1981-1989
George H. W. Bush 1989-1993
Bill Clinton 1993-2001

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