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Veterans on Video

Veterans on Video — A look at ‘The Roaring Twenties,’ ‘The Best Years of Our Lives,’ and more movie takes on life after war

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Veterans on Video

Soldiers’ valor on battlefields has been honored in countless war movies. But what about their struggles at home once the war is over? For Veterans Day, here are some returning soldiers, standing for your inspection.

THE ROARING TWENTIES
Doughboy James Cagney comes home from World War I and has trouble landing a job. An enterprising young man, he explores the new growth industry of Prohibition-era bootlegging with fellow vet Humphrey Bogart, thus solidifying the cinematic stereotype of the veteran-turned-criminal. A fast-talking melodrama in the old Warner Bros. manner, featuring Cagney’s famous death scene on the snowy steps of a cathedral. A-

THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES
The World War II vet movie. A mirror of the country’s postwar anxieties and hopes, this story of three soldiers (Fredric March, Dana Andrews, and Harold Russell) returning to a middle-American town won Oscars in nearly every major category. The film remains a vibrant portrayal of three ordinary men reconstructing their civilian lives. A

OCEAN’S ELEVEN
The veteran experience according to … the Rat Pack? Some soldiers might emerge from war emotionally scarred and embittered. But these WWII buddies, played by Frank Sinatra and his cronies, become devil-may-care hepcats who rob Vegas casinos for kicks. The best Rat Pack movie — faint as that praise may be — and a primer on lounge-lizard cool. B-

THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE
Readjusting to civilian life can be difficult enough under normal conditions. Imagine how distressing it can be when you’re a Korean War vet programmed by maniacal Red Chinese brainwashers to become an automaton assassin. This gonzo satiric thriller is a riveting portrait of early-’60s paranoia. A-

COMING HOME
With ‘Nam fresh in the nation’s memory, the war wounds here are a source of anguish and outrage rather than a badge of honor. The movie delivers a natural emotional intensity, courtesy of Jon Voight’s Oscar-winning performance as a paraplegic ex-Marine and director Hal Ashby’s vivid, quasi-documentary style. It’s arguably the 1970s’ answer to The Best Years of Our Lives, replacing late-1940s resilience with Vietnam-era despair. A-

BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY
Director Oliver Stone tackles the true story of fellow Vietnam vet Ron Kovic (Tom Cruise). As usual, Stone’s blunt approach fails to earn any citations for subtlety. Powerful, but not for everyone — it’s the movie-watching equivalent of being dragged through a meat grinder. B