B-Movie Inspirations: World War 2 movies

B-Movie Inspirations: World War 2 movies

Since I have been getting into Masters of the Air, I have also been watching some older WW2 movies. Here is a list of the movies I have watched so far.

  • Night Of The Generals (1967)
  • The Scarlet and the Black (1983)
  • Twelve O’clock High (1949)

I am all over the place with the eras of these movies and I got a little out of each of them, so I decided to write about them. However, while this whole series has been called B-Movie Inspirations, these movies are far from B level. There are some A-list actors in these movies and some where award winning for their roles in them. In fact, there are multiple actors connecting these movies – like 3 degrees of great WW2 movie actors.

The Night of the Generals is a fascinating movie with A-list stars that include Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif, Donald Pleasence as well as a brief appearance by Christopher Plummer as General Rommel and is loosely based on the beginning of the 1962 novel of the same name. The writing credits also state the film is based a subplot from a 1952 called novel The Wary Transgressor. It is a wartime mystery that starts out with one of those murders that you would think no one would care about, especially in wartime, but because one witness saw too much, it blows up in a story of great intrigue.

This was a bold movie that I don’t think would be made today. All the main characters are Nazis in some fashion or another in occupied Poland. Set towards the end of the war, right before the attempted assassination of Hitler. It uses the slow flow of information during this time as a plot device in the final act. It is a murder mystery the implicates three key generals involved in the occupation of Poland and takes a Abwehr (Army Intelligence) investigator into an intrigue that gets tangentially interlaced with the assassination of Hitler. Much of the movie is told in flashback, as in 1965 the cold case behind these murder mystery are reopened.

What I love about this movie is that intrigue and how it grows, all with the backdrop of real events. The reason there is so much intrigue is because these are three men of great power and the various plots they are all involved in creates a great story. For a 1960s, this is a very dark movie and if done today, it would be pretty gruesome. All three generals are involved in something that could draw the attention of the Abwehr investigator and you are left wondering through out the movie of all these will be connected somehow. I don’t want to give too much away but it is a very inspiring story.

This can easily inspire a role-playing game one-shot or campaign. A simple and perhaps unconnected crime can open to many doors of secrets and intrigue. I was inspired by a similar story – The DaVinci Code – to write a long campaign for Fading Suns. Planning is key. Each plot point and suspect’s story needs to be detailed out. Red herrings can lead to side plots that further puts the characters in peril. Lots of potential for adventure.

The Scarlet and the Black is another intrigue based movie and somewhat controversial as well. Set in 1943 Italy – Rome and the Vatican – starring Gregory Peck and Christopher Plummer (again). It involves the neutrality of the Vatican and the efforts of a Vatican priest O’Flaherty (Peck) to provide shelter and help to Allied airmen who have landed behind enemy lines. This is a brilliant movie that probably could have been executed a little better but the story is great.

The first act primarily follows the priest and his efforts (along with other priests from all over occupied Europe) to help Allied Airmen. Meanwhile, we meet the SS-ObersturmbannfĂĽhrer Kappler of the German SS Police (Plummer) and his family, who have just settled into Rome as their new home. Kappler is pressured by superiors (including Himmler himself) to put down the resistance in Rome as well as find those sheltering the Allied airmen. The second act is a fantastic cat and mouse game played between Kappler and O’Flaherty as the Germans closed in on the underground network. The final act takes an incredible twist as the Allies close in on Rome. I won’t give it away but the ending was great.

From an RPG point of view, this can be the set up for a one shot or even better a campaign. During a time of war, establish a neutral ground that the players have to get it or have to operate. In the movie, the barriers into this neutral ground was purely political but in an RPG, the barriers can be political, as well as magical or technological. The players can be involved in the cat and mouse game between themselves and the bad guys. Details are important here. Terms of the neutrality, reasons for the war, factions in the war and the details of the locations.

Honorable mention goes to Twelve O’Clock High, a rabbit-hole of a movie. I have been watching the Masters of the Air and really getting into it. After watching episodes, I watch a lot of Youtube videos covering the episodes and the real historical events that inspired the episodes. One of those videos recommended Twelve O’Clock High, a 1949 movie also starring Gregory Peck, as Brig. General Frank Savage. This tells a tale of the hard-nosed Savage who has to take on the 918th Bomb Group at Archbury and straighten it out. Morale in the group is very low and it’s performance is reflects it. It has become known as a “Hard luck group.” The movie takes Savage down the road of whipping the boys into shape until he experiences the stress a trauma they were suffering at the beginning. As the missions got harder, the group was more and more successful but the toll on Savage begins see and feel what the pilots of the group see and feel. The tables turn as he has a hard time braving the missions like many of the pilots were when he started.

The movie is a rabbit hole because I found out later that nearly 20 years later, the movie was turned into a TV show that lasted 3 seasons!! Who knew!!?? This isn’t so much a good RPG idea as much as a good lesson in role play and understanding a soldier. These airmen suffered through a lot and struggled to serve their country. It’s hard to see a adventure coming out of the movie or the TV show, but both are sort of a clinic on what the airmen went through and how they dealt with the trauma. The episodes may give you some ideas for short mission adventures but it too really hits home on the human toll side.