10 War Movie Actors Who Were Actually There

The Hollywood actors who served in World War 2, and the movies that brought them right back.

Lee Marvin The Big Red One
United Artists

The war movie genre is one of the medium's most prolific, with the majority of films released in that genre taking place during the Second World War. Numerous acting icons have starred in films set in and around WW2, with many that were released in the 1940s, fifties and sixties actually featuring actors who served in the conflict in one way or another - sometimes in the very battles that were being depicted on screen.

No industry was left untouched by the Second World War - including the movie business. When conflict broke out in Europe in 1939, many filmmakers and actors immediately began to enlist in their respective armed forces. British stars like David Niven joined the army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force to fight in France, Africa and Asia, while some Americans, such as Robert Montgomery, were moved to follow suit and volunteer abroad.

This mobilisation increased dramatically with the United States' entry into the war on December 7, 1941, following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. Famous Hollywood faces soon joined the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines, going on to play a pivotal role in the conflict in a variety of ways, whether that be through entertainment with Special Services, intelligence via the OSS, or even frontline combat in the European, African, Asian and Pacific theatres.

The wartime experiences of these actors and filmmakers - whether their careers started pre or post-war - left an indelible mark on the Hollywood landscape, with many going on to revisit their wartime experiences in films released after the war's end...

10. Lee Marvin

Lee Marvin The Big Red One
United Artists

Lee Marvin was a legend of an actor. Initially typecast as "the Heavy" in noir and Western pictures, Marvin truly broke out with 1953's The Big Heat, a noir classic directed by Fritz Lang. Other early career highlights include the eponymous Liberty Valance in John Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance, Chino in The Wild One, and Hector David in Bad Day at Black Rock, but arguably more iconic was his turn as Major Reisman in The Dirty Dozen, a Robert Aldrich-directed picture that saw Marvin take charge of condemned U.S. Army soldiers for a suicide mission against the Nazis.

The Dirty Dozen was one of several World War II-set films Marvin starred in, with other acclaimed examples being Hell in the Pacific (directed by John Boorman, who directed Marvin in his greatest film, Point Blank), and Samuel Fuller's The Big Red One, which was based on the director's wartime experiences as a member of the First Infantry Division.

Marvin lent a real force of gravity and stature to these performances, as well as authenticity; during the war, Marvin had enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and became a scout sniper, seeing action in the bloody Battle of Saipan in 1944, among other numerous engagements. He was wounded during the battle, along with most of his company, and received a medical discharge in 1945.

It goes without saying that Marvin's wartime experiences carried over into his films - especially those that focused on the Second World War. In many instances he was able to act as an advisor on set, ensuring a greater level of authenticity to those productions he starred in - only two of which brought him back to the Pacific.

In this post: 
War Films
 
Posted On: 
Content Producer/Presenter
Content Producer/Presenter

Resident movie guy at WhatCulture who used to be Comics Editor. Thinks John Carpenter is the best. Likes Hellboy a lot. Can usually be found talking about Dad Movies on his Twitter at @EwanRuinsThings.