Bob Dole and Hollywood have finally found common ground: Both are trying to woo America with valor-packed tales of World War II. While the presidential hopeful is showing off his medals on the campaign trail, movie studios are prepping for a high-profile invasion of their own. A platoonful of World War II-era flicks are on the way to theaters, bearing the all-star dog tags of such vets as Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Nolte, George Lucas, Stanley Kubrick, Matthew Broderick, and Ralph Fiennes.
Why is the A list enlisting in this war? A few reasons: ”It’s a fuzzy time now because there’s no Cold War,” says director Keith Gordon, whose adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s spy thriller Mother Night, starring Nolte, hits theaters Nov. 1. ”WWII brought moral issues down to right versus wrong. There were good guys and bad guys, and studios know audiences are already primed for that.” Broderick, who makes his directorial debut with the love-during-wartime drama Infinity (Oct. 4), agrees: ”WWII was the last simple time. Everything was clear-cut. Everybody hated the Nazis. Now there’s no perfect villain anymore.”
The rush to WWII movies may also be happening because — as with all trends in Hollywood — no one wants to miss the boat. ”I remember when Big came out. All of a sudden there were tons of adult-kid body-switching movies,” says Gordon. Adds John Krier of Exhibitor Relations, which tracks box office receipts, ”It’s like the studios are all tapping each other’s phone lines.”
Actually, they all seem to be tapping one studio’s phones. By far the biggest player in Hollywood’s war room is Paramount, which has three battlefield bonanzas in the works: the Spielberg/Hanks project Saving Private Ryan, Schwarzenegger’s With Wings as Eagles, and Combat, starring Willis.
With Hanks in front of the camera and Spielberg behind it, Ryan is clearly the odds-on favorite to rule the trenches. While the film is scheduled to start filming in June ‘97 (the script, about a team of soldiers trying to save a private trapped behind enemy lines, is being rewritten by Robert Rodat), Spielberg is planning to shoot parts of the film in Normandy and has cleared his schedule after The Lost World, his sequel to Jurassic Park, wraps late this year. That leaves only one dilemma: With both Paramount and Spielberg’s DreamWorks bankrolling the project, which gets to release the picture? A spokeswoman for DreamWorks says the decision will be made — no joke — by a coin toss.
Since some of the most memorable WWII films are action-adventures (like The Great Escape), it can’t hurt to incorporate a few action stars. Eagles, loosely based on James Cullen’s nonfiction chronicle Ostermann’s War, about a German officer who refuses orders to kill Allied POWs, was conceived as a Schwarzenegger vehicle from the get-go, says the actor’s agent, Lou Pitt. Pitt adds that Eagles will likely be the brawny star’s follow-up to Batman and Robin, in which he plays the icy Mr. Freeze. Richard Attenborough is being considered to direct.