War Film + Broken Telephone
November 24, 2010 11:42 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for examples of scenes in war films where soldiers are lost or isolated and a faulty field phone (or other non-dependable instrument of communication) gives them their hope of being rescued or relieved. I am especially interested in films that were shot before WW2, if at all possible.... but later examples are also welcome. Anything come to mind?

It seems like a variation on a common trope, but I'm having a hard time coming up with examples, especially from earlier films. Any advice on how to find them would be helpful! Thanks.
posted by rottytooth to Media & Arts (11 answers total)
Best answer: Not before WW2, but Three Kings has a great scene where a captured Mark Wahlberg finds a pile of looted cell phones, and attempts to call for help by first calling his wife in the United States and trying to get her to relay a message to the Army command.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:51 AM on November 24, 2010

Gallipoli (WWI) doesn't use phones, but rather actual runners, which are imperfect instruments of communication to be sure.
posted by headnsouth at 12:03 PM on November 24, 2010

Best answer: Films shot before WWII? Like... what exactly? There aren't very many, particularly when you're talking about films shot before WWII but after the introduction of portable/mobile communications technology. You're basically looking at WWI movies shot in the two decades between the wars.

That doesn't strike me as being a terribly productive source for the trope in question, as warfare in WWI was infamously static. The Battle of the Somme took four and a half months and saw battle lines shift about 40 miles. That's less than a mile a day. This is not the sort of environment where guys are zipping around with temporary equipment and getting cut off behind enemy lines.

I think you're really looking at WWII, Korean War, and Vietnam War movies. Much before that and armies either didn't have electronic communication or didn't move around much. Much after that and communications equipment becomes more widespread and reliable. I certainly don't recall ever hearing stories about many squads losing communication with their HQs during either Gulf War. I mean, it happened, but it wasn't the kind of "Where the hell is that entire division" thing which seemed to happen all the time in WWII and earlier.
posted by valkyryn at 12:07 PM on November 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Lost Battalion send a pigeon message to their own artillery to stop shelling them.

Hell Is For Heroes has an interesting variation: Bob Newhart has to save his comrades by extemporising on a broken telephone, to pretend there are many many more Allied soldiers than there actually are, because the Germans have bugged the bunkers.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 12:20 PM on November 24, 2010

A Bridge Too Far has several scenes of this type, now that I think about it.

* A British solider swims across the Rhine to communicate with the Polish troops.
* Anthony Hopkins has to sprint across a bullet-ridden street to deliver a message.
* Sean Connery gets separated from his troops, and radio problems plague him left and right.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:41 PM on November 24, 2010

Bat 21 - he uses a radio and if i remember correctly only has a window of a few hours each night.
posted by Busmick at 12:44 PM on November 24, 2010

Behind Enemy Lines - same idea as Bat 21 and also, interestingly enough, featuring Gene Hackman. Maybe you could contact Gene as he seems to enjoy this genre as well...
posted by Busmick at 12:48 PM on November 24, 2010

In Heartbreak Ridge (spoilers) their radio is destroyed so they instead try to call collect or something to get air support but the charges are not accepted. Fortunately, one of the soldiers brought a credit card to battle that they could use to make the call.
posted by cali59 at 1:27 PM on November 24, 2010

Waiting for Godot. (Beckett was a sentry in WW1).
posted by ovvl at 7:07 PM on November 24, 2010

Where Eagles Dare is a wholly fictional/fantastical story with several key radio sequences, including one where Richard Burton has to use a German fort's own radio to effect his rescue flight.

13 Rue Madeleine is another potboiler spy flick (with elements that may have inspired WED) with an agent attempting to be rescued using a secret radio.

I expect there are a number of scenes in movies about the French Resistance. But maybe you need uniformed soldiers?

There is, in a slightly apposite way, the ending of Apocalypse Now.
posted by dhartung at 10:15 PM on November 24, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the help, everyone! I was hoping to piece these together for a blog post. In the end, I took a somewhat different approach, as valkyryn's point about the trope seems right to me... but I used Three Kings as one of the later examples.
posted by rottytooth at 3:49 PM on December 7, 2010

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