Montgomery Clift is at his very best as Pvt. Robert E. Lee Prewitt, a career soldier stationed in Honolulu just prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, in this 1953 adaptation of James Jones's classic novel, directed by Fred Zinnemann with the utmost grace. The beachside embrace between Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr is one iconic movie moment. The film also stars Donna Reed and Frank Sinatra, who won Oscars for their supporting roles.
William Wyler directed this best of all movies about soldiers returning home. The 1946 film follows a trio of veterans, beautifully played by Frederic March, Dana Andrews, and Harold Russell (a real-life amputee) as they rediscover their lives in peacetime. The results are emotionally overwhelming.
David Lean had an eye for epic vistas, and no film provided him with a bigger canvas than 1962's "Lawrence of Arabia." The characters who prance and gallop across the desert, starting with Peter O'Toole's incandescently blue-eyed Lawrence, have an epic stature to match.
Marlon Brando's dockworker Terry Malloy, a failed boxer who rats out his corrupt bosses, is an archetypal American character - ravaged, tender, and ultimately righteous. Elia Kazan and Budd Schulberg ratchet the intensity to the breaking point. Everything about this 1954 film hits home, even the remarkable score by Leonard Bernstein (his only original film score).
Francis Ford Coppola's first two "Godfather" movies constitute the greatest epic ever made in this country. They represent nothing less than a full-scale meditation on the corruption of the American Dream. The performances, from Brando and Pacino right down to the smallest cameos, are indelible. No other films have equaled their emotional scope, dramatic richness, and visual elegance.