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15 top war movies: 'Memphis Belle'

Clockwise: Tate Donovan, Billy Zane, Matthew Modine, and D.B. Sweeney as the principal crew members in "Memphis Belle" (1990)
Clockwise: Tate Donovan, Billy Zane, Matthew Modine, and D.B. Sweeney as the principal crew members in "Memphis Belle" (1990)
Warner Bros. Pictures

"Memphis Belle" (1990)

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The beginning of Memphis Belle is more like a prom than a war adventure. Roughly, the film introduces the audience to the crew members of Memphis Belle, a war airplane destined for hsitorical greatness. A pre-exploit party is given to this specially selected group of soldiers who have little or nothing in common. However, together they make a team that overcomes the obstacles and dangers of World War II, all during one mission. What is different about Memphis Belle is how attention is focused not on the setting, just the crew. Every member gets a slight backstory before they are thrust into the flack of enemy aircraft and headed for possible death. In this story, it is how the characters work in unison despite their differences that propagates the audience’s interest in the outcome of the plot.

Memphis Belle has mainly one setting, the inside of the title airplane. Otherwise, there are no broad settings to stare at, in order that the viewers are forced to scrutinize the various characters inside that tiny area of space floating precariously in the sky. The cast is headed by several stars, which include Matthew Modine as the courageous leader pilot, Billy Zane as a to-be-doctor, B.J. Sweeney with a distinct phobia for death, and a special appearance by Harry Connick, Jr. Memphis Belle is at times gritty and excessively blunt with sexual innuendo, but the film straightens itself out after the action is underway and the mission is completed. It’s a down-to-earth World War II film that analyzes history from a refreshing sky-high point of view.

Memphis Belle is available on DVD wherever movies are sold in Fresno and online; it also can be rented for free from local libraries.

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