World War II - When Lions Roared (1994)



Director:     Joseph Sargent. 

Starring:     Michael Caine (Joseph V. Stalin),  Bob Hoskins (Winston Churchill),  John Lithgow (Franklin Delano Roosevelt),  Ed Begley Jr. (Harry Hopkins),  Jan Triska (Vyacheslav Molotav). 

Made for TV movie. 

Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin dialogue through World War II



Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film. 


Disc 1. 

September 1939.  The Germans have invaded Poland.  They invade Norway; invade Denmark; invade Belgium and Holland. 

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) says his is a neutral nation. 

British Prime Minister Chamberlain resigns.  Churchill takes over.  His aim:  Victory! 

FDR calls the USA the arsenal of democracy as he seeks ways to get more and more supplies to Britain.  His top aide is Harry Hopkins.  FDR asks Hopkins:  "What can we do for the British right now?"  British and many other Allied soldiers are trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk, France.  FDR is concerned that Britain could lose it all. 

Hundreds of boats sailed from England to pick up the soldiers at Dunkirk.  Churchill says to Parliament:  "We got the army away."  He emphasizes:  "We shall never surrender!"  With German saturation bombing the Battle of Britain is on.  Churchill says that in the future others will says that "This was their finest hour."

Harry Hopkins travels to England to speak personally with Churchill.  Churchill says to an aide:  "Harry who?"  Harry Hopkins.   Churchill is being very diplomatic in his talk with Harry, because he desperately needs the help of the United States.  After various vague statements from Churchill, Harry gets right to the point:  We want to know how you will beat that son-of-a-bitch. 

June 22, 1941.  Moscow, Russia.  Germany invades Russia.  Churchill says the he knew it.  He had even warned Stalin about this very probability.  Stalin tells his people that the Germans attacked them at 4 a.m.  They have bombed several of their cities.  He adds:  "Our cause is good. . . . The enemy will be smashed.  Victory will be ours."

FDR says that Hitler just made his first big mistake. 

Stalin says that the Germans have takes Lithuania and parts of Belo-Russia and the Ukraine.  He also says that all rolling stock must be evacuated.   The Germans must be hounded at every step. 

FDR wants to help the Soviet Union. 

Churchill puts his main emphasis on the air war issuing a full air attack on the Germans. 

FDR tells Hopkins that he met Churchill in 1918.  He remembers the man as very rude and that he lorded it over the Americans.  FDR wants a personal meeting with Churchill. 

Stalin wants a front opened up by the Brits in northern France.  The problems is that there are 40 German divisions in that area.  And Churchill says that the Battle of the Atlantic strains his country's resources.  Harry comes back to see Churchill.  What Churchill wants to know is when is the USA going to get into the war.  He agrees to set up a personal meeting with FDR.  What FDR wants is to know about is the British ability to withstand invasion.  He also finds it questionable to defend the Middle East.  Churchill tells Hopkins that they have a half-million troops in Egypt.  Churchill suggests that Harry go to Moscow to talk with Stalin.  FDR says:  "Absolutely!  Go!" 

Churchill tells Hopkins to tell Stalin that Britain has only one ambition and desire:  to crush Hitler!

Hopkins arrives to talk with Stalin.  Stalin tells Hopkins that there must be a minimal moral standard on which every nation will agree.  (And it is obvious that Germany has no such standard.)  Hopkins presses him to tell him what exactly he needs the most.  Stalin says anti-aircraft weapons and aluminum primarily.  Of course, he wants many other things such as machine guns and rifles.  He adds that supply is a serious problem.  He admits that Russia needs US help.  After speaking with Stalin, Hopkins says to himself:  Hitler is going to lose. 

August 1941. New Foundland, Canada.   Aboard ship FDR says to Churchill:  "Welcome aboard!"  After the photos are taken, Churchill describes the war as a mechanized, mobile war.  He emphasizes that they must destroy the German economy and German morale that backs this economy.  But there must not be a clash of major land armies.  Britain only has limited resources.  Stalin wants a second front and wants the US in the war.  FDR says that Stalin doesn't understand the nature of US politics.  The congress would debate the matter for three months or more.  FDR says that he is looking for an incident where the US could get into the war in a big way. 

Stalin is very worried.  He says the Germans have recently transferred 30-32 divisions to the eastern front, largely because the Brits and the Americans are not fighting and the Germans know that virtually all is quiet on the western front.  The German have taken half the Ukraine and are at the gates of Leningrad.  He reiterates: send us aluminum!  He also wants 400 additional aircraft per month.

October 1941.  Moscow.  Stalin asks Zhukov if he is convinced they can hold Moscow against the Germans. 

Stalin says they have been at war for four months.  The German threat is looming like a black cloud over Leningrad and is threatening Moscow.  Again he reiterates the need for a second front.  Churchill asks if it would be helpful to send two British General to Stalin to discuss the Allied resources.  Stalin says only if they will deal with questions of the first level. 

The US wants Japan to withdraw from China and Indo-China.  A message is send to the Japanese emperor to that effect. 

December 7, 191.  Harry Hopkins answers the phone and is stunned.  FDR knows something big has happened just from Hopkin's face.  The Japanese have attacked the US Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  FDR is stunned and a bit upset:  "I tried to keep us out of war.  I wanted to finish my administration without war."  Speaking to the Congress, FDR talks of a date which will live in infamy when the USA was suddenly and deliberately attacked by the naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.  He says that last night the Japanese struck at Malaya, Hong Kong, Guam, Wake Island and Midway Island.  He adds:  "We will gain the inevitable triumph so help us God."  Churchill is elated and says to himself:  "So we have won after all. . . . England will live. . . .  The Empire will live."  He also says:  "Hitler's fate is sealed.  Mussolini's fate is sealed." 

FDR sends a message to Churchill saying that "We're all in the same boat."  FDR is ecstatic.  He tells an aide that now there is no need to take a cautious approach to America.  The USA is finally and fully in the war. 

Stalin communicates to Churchill that they want territory after the war including Rumania, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.  Churchill doesn't like this kind of talk at all.  He wants to win the war first.  Churchill travels to the USA to talk with FDR personally.  FDR tells him that the Germans won't reach Moscow.  He receives a message from Wake Island:  "Send us more Japs."  This buoys FDR's spirits.  Churchill says in 1942 he wants the western Allies to take the whole of northern Africa.  They will use three divisions.  By 1943 they should be able to get onto the European continent. 

Stalin wants complete fulfillment of the delivery of supplies to Russia.  But the western Allies are losing just too many ships. 

Churchill sends a message that Singapore must fight to the end to save the honor of the army and of Britain.  Very soon after this message, he receives notice that Singapore has fallen.  He describes it as the greatest disaster in our history. 

FDR insists that the USA assume the major part of the fighting in north Africa.  They also will be the main country to protect Australia and New Zealand, and provide supplies to China.  There must be no more Japanese land advances.  Churchill is shocked by what happened at Singapore.  He is upset at just how weakened the British are after more than a year of fighting.  He agrees that the US will hold Asia.  FDR is concerned about Churchill's mental state and health.  He tells the Prime Minister that he should do what he does.  Every month he goes to Hyde Park, New York for four day.  He adds that he wishes that Churchill would try it.  Churchill replies that he is very grateful for FDR's personal kindness toward him.  He admits that he has found it difficult to get over the fall of Singapore.  He says he will go more to his mansion in Chartwell.

The Red offensive in Russia has begun.  Stalin says:  "The initiative is now in our hands."  Harry is excited about the news and he reiterates that the western Allies must get onto the continent of Europe.  FDR messages Churchill on the need to open a front.  He adds that the Russians are killing more Germans than Britain and the US taken together.

FDR messages Stalin.  Stalin is sending Molotov to Washington, D.C. to prepare for action in 1943.  FDR starts feeling better about the conduct of the war.  Churchill informs FDR that he wanted to open a front earlier, but he had to go slow for diplomatic reasons. He mentions how hard he prayed that the US would enter the war. 

May 1942. London .  Molotov visits with Churchill.  Churchill again emphasizes the air war in western Europe.  But Russia is not satisfied with this.  And again the Soviets talk about taking territory for themselves.  Churchill is excited about the fight against German General Rommel at Tobruk in n. Africa.  He stresses that everybody must fight.

Molotov is in the USA to speak with FDR and wants to talk about opening the second front so the Germans will draw off 40 divisions from the eastern front.  Churchill messages FDR not to forget about their plans in n. Africa.  FDR is in agreement to open a second front in 1942.  Molotov goes to England and hears from Churchill a goal date of September 1942.  Back in Russia Stalin tells Molotov that there is a big difference between wanting a second front and having a second front. 

Churchill is in the US with FDR.  Again Churchill receives a big blow.  Tobruk has surrendered with 25,000 men.  The British leaders says:  "Defeat is one thing; disgrace is another.  I am ashamed. I cannot understand why Tobruk gave in."  Now Rommel is heading toward the Nile Valley.  US forces must be put into action in French northern Africa or in the Middle East.

Hopkins confers with Churchill.  France is not in the cards for 1942.  Churchill says he likes the n. Africa plan.  FDR says:  "North Africa in 1942.  Full steam ahead!"

July 1942.  The Murmansk Run.  U-boats are taking too high of a proportion of the shipping.  The order is given to call it off.  Stalin is furious.  He tells Churchill that his naval experts say differently.  Then he learns that there will be no second front in 1942.  He says that he cannot acquiesce in the postponement of a second front in Europe.  Churchill doesn't like Stalin's tone.  FDR has to message Churchill to tell him to be more careful with Stalin.  Churchill tells Stalin that he is coming to Moscow.

1942 Moscow.  Churchill says they are preparing for a second front in 1943.  Stalin asks about hitting the French coast.  Churchill believes that they will be just throwing their men away at this time in France.  Stalin replies that the western Allies must bloody their troops in battle.  He asks:  "Why are you so afraid of Germany?"  Churchill again stresses the air war.  Stalin says they must also bomb the civilians in Germany.  Churchill says they are bombing civilians.  He says he would be willing to destroy every house in Germany.  Not to leave Stalin too negative, Churchill starts telling him about Operation Torch.  They will go into n. Africa and from there attack the soft under belly of the fascists.  Stalin wants to know when.  October 1942.  Stalin wants to confirm that they will hit Rommel.  Churchill is losing patience with the dictator.  He whispers to Molotov that Stalin should not be too rough with them.  Molotov  replies that Churchill should not worry.  Stalin is a very smart man who knows perfectly well the nature of the worldwide conflict.  Stalin gives Churchill a big No.  An attack in n. Africa would only be a political attack.  Again he asks why the westerners are so afraid to fight:  "You have to fight one way or the other."  At this Churchill blows up.  He shouts that there is no comradeship in Stalin's attitude.  He stresses that Britain had been fighting alone for a solid years before Russia got into the conflict.   At this, Stalin laughs heartedly and says:  "By God, I like your spirit."  He pauses the talking for drinks.  Stalin jokes that Molotov can really drink. 

After Churchill leaves, Stalin tells Molotov that the Brits and Americans want to bleed Russia white.  They want to be the first to get to the Balkans so they can dictate the terms of peace. 

November 1942.  Battle of Stalingrad. 

FDR stresses that the n. African attack should use all American troops.  Stalin tells the western Allies that that Stalingrad is in danger.  He wants 800 fighter planes every month.  The US offers only 276 and the Brits 150.  Stalin laughs. 

Things are looking up.  Churchill tells Gen. Alexander that he proposes to ring the bells all over Britain. 

Good news from Africa for the US.  The casualties in the landing were light. 

Stalin says they have begun offensive operations at Stalingrad. 

Things are looking up.  Churchill says that it is the end of the beginning. 

Disc 2. 

February 1, 1943.  The Soviet Union reports that in the aftermath of Stalingrad 147,000 German corpses were found.  From the Solomon Islands American planes are hitting Bougainville in round the clock attacks.  Allied troops under General Alexander are attacking Sicily. Churchill says that they dropped 800 tons of bombs on Hamburg and he dares figure that the residents there are less keen on war than they used to be.  FDR questions whether they can work with the Soviets now and after the war.  He is not very fond of Churchill's idea that the Axis powers will be defeated by a series of attritions around the world and that the "only fighting to be done is by Russia."  He argues that the time has come for the USA to assume the responsibility of leadership of the cross-channel invasion.  He tells Hopkins that Churchill has to be told. 

Churchill has nightmares of British dead crossing the English channel.  "I wake up at night and see the Channel floating with the bodies of the cream of our youth."  Stalin issues congratulations on the Allied success on Sicily.  FDR sends Stalin congratulations on the magnificent performance of the Russian troops in pushing the Germans back.  He suggests it is time that the three leaders have a rendezvous.  Stalin also wants a three party conference.  The Soviet leader says they should meet in Iran where all three nations are represented.  FDR really does not want to travel to Teheran.  He tells Stalin that he is deeply disappointed.  So Stalin messages that he could send Molotov in his place so that the meeting can go forward in the eastern Mediterranean.  FDR messages back that he will go to Teheran. 

November 1943.  Teheran.  Hopkins remarks that at the conference it is going to be Russia and the United States against Churchill.  The meeting place is changed to the Russian embassy.   Churchill complains to his people that it is sometimes onerous to have to persuade "fools" to let them win the war.  FDR admits that he just does not understand the Russians.  He starts the meeting off by saying that the US is sinking many Japanese ships.  They are also keeping China in the war by supplying that country through Burma.  But the western Allies cannot proceed across the English Channel before May 1, 1944. 

Stalin makes the point that the Italian campaign is of no great value to them.  Churchill asks him what can be done in the meantime before the crossing in Operation Overlord.  Stalin says it is best to attack an enemy in two offensives that converge.  To an aide Churchill says a bloody lot has gone wrong in the meeting.  He will not abandon the Italian campaign.  Stalin says that Churchill wants to take the easy road.  Churchill  suggests that he and FDR have lunch together, but FDR tells him no.  He does not want Stalin to think he and Churchill are ganging up on Russia.  Churchill says: "I can accept rebuff as well as any man."  But he insists that he be host for dinner the next evening.  It's his birthday.

After lunch Stalin wants to know who will command Operation Overlord.  FDR says that has yet to be determined.  Stalin responds that this means that the operation will not take place in the time chosen.  The Soviet leader insists that Operation Overlord is the most important of all the Allied operations.  He then turns to Churchill to ask an "indiscreet question":  Do you really believe in Overlord or are you just going along with the USA?  Churchill strongly emphasizes that Britain will throw in everything it has when the time comes. 

Churchill wants to take up the question of what will happen to Poland.  Stalin is not eager to discuss Poland because nothing Churchill has said has led him to think the discussions would be fruitful.  He asks Churchill if he thinks Russia will swallow up Poland.  Churchill replies:  "We don't know how much you will swallow up."  FDR is of the opinion that Operation Overlord is the quickest way to win the war.  He comments that Churchill is too afraid of letting the Russians get too strong.

At the beginning of the next round of talks, FDR tells Churchill:  "I hope you won't be sore for what I'm going to do."  Stalin offers a toast to Churchill.  But he says Churchill wants a soft peace for the Germans.  Indeed, Churchill is pro-German.  To make sure the Germans do not start another war 50,000 of their officers must be rounded up and shot.  Churchill becomes very upset.  He tells Stalin that his nation would not tolerate such an inhumane act.  FDR suggests a compromise:  that they only shoot 49,000 German officers.  Everyone laughs except Churchill.  This upsets Churchill so much that he gets up from the table and goes to look out a window.  Seeing how upset Churchill is, Molotov and Stalin go over to him to say:  "We were playing with you. . . . Where's your sense of humor?" 

Hopkins whispers to Churchill that he is fighting a losing battle by pushing for a delay in Operation Overlord.  Churchill tells everyone at the meeting that Operation Overlord will start in May, 1944.  FDR offers a toast to Churchill.  And Stalin toasts "To my fighting friend, Churchill."  FDR tells Stalin that he should have the moniker "Stalin the Great".  Leaving the meeting Stalin makes the private comment that if the western Allies do not carry through on their promises, Russia still has enough forces to defeat Nazi Germany by itself.

Operation Overlord starts to take shape.  US General Eisenhower will be the overall commander.  And Hitler wonders where and when the invasion will take place.  Stalin promises Churchill to launch a major offensive on the Germans at the same time as Operation Overlord.  Churchill is very pessimistic.  He says that if the US loses, they just lose a battle.  If Britain loses, they loose their fighting ability. 

When D-day is a success Stalin is very happy. 

Churchill is thinking a great deal about the post-war situation.  It appears that Britain will have to acquiesce in the communization of the Balkans.   The British leader is willing to offer the Soviet Union Rumania in exchange for Greece.  Churchill wants to meet with the Soviets.  When FDR is informed he tells Churchill that he is bothered by only being informed of the proposed meeting after Churchill approached the Soviets.  In the message conversation, Churchill again brings up the situation in Italy:  "Don't throw away the Italian campaign."  Afterward the conversations, Churchill tells his aides that the Americans are bullying them. He asks why can't the Americans see that Russia is spreading through Europe like a tide. 

Ambassador Harriman sends a message to FDR saying that the Russians have misinterpreted the generous attitude of the Americans as weakness.  Russia could become a world bully. 

Churchill thinks that Stalin will get what he wants.  Russia is just too powerful not to.  So Churchill goes alone to speak personally to Stalin. In an almost "off-hand" fashion (as admitted by Churchill), the  British leader tells Stalin that he is willing to give away Rumania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Hungary for the right to be the dominant power in the Mediterranean.  As for Poland, Stalin says that communism doesn't fit the Polish style.  The Polish people are too nationalistic.  "It will be a capitalist state."  Churchill tells Stalin that it is he who has torn the guts out of the foul Hun. 

For the next meeting Stalin suggests Yalta on the Black Sea in the Crimea.  FDR agrees.  The American president tells Hopkins that he likes Churchill personally, but finds him somewhat dangerous and excitable. 

In the German counter-offensive in western Europe known as the Battle of the Bulge, Churchill asks Stalin if he would launch a big offensive to help the Americans and the British in their battle  Stalin agrees.

Increasingly depressed about the coming post-war period, Churchill concludes that there is nothing he can really do about the Balkans and Poland. 

February 1945.  Yalta, USSR.  The military situation now looks much brighter for the Allies.  Churchill notices that FDR looks very ill.   Stalin reports that they are fighting the Germans on a 700 km front. 

Even though Churchill admitted to himself that there is nothing he can do to stop the Soviet Union in swallowing up much of eastern Europe, he stresses the problem of dealing with the question of what will happen to the small nations.  Stalin is rather contemptuous of the small nations.  They did not really fight to break Germany.  At this point FDR talks about the importance of establishing a United Nations.  Stalin will study the proposal FDR sent him.  The Russian leader takes exception to Churchill's attitude toward his country.  He says that Churchill talks about domination of the world.  Who wants to dominate the world?  Not the British.  And not the USA.  So, USSR wants world domination?  He laughs.  After the meeting is over, FDR tries to engage Stalin in small talk probably to make sure the Russian is not completely mad at his allies. 

Churchill talks about Poland again.  The Russians support the Warsaw Poles, while the Allies support a national unity force.  Churchill says that he wants Poland to be a free and independent state.  It is a matter of honor.  Stalin gets a little mad again.  He says Poland is not only a matter of honor for the Russians, but a matter of security.  For centuries forces attacking Russia have come through the Polish corridor.  Poland is a question of life and death for Russia.  They want Poland strengthened internally so that the nation won't ever be used again as a corridor to attack Russia.  FDR lightens the mood by saying that the Polish question has been a headache for European leaders for five centuries. 

Stalin is in full agreement with FDR on the UN organization. 

The Russian presents some proposals about what to do with Poland.  FDR asks for time to study the proposals.  Stalin is agreeable to this. 

Churchill wants free elections to be held in Poland.  FDR agrees.  FDR tells Hopkins that this is all he can do for Poland for now.  With the approval of the idea of the United Nations, FDR says that they have won the first great victory of the peace.  Photos of the three leaders and their main staff all together are taken.  

Churchill worries about FDR.  Especially since Hopkins, his right hand man, is ill.  It seems to Churchill that FDR is bereft of his energies. 

FDR in Warm Springs, Georgia, USA sits for a portrait.  He says to the painter:  "I have a terrific headache."  He suddenly dies and his chin drops against his chest.  Churchill says that he has lost a dear and cherished friendship. 

Berlin is being taken by the Russians.  Hitler commits suicide in his bunker.  The Germans unconditionally surrender.  Churchill and Stalin communicate with each other on their joint victory.  But Churchill is still concerned about what will happen in the post-war world.  He says an "iron curtain" is falling over much of eastern Europe and it will not open again for a long time. 


Interesting movie.  Seeing the war through the three main Allied leaders is a fascinating way to get an overview of the entire war.  Especially interesting is the interaction between the three men.  What comes out of the presentation is that FDR and Stalin were often set against the wishes of Churchill.  FDR thought Churchill was too focused on what would happen after the war rather than winning the war itself.   Churchill was often confrontational with Stalin.  He suggested that the Soviet Union may be seeking world domination.  Perhaps to strike back, FDR went along with Stalin's joke that Churchill was so soft on Germany that the man was actually pro-German.   Churchill knew Britain and the USA could not stop the Soviet Union from gobbling up much of eastern Europe, but Churchill's resentment over this situation let it affect the three-way meetings.  It was also interesting that Stalin and FDR both thought that Churchill wanted the Russians to do all the fighting against the Germans.  (Russia lost some 23 million people while the US lost a half million men.) 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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