John Singer Sargent, Gassed, 1919; Imperial War Museums
LEWIS & CLARK COLLEGE




Prof. David Campion





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THE FIRST WORLD WAR IN FILM


SOME of the most enduring images of the First World War in the popular imagination have come from films. Some of these films are of average quality and imperfect in their historical accuracy, but many are excellent and effectively recreate the environment and compelling issues that people living through the war faced at different moments in that experience. And since films are the media through which much of the general public gain their impressions of the past, they are worthy of consideration by historians for that reason alone.

Below is a selection of films useful for complementing our study of the First World War. Most of them can be obtained at Watzek Library or through the Summit Library Consortium. You can also find many of them on Netflix.

Some information courtesy of Internet Movie Database. Used with permission




The Battle of the Somme (1916)
Shoulder Arms (1918)
The Big Parade (1925)
Wings (1927)
All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
La Grande Illusion (1937)
The Fighting 69th (1940)
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)
The African Queen (1951)
Paths of Glory (1957)
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
King and Country (1964)
The Blue Max (1966)
Oh! What a Lovely War (1969)
Gallipoli (1981)
The Good Soldier (1981)
Reds (1981)
Reilly, Ace of Spies (1983)
Out of Africa (1985)
The Shooting Party (1985)
The Lighthorsemen (1987)
Black Adder Goes Forth (1989)
Regeneration (1998)
All the King's Men (1999)
The Lost Prince (2003)
Un Long Dimanche de Fiançailles (2004)
Joyeux Noël (2005)
My Boy Jack (2007)
Haber (2008)
Passchendaele (2008)
Beneath Hill 60 (2010)
Downton Abbey (2011)
War Horse (2011)
Birdsong (2012)
Parade's End (2012)
The Wipers Times (2013)





THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME

Cinematographers: John McDowell and Geoffrey Malins, 1916

When this silent battlefield documentary was released in 1916 it is estimated that more than 20 million tickets were sold in the first two months alone. The film was then distributed internationally to demonstrate Britain's commitment to victory in the war. It has become one of the most successful British films ever made and the source of many of the war's most iconic images (though a few scenes were staged). In 2005 it became the only British document ever inscribed in UNESCO's "Memory of the World" register.

© Trustees of the Imperial War Museums



SHOULDER ARMS

Director: Charlie Chaplin, 1918

This silent film follows Charlie Chaplin's famous tramp character from his first days as a US Army recruit in boot camp to his harrowing adventures behind enemy lines on the Western Front. Chaplin's famous brand of physical comedy and clownish naïveté somehow manage to portray well the drudgery and horrors of trench life without trivializing the terrible human cost. Released less than a month before the armistice, the film was a commercial and critical success.


© Pathé Films



THE BIG PARADE

Director: King Vidor, 1925

This extraordinary silent film tells the story of James Apperson, the idle son of a rich businessman, who joins the army to please his family and fiancée when the United States enters the war in April 1917. James is sent to France, where before being sent to the front he becomes friends with two working-class soldiers and falls in love with a Frenchwoman. This groundbreaking film heavily influenced all subsequent war films, including All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) and Grand Illusion (1937).

© MGM



WINGS

Director: William Wellman, 1927

This action-romance silent film tells the story of two American pilots serving on the Western Front who vie for the love of the same woman. The director, William Wellman, had been a combat aviator during the war and his recreation of the Battle of St. Mihiel in the air and on the ground is incredible. Released in the same year that the Academy Awards began, this was the first film to win Best Picture. Praised for its realism and technical sophistication, for decades it set the standard against which all other aviation films were judged.

© Paramount



ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT

Director: Lewis Milestone, 1930

This film follows a group of German schoolboys talked into enlisting at the beginning of the war by their jingoistic teacher. The story is told entirely through the experiences of the young recruits and highlights the tragedy of war through their eyes. As the boys witness devastation and death all around them, any preconceptions about the inhumanity of their enemy and the moral justification of the war disappear, leaving them angry and confused. Adapted from the classic 1929 novel by war veteran Erich Maria Remarque.

© Universal Pictures



LA GRANDE ILLUSION

Director: Jean Renoir, 1937

Considered a masterpiece of French cinema, this film focuses on the interaction among French army officers taken as prisoners of war and their German captors. The men, who are divided along lines of class and religion as well as nationality and politics, find that their common humanity experienced through daily life in the POW camp transcends whatever boundaries separate them both in wartime and civilian life.


© Criterion



THE FIGHTING 69th

Director: William Keighley, 1940

The 69th Infantry Regiment from New York, composed largely of Irish Americans, had a legendary reputation dating back to the Civil War. This films centers on the heroism and leadership of the regiment's chaplain, Rev. Francis Duffy SJ, during some of the most brutal campaigns of the First World War. Father Duffy was one of three men of the 69th awarded the Medal of Honor and the regiment became the inspiration for the Notre Dame University nickname "The Fighting Irish."

© Warner Bros.



THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP

Directors: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1943

This film chronicles the life of Gen. Clive Wynne-Candy, an upper-class British Army officer, from his dashing youth as a hero of the Boer War until his being called out of retirement during World War II. Wynne-Candy meets Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff, a German officer, in the years before World War I when the two men become unlikely friends after a duel. They are reunited when Theo is a POW in Britain. The demise of the pre-war notions of honor that characterize both men brings them closer together.

© Criterion



THE AFRICAN QUEEN

Director: John Huston, 1951

This classic film starring Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn is set in German East Africa (present-day Tanzania) at the start of the war. The story focuses on the relationship that develops between a prim missionary (Hepburn) and the crotchety steamboat captain (Bogart) hired to transport her to safety after the war breaks out. Based on the 1935 novel by C.S. Forester.



© Horizon Pictures



PATHS OF GLORY

Director: Stanley Kubrick, 1957

A callous and ambitious French general orders his officers to lead their men in a suicidal assault against heavily defended German lines. After the inevitable slaughter of the attacking soldiers, the general orders his artillery to shell the area between the remaining soldiers and their own trenches to prevent a retreat to the protection of their own lines. The artillery commander refuses to carry out the order. To cover up the confrontation the general demands that three soldiers be charged with cowardice and executed.

© MGM



LAWRENCE OF ARABIA

Director: David Lean, 1962

This is a classic film about T.E. Lawrence, a young officer assigned to the British Foreign Office in Cairo during the First World War. Lawrence is given the task of riding into the Arabian Desert to unite the various Bedouin tribes against the Turkish forces (which are allied with Germany). The film is a highly romanticized portrayal of Lawrence's campaign and has been the subject of much controversy among historians and cultural critics. Based loosely on Lawrence's 1922 memoir Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

© Columbia/TriStar



KING AND COUNTRY

Director: Joseph Losey, 1964

In the British trenches at Passchendaele, an army private, Arthur Hamp, leaves his company and is accused of desertion. He is defended at his trial by Capt. Hargreaves, an upper-class officer who is initially contemptuous of the simple-minded Hamp but comes to identify with his plight. Nevertheless Hamp must be made an example of. He is found guilty and is shot by a firing squad. The action is confined to the muddy, rat-infested trenches and barracks. Based on the 1955 novel by J.L. Hodson.

© VCI Video



THE BLUE MAX

Director: John Guillermin, 1966

In 1918, a new pilot arrives at a German fighter squadron on the Western Front. Because of his lower-class background and former enlisted service in the trenches, he struggles to fit into the chivalrous and exclusionary aristocratic culture of his fellow aviators. To gain acceptance he becomes obsessed with shooting down twenty enemy aircraft and winning Germany’s highest military award, the coveted "Blue Max." A mediocre war story in most respects, the film is redeemed by its spectacular aerial photography and stunt flying.

© Twentieth Century Fox



OH! WHAT A LOVELY WAR

Director: Richard Attenborough, 1969

An unlikely musical satire about the "game of war" as portrayed by the leaders of the great powers and the members of an average British family, the Smiths, who go off to fight. Much of the plot is conveyed in the lyrics of actual songs from the period and many scenes recreate some of the more famous (and infamous) incidents of the war. A mocking comedy about the jingoism, cynical politicking, and wartime enthusiasm that sent so many to die. Based on the 1963 stage musical of the same name.

© Paramount



GALLIPOLI

Director: Peter Weir, 1981

This film tells the story of the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (the "ANZACs") and its participation in one of the most disastrous British campaigns of the First World War. This is one of the best film portrayals of the horrors of war and the waste of young lives. It also gives insight into a distinctly anti-British sense of Australian nationalism that arose after this war.



© Warner Home Video



THE GOOD SOLDIER

Director: Kevin Billington, 1981

In the decade before the First World War, two wealthy and attractive upper class couples—one English, one American—meet at a German spa and forge an immediate bond. Through nine seasons at the spa, the four come to share with each other their same tastes, desires, and elegantly perfect Edwardian lives. Over time, however, it becomes clear just how far short of perfection their lives really are. Based on the 1915 semi-autobiographical novel by Ford Madox Ford.


© Acorn Media



REDS

Director: Warren Beatty, 1981

This film focuses on John Reed, an American journalist and communist organizer, and his wife Louise Bryant, a feminist writer. After years of anti-war and socialist activism in America, Reed and Bryant traveled to Russia in 1917 to witness the Bolsheviks seize power and establish the world's first communist state. Based on Reed's first-hand account of the October Revolution, Ten Days that Shook the World, the film is interspersed with interviews of surviving friends and colleagues of Reed and Bryant.

© Paramount



REILLY, ACE OF SPIES

Directors: Martin Campbell and Jim Goddard, 1983

This television series dramatizes the extraordinary life and exploits of Sidney Reilly, Britain's first modern super-spy. With his remarkable gift for self-invention and reinvention, Reilly engaged in freelance espionage against the Germans and Russians from the pre-war Anglo-German rivalry to the years after the Russian Revolution. His resourcefulness, self-confidence, and incorrigible womanizing were later the inspiration for Ian Fleming’s master spy, James Bond.

© A&E Home Entertainment



OUT OF AFRICA

Director: Sydney Pollack, 1985

This film tells the true story of Baroness Karen Blixen-Finecke, a Danish woman who relocated to the British East Africa Protectorate (Kenya) with her husband in 1914 to take charge of a large coffee plantation. Part of the film portrays the chaotic fighting in the highlands of East Africa between British and German settlers and the thousands of African porters they conscripted. Based on Blixen's 1937 autobiographical account written under the pen name "Isak Dineson."


© Universal



THE SHOOTING PARTY

Director: Alan Bridges, 1985

In the summer of 1913 a small group of English lords and ladies gathers at the country estate of Sir Randolph Nettleby for a shooting party. A code of aristocratic propriety governs every aspect of the event—including speech, dress, dining, interaction with the estate's tenants, courtship, shooting, and even adultery. A vivid portrayal of a way of life that on the eve of the First World War was already in the midst of an irreversible decline.


© Jef Films



THE LIGHTHORSEMEN

Director: Simon Wincer, 1987

Set in Palestine in 1917, this epic film tells the true story of how the 4th Australian Light Horse Brigade breached the Turkish defenses running from Gaza to Beersheba. The little-known “Battle of Beersheba” ended in one of the last successful cavalry charges in history and was a much-needed boost for British and imperial morale after the disastrous defeat at Gallipoli two years earlier. This lavish Australian film received little attention internationally but was extremely popular with home audiences.

© RKO Pictures



BLACK ADDER GOES FORTH

Director: Richard Boden, 1989

The fourth and final season of the BBC historical sitcom Black Adder is set in 1917 on the Western Front. This is a somewhat dark subject for a comedy and was a risky project for all involved. Yet the series succeeds in using humor to underscore the terrible conditions of the trenches, stunning incompetence of the leadership, and futile loss of life among the men. The final episode is particularly moving and gives a good sense of how the British view this war.


© BBC



REGENERATION | BEHIND THE LINES

Director: Gillies MacKinnon, 1998

Set in 1917 in an army sanitarium in Scotland, this film focuses on the psychiatric treatment of shell-shocked soldiers from the Western Front. The patients being treated range from the catatonic, amnesiac, and deranged to sane war heroes like the poet Siegfried Sassoon who is being punished for his anti-war pamphlets. A moving film with dialogue interspersed with voiced-over selections from the "War Poet's" best-known verses. Based on Pat Barker's 1991 novel and true events.

© Lions Gate



ALL THE KING'S MEN

Director: Julian Jarrold, 1999

At the outbreak of war in 1914 a company of the Norfolk Regiment was formed from staff members at the royal estate in Sandringham. A year later the regiment suffered heavy losses at Gallipoli and, during confusion of battle, the Sandringham Company advanced behind Turkish lines and disappeared in the smoke and mist. This film recreates the efforts by the Queen Mother, Alexandra, after the war to learn the fate of her soldier servants.


© BBC Films



THE LOST PRINCE

Director: Stephen Poliakoff, 2003

The heartbreaking true story of Prince John, youngest child of King George V and Queen Mary of England. John's short and sad life spanned from the pomp of the Edwardian court through the turmoil of the First World War. A loving, insightful, and humorous child, John suffered from epilepsy and autistic-like learning difficulties. Though isolated from public view, he remained an eyewitness to the politics within the German, Russian and British monarchies that were all part of the same extended family.

© BBC Films



UN LONG DIMANCHE DE FIANÇAILLES | THE VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT

Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2004

Five desperate French soldiers during the Battle of the Somme disfigure themselves in order to be invalided back home. After they are caught a court martial banishes them to No Man's Land with the objective of having the Germans finish them off. As the plot unfolds each man's life is briefly explored along with their next of kin as Methilde, fiancée to one of the men, tries to determine the circumstances of her lover's death. Based on the 1991 novel by Sébastien Japrisot.


© Warner Bros.



JOYEUX NOËL

Director: Christian Carion, 2005

A moving and uplifting film about the famous "Christmas truce" in December 1914 during which French, German and British soldiers unofficially exchanged greetings and songs and even visited each other's trenches bearing gifts. Such expressions of common humanity were less frequent later in the war as the scale of death and destruction increased and as punishments from commanders for such fraternization became more severe.


© Sony Pictures Home Entertainment



MY BOY JACK

Director: Brian Kirk, 2007

At the start of the war, famed author Rudyard Kipling uses his influence to get his physically unqualified son, Jack, a commission in the Irish Guards. Jack's deployment to France may be the fulfillment of the elder Kipling's patriotic dream but it is a nightmare for Jack's mother and sister. When Jack is reported missing after the Guards suffer terrible losses, Mrs. Kipling forces her husband to use his influence, once again, to discover the fate of their son. Based on the 1997 play by David Haig.

© Ecosse Films



HABER

Director: Daniel Ragussis, 2008

In 1914, Fritz Haber was Germany's greatest chemist. The Nobel Prize winner's synthetic fertilizers had saved millions from starvation. Yet as war broke out across Europe and quickly degenerated into a bitter struggle of attrition, the desperate German military asked Haber to invent an entirely new kind of weapon. Haber's decision not only unleashed weapons of mass destruction for the first time in history, but also threatened to destroy his family as well.


© Cinespire Entertainment



PASSCHENDAELE

Director: Paul Gross, 2008

The plot of this Canadian film centers on Michael Dunne, a troubled veteran returning to Alberta to recover from his wounds after decorated service in the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Dunne begins a relationship with a young nurse and reenlists. He returns with the 10th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force to fight in the Battle of Passchendaele in fall of 1917. Though a bit melodramatic, the film portrays well Canada’s significant contribution to the Allied war effort.


© Rhombus Media



BENEATH HILL 60

Director: Jeremy Sims, 2010

This film tells the story of the 1st Australian Tunneling Company's effort to mine beneath a German bunker in the Ypres Salient at the start of the Battle of Messines in June 1917. Their extremely perilous mission was to detonate an enormous explosive charge to aid the advance of British troops. The screenplay is based on an account of the ordeal written by Capt. Oliver Woodward, the officer who led the mission.


© Paramount



WAR HORSE

Director: Steven Spielberg, 2011

Albert, a young Welshman, joins the British Army to search for his beloved horse sold to the cavalry by his impoverished family. The horse, a spirited brown stallion, takes part in cavalry charges and endures brutal treatment hauling heavy artillery for the Germans after his rider is killed. The film offers a gripping view of the conditions on the Western Front and particularly the cruel fate suffered by thousands of war horses. Based on the novel and the stage play of the same name.

© DreamWorks SKG



DOWNTON ABBEY

Creator: Julian Fellowes, 2011

The second season of this acclaimed series revolves around the lives of the Crawleys, an aristocratic English family, as they live through and confront the social and political changes brought about by the Great War. Traditional class sensibilities are challenged when Downton Abbey, their country estate, is transformed into a convalescent home for wounded officers while the younger generation of the family and their house servants go to serve as soldiers and nurses.


© Carnival Films



BIRDSONG

Director: Philip Martin, 2012

This romance, told in a series of flashbacks, focuses on the experiences of Stephen Wraysford, a young Englishman who travels to Amiens in 1910 and has an affair with the wife of a French colleague but returns home shortly afterward. A few years later, Wraysford is deployed to the Western Front as an officer in a combat mining battalion. Amid his near-death experiences in battle he discovers the fate of his lost love. Based on the 1993 novel by Sebastian Faulks.


© Working Title Productions



PARADE'S END

Director: Susanna White, 2012

This lavish television series focuses on Christopher Tietjens, a young British aristocrat and army officer, and his experiences amid the horrors of the trenches and the social change occurring on the home front. Much of the plot revolves around a love triangle involving Tietjens' vindictive wife Sylvia and a young suffragette named Valentine. Based on the four novels by Ford Madox Ford published between 1924 and 1928.


© BBC Worldwide/HBO



THE WIPERS TIMES

Director: Andy De Emmony, 2013

In 1916, Fred Roberts, a British captain, discovered a printing press in the ruins of Ypres. Soon after, he and a few of his fellow officers began to publish The Wipers Times (a play on the British nickname for Ypres). This satirical magazine, produced under enemy fire and gas attacks, was filled with poetry, jokes, editorials, and even fake ads. The dark, subversive humor of The Wipers Times was enormously popular with the troops and helped boost their morale. The magazine was published until the end of the war and edited collections are still in print.

© Trademark Productions




Created by campion@lclark.edu
Updated: September 2014