Directed by Richard Attenborough (his directorial début)
I saw “Oh! What a Lovely War” when it was released in 1969 and never forgot it. Based on the long-running British stage production, it’s World War I — in song, dance and irony. Its catchy score sticks in your brain. The songs are those sung by the troop during that long war. The cast includes everyone who was anyone in British stage or screen during the 1960s. The credits were a veritable who’s-who of English actors.
World War I is hard to understand, even when you study it. No matter how many books I read, I’m not sure I do or will. Its causes are rooted in old world grudges that make no sense to Americans.
So many ancient hatreds — thousands of years of scores to be settled.
My mother summed it: “Everyone was armed to the teeth. They wanted war. They just needed an excuse. Europe was a giant bomb waiting for someone to light a match.”
Hers may be as good an answer as any other. When the war began, it was the old world. The crowned heads of Europe ruled. When it finally ground to a halt in 1918 (it didn’t really end — WWII was the second chapter of the same war), the world had changed beyond recognition. The European monarchies were gone. A generation of men had been slaughtered; the death toll was beyond belief. The callous indifference to loss of life by those in command remains incomprehensible.
More than 9 million men were killed in battle. This does not include collateral damage to non-combatants and death by disease and starvation. It remains one of the deadliest conflicts in human history, paving the way for major political upheaval and revolution in many of the nations who fought.
You can’t make this stuff up.
Says the movie at the beginning: “The principal statements made by the historical characters in this film are based on documentary evidence, and the words of the songs are those sung by the troops during the First World War.”
The first World War could well be categorized as an orchestrated, organized international effort to murder an entire generation and they did a damned good job of it. The absurd statements and dialogue of the historical characters, all safely lodged a safe distance from actual fighting, sound ludicrous.
Did General Haig, when looking at the staggering loss of life on both sides, really say: “in the end, the Germans will have 5,000 men and we will have 10,000, so we will have won.”? Apparently he said it. And meant it.
The arrival of the Americans and their takeover of the endless war — and bringing it to a conclusion while there was still something left to preserve — is a great moment. I wonder how long it would have gone on without American involvement? Would they still be fighting it today? Would Europe even exist or would it all be a wasteland?
The war is told with music and dancing. Songs are mixed with pithy comments by generals, kings, Kaisers and occasionally, soldiers. It’s a long movie — 144 minutes — and I can promise you that you will have a far better and more visceral understanding of this war and the meaning of those little red poppies the Veterans organizations give out (do they still do that?) to commemorate the war to end all wars. Until the next war. And the one after that.
The music is ghastly, funny and catchy. The movie is out of print. It was only in print for a couple of months. I had been looking for it for a long time and was thrilled to snag a copy. A few copies are still available through Amazon. If you are a history buff and also love great movies, grab one before they disappear. Over the Memorial Day weekend, one of the movie channels, usually it’s on Encore but sometimes TCM runs it.
Great directing, biting sarcastic humor, terrific music and surprisingly informative, this motion picture is in a category all by itself. It was unavailable for more than 20 years. You will not be disappointed and you will never forget it. In the 45 years since I first saw it, I never forgot it.
Richard Attenborough’s directorial début was this musical satire that deftly skewers the events of World War I — including the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, a Christmastime encounter between German and British forces, and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles — by portraying them as absurd amusement park attractions. All-star cast includes Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Maggie Smith, Vanessa Redgrave, Dirk Bogarde, Ralph Richardson; look quickly for Jane Seymour in her screen début.
144 min. Widescreen (Enhanced); English Dolby Digital mono; Subtitles: English; audio commentary by Attenborough; “making of” documentary.
NOTE: This title is out of print. Limit ONE per customer.
Who left the little flag and the fading flowers by the old tombstone? It could have been anyone in this town, where memories are long and roots run deep.
The cemetery is in the center of town, across from the dam and just a hundred yards or so from the river. It’s up on the hill, so it never floods, even when the rivers rush over their banks. The people who chose the land for the cemetery knew the river. They picked a beautiful spot, but dry and safe for bones and memories.
An old cemetery, dating back to the early 1700s. It contains traces of many generations of those who lived and died in this town, this valley. Folks who lived along the Blackstone and its many tributaries, fished in its lakes and streams. They fought in our wars and are buried here — Revolutionary War soldiers, Civil War veterans as well as those who fought in all the American wars since.
Every Independence Day, Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day, the cemetery blooms with bouquets and flags. The schools bring the children here, so they will remember too and traditions will be maintained. They bring bouquets of wild flowers or from the back garden. Lilacs and lilies, scarlet poppies … and always a miniature American flag. Even if there’s no special holiday, the cemetery always shows signs of caring, remembering.
Maybe it’s easier to remember here, with such a small population. Is that it? Or it’s just part of the air, the character, the history. Remembering is what we do in the Valley.
The cemetery is one of my favorite places. We’re newcomers after all, only living here 13 years. Our ancestors — Garry’s and mine — come from Sligo, Antigua, Minsk, Bialystok … from tiny villages in Ireland and the West Indies and the shtetls of eastern Europe.
Valley people have been here longer. Many came from French Canada in the late 19th century to work in the mills. Another large group formed the dominant Dutch population. They built churches, businesses and factories, dairy and truck farms, shops, horse farms and sawmills. Their names are prominent wherever the rivers run.
Newcomers like us have no ancestors in the cemetery, at least none about whom we know. Anything is possible in America. The valley is the only place I’ve lived where the majority of families have lived in the town or in a nearby villages for three, four, five generations.
“We’ve always lived in the Valley,” they say, meaning as long as anyone can remember. If gently prodded, they may recall at some point, long ago, they came from somewhere else … but some can’t remember when or if it’s true.
To all the mothers, to my mother and all those whose mothers who have passed, let’s get a little maudlin and cry a few tears for the mothers who raised us, the surrogate mothers who nurtured us.
Before I put one finger to type, I acknowledge this may be heresy to some people. On this day of days, one simply doesn’t make fun of religious movies. But I do.
Last night, Marilyn and I had our traditional viewing of “The Ten Commandments”. Marilyn has already posted a piece on this event which expresses our sentiments about Mr. Demille’s final epic. Cecil B was, once again, going for life altering moments. He gave us, instead, much-needed laughter.
Today’s lineup of movies on our favorite cable station includes almost all of the familiar biblical movies. Few stand the test of time. Some are really well intended like George Stevens’, “The Greatest Story Ever Told”. But the man who gave us classics like “Shane”, “A Place In The Sun” and “Giant”, wound up with a ponderous and static film in “The Greatest Story”. It’s biggest sin? It is boring!
As I write, we are watching Mel Brooks’, “History of the World-Part One” which is the perfect antidote to historical films that have become parodies or that were really never good. The ironic thing is that we have a greater appreciation of history because of Mel’s equal opportunity insults than the cardboard epics which play fast and loose with facts.
I must admit I love watching gladiator movies. It’s a guy thing like war films. I also enjoy seeing semi clad (or even less clad) young women engaging us in erotic dances before evil monarchs who are not playing with a full deck. But we’re not talking about great cinema here.
Charlton “call me Chuck” Heston was really honest when he talked about playing Moses. He told me it was a good gig. Working with Cecil B. DeMille (for a second time) was nice for his résumé. It actually gave him a boost for a religious film he really wanted to do. “Ben Hur” is one of the best religious films out of Hollywood. It stands the test of time because of William Wyler’s fine direction. And, yes, the chariot race alone is still worth the price of admission.
This really is obviously subjective. If you love Cecil B’s forceful (?) narration of his take on the old testament, so be it. So let it be written, so let it be done,
We’re back with Mel. Now, it’s the French Revolution and those girls in their generously cut costumes.
It’s good to be king!
Two very different concepts, but both very much ON TOP!
It wasn’t something we had to discuss. Neither of us has ever celebrated Valentine’s Day. To us, it’s a manufactured “Hallmark Holiday.” So we don’t participate. I have no problem with your participation, but I have a problem with what a big deal it has become. I have a problem with making people feel guilty for choosing to not join in.
I love my husband and he loves me. We tell each other every day. Maybe, because this year is … different … perhaps we will tell each other more often. But not because it’s Valentine’s Day.
Because we love each other. Every day.