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Oh! What a Lovely War
Oh What a Lovely War
Actors: Wendy Allnutt, Colin Farrell, Malcolm McFee, John Rae, Corin Redgrave
Director: Richard Attenborough
Genres: Indie & Art House, Classics, Musicals & Performing Arts, Military & War
G     2006     2hr 24min

It was the War to end all wars ? well not quite. For with the ricochet of one bullet, the entire course of human history was changed forever...Now, for the first time, Academy AwardŽ-winner Richard Attenborough?s* director...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Wendy Allnutt, Colin Farrell, Malcolm McFee, John Rae, Corin Redgrave
Director: Richard Attenborough
Creators: Gerry Turpin, Richard Attenborough, Brian Duffy, Len Deighton, Charles Chilton, Joan Littlewood
Genres: Indie & Art House, Classics, Musicals & Performing Arts, Military & War
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Classics, Musicals, Military & War
Studio: Paramount
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen - Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 11/07/2006
Original Release Date: 10/03/1969
Theatrical Release Date: 10/03/1969
Release Year: 2006
Run Time: 2hr 24min
Screens: Color,Widescreen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 2
Edition: Collector's Edition,Special Edition
MPAA Rating: G (General Audience)
Languages: English
Subtitles: English

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Movie Reviews

A work of genius
Born to Read | Metro New York area | 11/20/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

""Oh! What a Lovely War" takes on nothing less than the immense task of encapsulating the entirety of World War One into two and a half hours. This is a story of courage and sacrifice beyond comprehension, and of stupidity and heartlessness on a truly monumental scale. But the courage and sacrifice are not, as in the usual telling of tales, that of a handful of heroes, but of an entire generation. And the stupidity and heartlessness belong to the military and world leaders of the day. As monarchs, generals, and politicians wallow in luxury and privilege, the ordinary soldier wallows in mud - and brutal death. This is a story that will make you gasp and cry `never again.' And you know your cry is in vain.

A notice after the opening screen credits states something that must be kept in mind throughout the film: "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." Therefore, to underscore the absurdity of an international effort that did its utmost to murder an entire generation, much of the dialogue of the historical characters, comfortably ensconced away from the fighting, sounds absurd. Is it really possible, for example, that General Haig, after considering the huge loss of life on both sides, could have said something like "in the end, the Germans will have five thousand men and we will have ten thousand, so we will have won"?. Apparently so.

The men in the trenches, on the other hand, had the unenviable choice of facing probable death or mutilation on the battlefield, or facing the firing squad for cowardice if they deserted. They express themselves in the memorable songs of the day, many of which are rich in gallows humor ("hanging on the old barbed wire" is one cheerful refrain). But despite its gruesome themes, there is not one drop of blood in the film: when death comes, it arrives in the form of a bright red poppy.

Those who cannot relate to epochal events except through the eyes of a circumscribed set of characters may have trouble with this film. And some may find frivolous a film that depicts human tragedy through upbeat song and dance numbers (all of which are wonderfully staged and performed). But recall that the words sung are those of the actual participants in the unfolding tragedy. "We're here because we're here because we're here" underscores the troops' view of the meaningless sacrifice. If their impious words set to beloved hymns seem offensive, perhaps it is because when life is at its bleakest, humor can help save one's sanity.

This film, directed by the great Richard Attenborough, is a work of genius; it delivers a message that is all-too-relevant for our times.
AT LAST!! A Thought Provoking Musical
L. Donald Bartholomew | Seattle, WA United States | 09/06/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I first saw this film on the big screen in London when it was first released. I have been waiting for this film to appear on any video format for years. I can only hope that this is not the edited version. Shown on television only rarely and severely edited the film loses its sarcastic wit and anti-war feelings.
The very idea of setting a musical retelling of the WWI, from the English point of view, on Brighton Pier's Fun Fair is audacious to say the least. "England Put the Kibasch on the Kaiser" truly begins the fun and shock. Maggie Smith's appearance as a Music Hall star is wonderful as she exhorts the troops to sign up. All of the songs, excepting the title one are from the era and provide enough feeling to swamp your feelings. Hooray! I shall use it in class Winter Quarter. It will be a revelation to those who have not seen it!"
Sign up now for The War Game; Oh! What a Lovely War is a fin
C. O. DeRiemer | San Antonio, Texas, USA | 11/22/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Genetic testing, I think, would show Oh! What a Lovely War and Paths of Glory to be fraternal twins. Both are anti-war, both use the appalling circumstances of World War I to underline the corruption of old men who use war as a way to occupy their time and cause young men to die in the tens of thousands. But where Paths of Glory uses bitterness, Oh! What a Lovely War uses irony and the clever trick of turning our own jingoistic instincts against us. The movie is a pastiche of fantasy, fact, music halls, songs with words often used by the soldiers and the real-life statements of key personalities. There are two threads which connect everything together. The first is the fate of the Smith family and the five sons who eagerly sign up to beat the Hun. The second is the smugness, the certitude, the deadly self-confidence of those who make decisions about war. The fantasy takes place on a great seaside boardwalk with a wonderful wooden pier and ornate pavilions at the end. Here the Smith family and hundreds of others line up at the counter to buy tickets to join in "the ever popular War Game." Inside the music hall Maggie Smith sings "I'll Make a Man of You," a seducing, winking recruiting song...

"The Army and the Navy need attention,
The outlook isn't healthy you'll admit,
But I've got a perfect dream of a new recruiting scheme,
Which I think is absolutely 'it.'
If only other girls would do as I do
I believe that we could manage it alone,
For I turn all suitors from me but the sailor and the Tommy.
I've an army and a navy of my own.

"On Sunday I walk out with a Soldier,
On Monday I'm taken by a Tar,
On Tuesday I'm out with a baby Boy Scout,
On Wednesday a Hussar;
On Thursday a gang oot wi' a Scottie,
On Friday, the Captain of the crew;
But on Saturday I'm willing, if you'll only take the shilling,
To make a man of any one of you."

And off go the first of the Smith sons up to the stage, encouraged by their proud and smiling wives, to take the shilling and walk out into the trenches. While the pier may be fantasy, the trenches are all too realistic. It is at Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig's headquarters at the pier where sports score boards are kept of the battles: "The Somme, 1916. British losses: 607,781 officers and men. Ground gained: Nil." It's at the pier where staff officers, well away from the fighting, play leap frog while sending out orders to attack. "One more frontal assault, gentlemen, and we shall win." And men leave the trenches as ordered to charge forward with rifles and bayonets against machine guns and barbed wire. In a looney atmosphere the troops are lined up for Sunday services and hear from an upper-class preacher, "I'm sure you'll all be glad to hear news from the home front. The Archbishop of Canterbury has made it known it is no sin to labor for the war on the Sabbath. And I'm sure you'll also like to know the Chief Rabbi has absolved your Jewish brethren from abstaining from pork in the trenches. Likewise, His Holiness the Pope has ruled that the eating of flesh on Friday is no longer a mortal sin..." Through it all the home front, energized against the Hun, reads the death lists with trembling but brave lips, and the men who die deal with the absurdity by singing their own morbid versions of songs...

"If you want the old battalion,
We know where they are, we know where they are,
We know where they are.
If you want the old battalion, we know where they are,
They're hanging on the old barbed wire.
We've seen them, we've seen them,
Hanging on the old barbed wire."

Even their laughter at Christmas can have an ironic twist...

"It was Christmas Day in the cookhouse, the happiest time of the year,
Men's hearts were full of gladness and their bellies full of beer,
When up popped Private Shorthouse, his face as bold as brass,
He said We don't want your puddings, you can stick them up your...tidings of co-omfort and joy, comfort and joy, o-oh ti-idings of co-omfort and joy.

"It was Christmas Day in the harem, the eunuchs were standing 'round,
And hundreds of beautiful women were stretched out on the ground,
Along came the wicked Sultan, surveying his marble halls,
He said Whaddya want for Christmas boys, and the eunuchs answered...tidings of co-omfort and joy, comfort and joy, o-oh ti-idings of comfort and joy."

The film ends with one of the most touching and slightly bitter conclusions I've ever seen. The Smith family, now just the women, walk on a fine, sunlit day through a meadow filled with white crosses. The camera pulls back and back until we can only see these four moving white dots in a vast, endless meadow of green grass and white crosses. And we can hear soldiers faintly singing their own version of "They Wouldn't Believe Me."

"And when they ask us, how dangerous it was,
Oh, we'll never tell them, no, we'll never tell them.
We spent our pay in some cafe,
And fought wild women night and day,
'Twas the cushiest job we ever had.

"And when they ask us, and they're certainly going to ask us,
The reason why we didn't win the Croix de Guerre,
Oh, we'll never tell them, oh, we'll never tell them.
There was a front, but damned if we knew where."

This was Richard Attenborough's first job as a director and he pulls it off with great effectiveness. He rounded up the cream of British actors, starting with Lawrence Olivier. These aren't stunt cameos. Even when some of the parts are just a few lines, the actors perform with great effect. They are key to the opening scene when, playing the important rulers and statesmen in 1913 and 1914, they are gathered around inside a fantasy pavilion and Attenborough constructs the background to the war using them.

Oh, What a Lovely War is not without its faults. At 2 hours and 24 minutes it starts to seem a bit long. The realistic trench and battle scenes, for me, come off as perhaps a little too conscientious and well-meaning. Even so, I think the film remains one of the best and oddest of the anti-war movies. It was based on the Joan Littlewood theater piece, which was small-scale, brisk and acerbic. If any, like me, squirm at Paths of Glory's earnestness, they might want to sample its fraternal twin directed by Attenborough. The DVD transfer looks very good. The extras include a full commentary track by Attenborough. I sampled parts of it and it seems to be an informative and thoughtful piece of work. There are filmed interviews with some of the remaining members of the cast and production crew, along with Attenborough, which is broken down into three featurettes.

In keeping with the spirit of both Oh, What a Lovely War and Paths of Glory, it seems appropriate to give Wilfred Owen the last word. He was a young officer in WWI who often wrote poetry when he wasn't fighting. Owen was killed leading yet another charge just four days before the armistice was declared. He was 25. His poems were published posthumously to great acclaim. This excerpt tells the story of a gas attack and of a man who fumbled getting his mask on...

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you, too, could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's, sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues...
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori. *

*Which translates as "It is sweet and honorable to die for one's country.""
If You Buy Only One DVD In Your Lifetime............
A. Boyd | London England | 09/27/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Yes, I know it is a hackneyed old cliche but in this case, entirely correct. I first saw this movie in the Cinema in London's Kilburn during it's first run in the late Sixties. About halfway through it some people got up and left, feeling that it was abusive to the memory of those who gave their lives in that War to end all Wars. How wrong they were. The Movie is a masterpiece in every respect. The sheer stupidity, the waste of that generation are both self evident on screen. Note the beautiful Maggie Smith when viewed from a distance in the Theatre, note again how thick the make up when we are on stage with her "Taking the shilling". The other face of war. The final scene on the glorious South Downs as the camera pulls back to reveal the hillside is breathtaking and at once heartbreaking. In all the times I have seen this movie, I have yet to watch the whole of this scene without a flood of tears filling my eyes. Do I remember which lovely young girl I took to see it in 1969? Sadly no. Have I ever forgotten the movie? No."