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Oh! What a Lovely War

4.4 out of 5 stars 65 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

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 Award®-winner Richard Attenborough’s* directorial debut is available on DVD. Based on the stage musical by the same name, Oh! What a Lovely War features a stellar cast that includes Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson, John Mills, John Gielgud, Maggie Smith, Vanessa Redgrave, Ian Holm, Dirk Bogarde and Susannah York. By fusing the surreal with the factual and juxtaposing savagely funny satire with quiet sorrow, Attenborough has created the oddest and most outstanding film ever made about the "game" that became World War One.

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It's a product of its Vietnam era just as surely as Robert Altman's M*A*S*H, and like that film Oh! What a Lovely War is ostensibly about a different war. Based on a celebrated anti-war stage piece produced by Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop, the film chronicles the various madnesses of the First World War. Along with vignettes involving the members of the fictional Smith family, the movie lands its punches with a two-pronged attack: by using the songs of the war, mostly patriotic; and by using the real-life words of various figures from WWI. You can see how this would have fit a stylized stage show; in the more literal, realistic realm of film, it mostly comes across as heavy-handed pretentiousness. Richard Attenborough, who would later explore the lives of Gandhi and Chaplin, first made his way to the director's chair here, and he enlisted a staggering who's who of his fellow British actors for roles in the large ensemble: Olivier, Gielgud, and Richardson among them. John Mills plays the most bull-headed of the generals, blithely measuring out yards of territory gained by the thousands of casualties involved. The songs are a historically fascinating lot, mostly given an ironic or sinister treatment in this incarnation, as jolly patriotic tunes that mask the utter carnage at the front. Among the high points is Maggie Smith singing (well, declaiming) an ode to recruitment, promising war as a grand adventure. The blending of arch content with Attenborough's realistic staging of trench warfare just doesn't take, but what does hit home are the actual quotes and the statistics of killing; World War I set a bloody standard for sheer, blind slaughter. --Robert Horton

Special Features

  • Three-part documentary

Product Details

  • Actors: Wendy Allnutt, Colin Farrell, Malcolm McFee, John Rae, Maurice Roëves
  • Directors: Richard Attenborough
  • Format: Collector's Edition, Color, Dolby, Special Edition, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Dubbed: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    G
    General Audience
  • Studio: Paramount
  • DVD Release Date: November 7, 2006
  • Run Time: 144 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000HWZ4I4
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #69,061 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Oh! What a Lovely War" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD
"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.
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Format: DVD
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.
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Format: DVD Verified Purchase
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!
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Format: DVD
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.
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