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on December 27, 2014
This film was held up for release on DVD for many years, most probably due to problems with Ms. Littlewood's desires. Once she had died, her estate quickly approved the release, and this DVD was the result.
I first saw this film at Fort Polk LA, about a week before departing for the war in RVN in 1969. Originally, I decided to view it as a way to pass the time during my last weekend of leisure. However, I was blown away by the improvements that the film made over the musical review (for which I had played clarinet, bass clarinet and saxophone in the pit orchestra when the review made its way through the United States).
The music was as good, but the settings in the movie were a 100% improvement over the review, which used the device of a pierot show in place of "reality".
Gorgeous cinematography, excellent screenplay, and properly stiff renditions by the "historical players" (government folks, Haig, prime ministers, emperors and foreign ministers, upper crust Britons) and loose ones by the people actually involved in the fighting (the Smith family and the soldiers who actually did the fighting and dying).
The narrator is excellent in his multiple roles, the poppy metaphor does a great job of symbolizing the death that was all around. The use of "Over There" to depict the Americans pushing their way into the war was wonderful. The soaring tenor solo over the choir in "What A Friend We Have In Jesus/When This Lousy War Is Over" is not to be missed, particularly the way the scene is filmed as the camera's shot slowly works it way to the stolid Irishman at the very end. And, the music hall sequence near the beginning was a great interface between the perceived war (on the home front) and the real war.
(Jane Seymor is in the film, but uncredited - this was her first screen appearance, as a chorus girl during the music hall sequence.)
I owned a copy of a television transmission of the movie for many years. Poor quality, it still allowed me to enjoy the film over and over. The release of the new rendition was greeted with joy around these parts. I bought a total of six copies, distributing four of them to friends who appreciated them just as much as I did. The commentary sections are also enlightening. It's hard to believe that the beauty of the amusement pier was as short lived as it was.
Since the new release, I've had the opportunity to view the review again. While I enjoyed playing in the pit for the review back in the day (particularly the long, exposed baritone sax solo in the musical review sequence), the movie does a far better job of getting the point across.
It is decidedly anti-war. However, if you have ever served in a shooting war, you will get the point of view of the film. Those who view it from "outside" of the sphere of a war may see it as disrespectful. It is anything but - it respects the dead, and mocks those who sent them off to die.
Oh, and watch for the extremely brief appearance of Lenin in the film, portrayed by an uncredited actor as the part is not a speaking one. If you blink (literally), you will miss it.
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on September 13, 2009
Oh! What a Lovely War
Review and Song List
I'm usually not a fan of musicals, or of the surrealistic pop-culture of the late 1960s as it was applied to the portrayal of historic events. I am an avid World War I buff/historian, as well as a fan of Richard Attenborough, and I had waited, somewhat skeptically, to see his directorial debut, Oh! What a Lovely War. When the DVD was released I ordered it from Amazon, prepared to dislike it intensely, but I was relieved and surprised to find that I found it quite good. It is definitely a product of its time. Some of the imagery, such as the convention of presenting the War as a Brighton Beach holiday pavilion, might be a little hard for some viewers to swallow. The then-current view of all British senior officers as craven, insensitive morons living in luxury far from danger has been energetically and rather effectively challenged in the last few years by such authors as John Terraine, The Smoke and the Fire, and Frank Davies and Graham Maddocks, Bloody Red Tabs, but Oh! What a Lovely War provides a graphic presentation of what remains the majority viewpoint on a still-controversial aspect of the War.

Historically the movie is sound. As long as a viewer keeps the movie's ideological perspective in mind, it's actually a very serviceable thumbnail lesson on World War I from the British viewpoint. The first 20 minutes or so lay out the background, causes, and descent to global war in a bizarre but engaging manner, but also as succinctly and as well as I've seen it done. The military uniforms and equipment have the right look, for the most part; some World War II gear sneaks in from time to time, but not enough to detract seriously from the realism of the battle scenes.

Mostly, for me, this is a tremendous collection of the wonderful music of World War I. The songs are used in an extremely effective way to portray the growing horror of the War and the resignation and anguish of the British people as it progressed. The transitions between the fanciful World War I Pavilion and the actual portrayal of the developing trench combat are sometimes jarring and disturbing but almost always effective. The symbolism, notably the appearance of red poppies as precursors to characters' deaths, is not remotely subtle, but it is heart-felt and sincere. There are a few genuine lump-in-the-throat moments - for me, "We Don't Want to Lose You", "Hanging on the Old Barbed Wire", "Keep the Home Fires Burning", and the ghostly reunion of the Smith brothers at the end qualify. I made out a song list tied to the DVD's chapter titles that might be helpful in finding favorites:

1. The Players
Instrumental medley of World War I tunes over the opening titles
2. Declaration of War
No tunes
3. The Smith Family
Instrumental: "Oh! It's a Lovely War"
"By the Seaside/ I Do Like to See a Soldier"
4. Glorious Army
"Belgium Put the Kibosh on the Kaiser"
5. Join the Forces
"Are We Downhearted?"
"We Don't Want To Lose You, But We Think You Ought To Go"
"On Sunday I Walk Out with a Soldier"
6. The New Recruits
"Send for the Boys' and the Girls' Brigade"
7. Waiting for Orders
"We're Here Because We're Here"
"Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag"
8. Christmas Truce
"Stille Nacht/ Silent Night"
"Christmas Day in the Cookhouse/ Tidings of Comfort and Joy"
9. Oh! It's a Lovely War
"Good-bye-ee"
"Oh! It's a Lovely War"
10. Gas Mishap
"Bombed Last Night (They're Over Us"
11. Army Ball
"Comrades" (Fragment)
12. Just One More Battle
"Hush! Here Comes a Whizzbang"
"The Long Trail"
13. In Vain
"Rule Britannia"
14. Song for the Soldiers
"I Don't Want to Be a Soldier"
"Inky-Dinky, Parlay-vous"
"Oh the Moon Shines Bright on Charlie Chaplin"
"Adieu"
15. Reinforcements
"They Were Only Playing Leapfrog"
16. No More Mortal Sin
"Forward Joe Soap's Army"
"The Church's One Foundation/ We Are the Rag-time Infantry"
"What a Friend We Have in Jesus/ When This Lousy War Is Over"
"Whiter Than the Whitewash on the Wall"
17. War of Attrition
"I Want to Go Home"
"The Bells of Hell Go Ting-a-Ling-a-Ling"
"Old Soldiers Never Die (Fragment)
"If the Sergeant Steals Your Rum, Never Mind"
"Far Far From Wipers"
18. Attacks and Counterattacks
"Hanging on the Old Barbed Wire"
"Far Far From Wipers"
"Keep the Home Fires Burning"
19. The Yanks Are Coming
"Over There"
20. Smith Family Reunion
"We'll Never Tell Them"

For songs for which I'm not sure of the title, I've used the early-20th Century convention of using the first line of a song's chorus for the title. Any corrections in cases where that's not right are welcome.
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on September 14, 2008
OH! WHAT A LOVELY WAR was a unique stage musical and Richard Attenborough's film version is also unique and one of the finest examples of a stage-to-screen interpretation. Joan Littlewood's stage show had a mimimal cast, basic set and used projections. The film has a huge all-star cast (along the lines of Mike Todd's AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS), with many of the them singing and dancing. This satirical approach to the bloodiest of all wars uses the Brighton fun pier intercut with real locations to bring home the devastation that sacrificed a generation of young men - the impact of this is brought home with an amazing final sequence that must rank as one of the most extraordinary visual shots ever captured on film. This DVD transfer is also excellent and complete (some TV versions and theatrical prints had cuts). The transfer is crisp and clean and the original stereo track is fine. An hour or so of recent interviews with Attenborough and some of the cast provides insight into the enormous exercise behind the scenes. Attenborough also contributes a wonderful audio-commentary despite his age. To sum up, a must-have for musical (film & theatre) buffs - can also provide an excellent introduction to history students to this 'war to end all wars'. Without a single drop of blood on view, this film brings home the harsh reality that nobody wins a war!
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on July 6, 2013
Anyone wanting a film that depicts the sheer futility of, specifically, World War I, and generally, any war, should not go past 'Oh What A Lovely War'. Unbelievable that this is Richard Attenborough's directorial debut, it contains the absolute cream of British stage and screen actors from mid-last century, but is as immediate and powerful as if it had been filmed today.
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on December 17, 2007
This was a film which originated as a west end musical play long before being made into a film.
More recently it has been playing out in London.
It is an anti-war film and it could be superimposed over Irag and the Bush Administration.
It shows how the instigators are well away from the action and destruction
And how it is fought out by die for your country concepts.
The music is sincerely constructed from the minds of the trench soldier with a great deal of resigned vunerability and you must follow the leaders in command or you will be an outcaste.
The striking thing about the songs and lyrics are that they are light and bubbly when trenches are so very bad and cruel to these brave men.
It is a long film but I enjoyed every minute of it.
It can not be purchased by me in my home country Victoria Melbourne Australia so thank you so very much for the copy
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on December 3, 2006
Finally! I actually had despaired of ever seeing this movie released. I originally saw it when it came out ... and loved it. I had the record (remember them?) and learned all the songs. When VCRs came out, I thought "Now I can buy the movie" but it was not to be. I eventually captured it on my DVR on one of it's rare cable appearances ... and burned myself a copy of it. So of course, NOW it's actually released. Figures. I love this movie. It presents the horrors of war in general and the horrors of WWI in particular ... the incredible carnage, the ineptitude of the leadership ... the devastation ... AND you can sing along. I always wanted to run a double header of this and "King of Hearts" ... another film about the absurdity of war. DO see this movie. It will stick in your mind. You will find yourself humming the tunes, remembering scenes. "Onward Christian Soldiers" will never be the same, I prommise.
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on November 29, 2009
This is an amazing multi-layered movie with a stellar cast list.
I saw it first when it was in cinemas in Scotland in 1970 and the images have stayed with me ever since.
Telling the story of WW I as it impacted one family, using the popular songs of the time and the quoted words of politicians, military commanders and kings is nothing short of brilliant.
The main pleasure of having it on DVD is that you can interrupt it as often as you need to, so you can discuss at length what you have seen.
Look out for Maggie Smith telling the boys "If you'll only take the shilling, I'll make a man of any one of you"!
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on April 17, 2015
Best presentation, best war movie, most powerful delivery. Theatrical presentation techniques seem magical in film, especially in segues. Powerfully written, cleverly staged and incisively acted. We have not outlived our need for anti-war films today.
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on January 6, 2007
As others have said, I first saw this film in the theater in 1969 and loved it. The marvelous Maggie Smith was at the top of her game and Juliet Mills was never more beautiful or appealing.

I suggest that everybody forget about the expressions of political opinion in some of the earlier posts. This is a beautiful and moving film, which explores the events that lead to the deaths of a generation of young British men between 1914 and 1918 and the means by which those at home dealt with the human tragedy. That should be enough, it seems to me. It's not to be missed, even by those who believe that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were necessary evils.
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on January 13, 2011
This takes me back, not to the war itself but to our time in England in the Air Force in the late 60s. We saw the movie in a local theater, and we always were a few steps behind the locals in getting the jokes and references, but we eventually got them. The satire is typically British, and the acting is great. Watch it with your grand kids (if you can pry them away from all the animated junk that abounds) and give them a little taste of ancient history!
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