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Long overdue, and well worth the money...
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.