This is one that my mom wasn’t particularly fond of, so Fredric March or no Fredric March, we only watched it once. My memory of it was having really liked it, and the closing scene was really etched in my brain (it smacks strongly of The Dawn Patrol, which I adore, and a later post in this series will be about that one), but I basically remembered nothing else.
Watching it as an adult, I can kind of see why it appealed to me at 19 or whatever it was, but it really isn’t a very good movie. It’s not always clear what exactly is going on; it feels like a string of loosely connected episodes without a really solid story arc. The characters are playing French army men, but it feels more like they’re British (the climactic battle scene played out more like the first day at the Somme, although I think it was supposed to be Verdun? I REALLY DON’T KNOW BUT WISH I DID.)
Also, the actors are an odd bunch. You have Fredric March and Warner Baxter, who are great, and even Lionel Barrymore shows up as the token Family Member the Commanding Officer Doesn’t Want Endangered (Baxter’s dad). But the rest of the acting is just so-so. June Lang doesn’t come across naturally and the “love story”, such as it is, is really creaky in my opinion.
What I did like about it, however, aside from Warner Baxter’s unarguable hotness, are:
The trench scenes. I had completely forgotten this was army and trenches were involved. I love knowing these scenes were re-created soon enough after the war took place that it was still in people’s living memory.
The unapologetic grimness of it all. Death staring everyone in the face, men dying in no man’s land that can’t be rescued, the emotional toll on officers and men.
Warner Baxter’s unarguable hotness. Oh, wait. Seriously though, his cognac-chugging, aspirin-popping, shattered nerves character is probably one of my very favourite aspects of the film. It’s a role that’s very similar to Basil Rathbone’s in The Dawn Patrol, and I wouldn’t say one performance is better than the other, but I like it very much.
Eva was born in Jacksonville, Florida. She left that humidity pit at the age of three and spent the next twenty-one years in California, Idaho, Kentucky, and Washington before ending up in Oregon, where she now lives on a homestead in the western foothills with her husband and five children, two of whom are human.