Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Friday, April 21, 2017

La Grande Illusion

Of all the best films  that were inspired by World War One, Jean Renoir's La Grand Illusion ranks the highest in any list of all-time great movies. It is also considered the finest anti-war movie ever made.  Here are some memorable visual aspects of the classic.

The Film Showed Worldwide and Generated Many Posters  
This Is My Favorite

Prisoner of War Status Did Not Eliminate the Class System

Jean Gabin As the Central character, Working-Class Lt.  Maréchal, 
Displays an Amazing Range of Emotions

French Captive Captain  de Boeldieu  Forms a Congenial Aristocratic Bond with the 
Prison Commandant  Captain von Rauffenstein, Played by Otto von Stroheim

The Cheerful Mood of a Prisoners' Stage Show Is Broken with the Announcement That Fort Douaumont Has Been Recaptured by the French—
Nationalism Reigns As the Performers Break Out  "La Marseillaise!"

As de Boeldieu Lies Dying, von Rauffenstein Apologizes to Him for Shooting Him During
the Successful Breakout and Escape by Lts. Maréchal and Rosenthal

The Stunning Final Scene—Maréchal and Rosenthal Escape into Switzerland


  1. In the second photo from the top, the character Cartier (in the middle, small, with beret) was based on Maurice Chevalier, already a well-known stage artist, also a prisoner-of-war in Germany.

    It was, incidentally in the POW camp where Chevalier learned English in his extensive spare time. A skill which stood him in good stead after the war, opening the way to Hollywood and stardom on the international stage. Chevalier was paroled/exchanged before the end of the war through intermediary of his lover/companion/partner Mistinguett.

  2. For lovers of Great War music, 'la Grande Illusion' features a great choice of songs. Not only the stirring rendition of 'la Marseillaise' by the POWs during their music hall performance, but a version of 'Tipperary' by British prisoners in drag (obligatory in those days it seems), a solemn and yet sad 'Die Wacht am Rhein' a hilarious version of the catchy popular song 'Marguerite' as performed by Cartier/Chevalier in the best comical music hall tradition, while the movie starts off with another popular and slightly naughty French song from those long gone days 'Frou-Frou' ...

  3. Excellent film, one of my favourites. Of course the von Stroheim character is one of the most lampooned as the archetypal Prussian of questionable sexuality, not least in Blackadder.

  4. Great film. A powerful glimpse of a vanishing world.

  5. I particularly like the early scenes when dining with the downed pilots and expression of the old chivalry between knights of the sky. I am going to use it in a seminar in a discussion how war changed. Copies seem to be available on Amazon.