World War I on Film

World War I on Film

English Language Releases Through 2014

Paul M. Edwards

McFarland, Jefferson, North Carolina, 2016, 276 pages

Book Review published on: April 20, 2018

World War I on Film serves as a comprehensive movie guide that includes 298 movies released between 1909 and 2015 with subject matter that in some way pertains to World War I, a.k.a. the Great War. Following Paul Edwards’s preface, he effectively sets up the reader for the remainder of the book with two essays, “A Brief History of the Production of Films about World War I” and “An Introduction to the Films.” These two essays, twenty-three pages in length combined, serve as the ideal stepping off point for chapter 3, “The Films,” which provides a short synopsis of each of the aforementioned 298 movies listed alphabetically. The author also includes an appendix that lists the films chronologically based on their release dates.

Edwards’s first essay provides fascinating insight of the production aspects of filming. In describing a four-pronged production method in analyzing these films, he offers tools that enable the viewer to ascertain the intent of the productions themselves. He notes that although the Great War’s impact in world history was profound, few films were actually produced in proportion to those concerning other historical events. He offers that the United States’ early isolationist stance and late entry into the war suppressed large production efforts. Additionally, the war years occurred during the early infancy of films that were still absent of sound. Of particular note, early flight generated a great deal of interest among Americans in the 1920s, and World War I was often used as a backdrop to whet the appetites for our country’s fascination with aviation.

Edwards provides an excellent breakdown of two aspects that were important to a film’s success: characters and authenticity. Regarding characters, he effectively walks us through the roles we may encounter while watching a war film, not necessarily confined to World War I. Such characters would include the hero and his or her attributes, as well as the loner, the underdog, and the hard-boiled. Edwards’s insight on authenticity is perhaps the strongest portion of his first essay, where he methodically explains the challenges of providing authentic combat footage, namely the bulky size of the film equipment required at that time. He also explains that staged or reenacted filming, such as in The Battle of the Somme, can actually produce more realistic results due to the added flexibility of the cameraman’s positioning.

Edwards’s second essay provides the keys for using the film guide. He noted that the guide was by no means all-inclusive due to the disappearance and lack of reviews of some films. In addition, he explains that his threshold for inclusion into the guide is that a film must include combat scenes and the characters portrayed must be directly affected by the war. Simply the fact that a movie references a character as a World War I veteran in the abstract does not suffice, such as in The Stolen Ranch. Edwards’s most fascinating assessment of the selected movies is its level of military correlation, where he attempts to evaluate a film based on the merits of better understanding the events and outcomes of World War I. One example of Edwards’s grading includes “Spotty,” where “War is an important part of the story, but distorts and or exaggerates to the point of misdirection.” Edwards includes “bloopers” that he has discovered, which is of interest to any war movie buff. For example, in Sergeant York, Gary Cooper is filmed using an M1903 Springfield, although York in all likelihood would’ve been assigned an M1917 rifle.

This book provides a great amount of information regarding World War I movies and provides some fresh perspectives. The author’s work would certainly be of interest to World War I enthusiasts as well as war movie buffs. Although much of the information can already be gleaned from internet movie websites such as the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), his military correlation classification with accompanying comments serves as a fresh look at the individual movies. Additionally, his explanations of the political landscape and the challenges in the movie industry at the time provide adroit perspective.

Book Review written by: Steven C. Wiegers, U.S. Army, Retired, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas