So I watched ‘La Grande Illusion‘ again this evening. A marvelous film, depicting World War I prisoners of war, living in a much different and more genteel civilization which was in its final years. Class differences are highlighted in the story. Dialogue in the film was mostly in French, some German, and the occasional bit of English.
Can you envision the following dialogue during prison-camp in-processing in a World War II movie?
“This conduct is unbecoming.”
“Sorry, it’s our duty to search you. This is war.”
“I perfectly agree, but conduct it courteously. If not, I’ll see your commanding officer.”
I’d seen the movie once before, and there were two scenes I recalled – the first was in the prison camp theater, which had just received a large basket of women’s clothing so the prisoners could put on a stage production. As they were going through the contents of the basket, Lt. Marechal, one of the main characters, and newly-arrived at the prison, was describing the current fashions back in France to the men who’d been prisoners longer. A very young, baby-faced lieutenant was talked into trying on an outfit, and a minute or so later, came out dressed in women’s clothing with a wig on. Everyone in the theater suddenly stopped what they were doing and stared at him. The scene was as powerful as I remembered.
The second scene was in the second prison camp, a castle, and involved a conversation with the prison camp commandant, played by Eric von Stroheim, during which he describes the injuries he’s sustained:
“A silver plate (pointing to his head). In my kneecap, too. I owe this wealth to the misfortunes of war.”
I’d completely forgotten the part of the movie concerning the escape. Beautiful scenery, strong story, and powerful acting in that part, too.
I’m glad I took the time to see it again.