It’s interesting that movies about World War I are making a comeback. The last American to serve in World War I, Frank Buckles, died on February 27, 2011. Although there has often been discussion of a World War I memorial in Washington D. C., this monument has yet to materialize.
Unlike the movie 1917, which got a lot of great press, and the critics liked it, they panned The Great War. I’m not sure that I understand why. Even though were some mistakes in the editing, I still think it was a great story, and it’s definitely one that needed to be told.
Maybe the reason The Great War was panned was because it didn’t have the big budget that 1917 had. Maybe it had to do with the subject matter. Racism really isn’t a topic many want to confront, and racism was rampant at this period in history.
Maybe the critics just didn’t understand what these characters were going through. Unlike 1917, which seemed to be less “military” because the characters were easy to relate to, what the characters in The Great War went through is something that really only a veteran would understand.
The movie takes place during the final three days of World War I. A platoon of Buffalo soldiers is trapped behind enemy lines. Captain William Rivers (portrayed by Bates Wilder), a white captain, is tasked with taking a handful of soldiers behind the lines to retrieve this lost platoon. Rivers is suffering from shell shock, and it makes it difficult to carry out his mission.
Not only that, there are some within the ranks who don’t think it is worth it to try and retrieve these soldiers. After all, they’re “colored.” Williams finally decides that the mission needs to be carried out, and he does his best to try and find these soldiers and bring them back.
The movie also includes Ron Perlmann as General Pershing and Billy Zane as Colonel Jack Morrison. Hiram A. Murray, the most prominent black cast member, portrays Pvt. John Cain.
Although it is never mentioned in the film, this story is loosely based on the 92nd Infantry Division. The 92nd Infantry Division was a segregated Army division that served in both World War I and World War II.
IMDB offered the following trivia on the movie:
Many of extras came from the various Minnesota WWII reenacting community. Many of them brought their own equipment, weapons, and uniforms.
In fact, the movie was actually filmed on land owned by one of the extras.
Perhaps one of the reasons that the critics were so harsh on the movie is that in some of the scenes mirror images were used that showed uniform insignia, as well as printing on military crates, backward. Personally, I didn’t pay too much attention to that part because I was engrossed in the characters and story.
“Colored” troops, as they were often called at this period in time, didn’t just face racism. They were often criticized for being lazy and accused of not performing their duties. Historians have since taken a harder look at these claims and discovered that the behavior of these troops in battle was exemplary. This is in spite of the fact that they were discriminated against and treated like they were less than by their own country.
Regardless of your opinion on racism or black troops in battle, I still think that this is a movie that is worth watching. Many of the extras were actually from a World War II reenactment unit, and they should be praised for their efforts.
Image via Movie Trailers Source on YouTube