"If I had had this film in 1916 it would have been worth a division to me."
Lloyd George said to director Sinclair Hill that "If I had had this film in 1916 it would have been worth a division to me." And the core of the film is a well photographed and splashy but unimaginative reenactment, with spectacular tracking shots of the movement of horse-drawn gun batteries rubbing shoulders with some very obvious model work, of the largest land battle in British military history at the French town of Loos-en-Gohelle in September-October 1915; which on the British side had notoriously been seriously hampered by a shortage of artillery ammunition. Framing it is a muddled human drama about the owner of what would appear, according to this account, to be the only factory in Britain supplying shells to the front line.
As played charmlessly by Henry Victor (who years later in Hollywood played the hapless adjutant "Schultz!!" in Lubitsch's 'To Be or Not to Be'), the aptly named John Grimlaw is first seen going out of his way to be a curt bully with the workers in his plant before suddenly announcing that he's off to the front and will be leaving the running of the place to an incompetent subordinate. (Would Grimlaw's attitude towards his workers seem as noble had his factory been manufacturing lawn mowers or kettles rather than shells? And it would be interesting to learn how many wartime munitions manufacturers actually did serve on the front line). A lot happens to Grimlaw, none of it very interesting (although somebody involved in the film was obviously familiar with the work of Eisenstein). He has a contrived romantic rivalry with a fellow officer for the hand of Madeleine Carroll; who makes an unimpressive debut in the female lead. She's far better used in the same year's 'The First-Born'; and a very young Hermione Baddeley appears to much greater effect (wearing a chic, anachronistic 20's bob) in a much smaller part.
At the film's conclusion, in a nod to the recent General Strike, a transformed, now blind Grimlaw returns Christ-like to his factory to inspire the striking workforce to return to their patriotic task of arming the boys in France. Everyone kisses and makes up; and Grimlaw is one blind war veteran who won't be selling matches on the Strand.
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