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This is the film that started it all (in more ways than one). This was the play and subsequent film which gave rise to the career of James Whale - acclaimed director of such hits as Waterloo Bridge, Showboat, The Man in the Iron Mask, as well as being the father of horror with Frankenstein, The Old Dark House, The Invisible Man, and The Bride of Frankenstein. Without his directing this play, whose meteoric rise in England paved his way to Hollywood, we might never have been given the same treatment of Shelley's opus and the key to modern horror films.
The film itself is also a first in that it was the first major film to deal with World War I in such a way that brought it's own brand of horror to the masses. As with other filmmakers whose actual wartime experiences have brought us closer to the realities of war (Oliver Stone, Samuel Fuller, to name a couple) the material was emotional and close to Whale.
Although the first film of this type and a box office hit, Journey's End would yield to All Quiet On the Western Front as the definitive WWI film. Truthfully, All Quiet... is a much better film, however, they are two distinct films dealing with the "reality" of war from wholly different perspectives. All Quiet... gives stirring battle sequences which still stand up but also attempts to represent the common soldier's experience. Journey's End, a play written by RC Sheriff tells the story from the perspective of English officers, of which Sheriff and Whale had both been apart. In this regard, the material can be appear dated and seem more melodramatic than intended.
The film suffers more from the simplistic camera settings than from its significance as an early talkie. Whale's direction is handled perfunctorily as if recreating the stage play. There are a few scenes which go beyond this limitation but they are few in 120 minutes of film. The true success is the first film performance of Colin Clive who handled the material for Whale on stage as Captain Stanhope (after Laurence Olivier left the play after its initial run). Clive is cast perfectly as the tormented Captain (a mood he would later immortalize in Frankenstein). Ian McLaren also deserves recognition as the intelligently human face of Lt. Osbourne.
There are many reasons to seek out this rare historical film. From its place in cinematic lore and significance in the War genre to the fine performances. Either way, its a treat.
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