La Grande Illusion (1937)
"La grande illusion" (original title)

Unrated  |   |  Drama, War  |  12 September 1938 (USA)
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Ratings: 8.2/10 from 24,590 users  
Reviews: 120 user | 117 critic

During the first World War, two French soldiers are captured and imprisoned in a German P.O.W. camp. Several escape attempts follow until they are sent to a seemingly impenetrable fortress which seems impossible to escape from.



(scenario and dialogue), (scenario and dialogue)
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Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 5 wins & 1 nomination. See more awards »



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Complete credited cast:
Le captaine de Boeldieu
Le captaine von Rauffenstein (as Eric von Stroheim)
Cartier - l'acteur (as Carette)
Georges Péclet ...
Le serrurier (as Peclet)
Werner Florian ...
Le sergent Arthur
Jean Dasté ...
L'instituteur (as Daste)
Sylvain Itkine ...
Le lieutenant Demolder (as Itkine)
Gaston Modot ...
L'ingénieur (as Modot)
Le lieutenant Rosenthal (as Dalio)


During 1st WW, two French officers are captured. Captain De Boeldieu is an aristocrat while Lieutenant Marechal was a mechanic in civilian life. They meet other prisoners from various backgrounds, as Rosenthal, son of wealthy Jewish bankers. They are separated from Rosenthal before managing to escape. A few months later, they meet again in a fortress commanded by the aristocrat Van Rauffenstein. De Boeldieu strikes up a friendship with him but Marechal and Rosenthal still want to escape... Written by Yepok

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


A Great Drama of Human Emotions See more »


Drama | War


Unrated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





| | |

Release Date:

12 September 1938 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Grand Illusion  »

Box Office

Opening Weekend:

$50,793 (USA) (13 August 1999)


$172,885 (USA) (30 November 2012)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


| (1937 release)

Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


This is the first film in the prestigious Criterion Collection (spine #1). See more »


When Lt. Maréchal is climbing down the rope from the watchtower the wooden window shutters can be seen closing above him even though he closed them himself minutes prior. See more »


Un officier de la forteresse: More coffee sir?
Capt. von Rauffenstein: If you call this muck coffee I have to accept it. At least it warms my insides.
See more »


Spoofed in Past Perfumance (1955) See more »


Il était un petit navire
Traditional French children's song
See more »

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User Reviews

Classic film on the death of ancient regimes
21 March 2000 | by (Catonsville, MD) – See all my reviews

In the old European order, pre-WWI, one nation's aristocracy made war on another's not out of love for king and country or hatred for the enemy, but out of a sense of honor and duty. War was what they did, these aristocrats of l'ancien regime. Their castles in the air, their noble worldview, their time-honored way--all would crumble, as they very well knew, if the line between the rabble and themselves were allowed to continue to blur. The masses had new and different loyalties.

"La Grande Illusion" in 1914 was the hope that that old order could be preserved in the face of surging democracy and noveau-riche power. Jean Renoir's film presents us with an irony: the martial elites of France and Germany needed the war to vouchsafe their very identities, and yet that conflict would prove their undoing. Whatever side won, the hoi polloi would gain the upper hand.

Restored from its original camera negative, the 1937 French film now on DVD sparkles like new. The restoration lets us see that nothing is dated about this work of genius, even if its POW-camp situations today seem stock and its characters stereotypes of nationality and class. The fine acting, the deft pacing, and the fluid camerawork make for a film that could have been produced last year. The whispered subtext, the nuanced conflicts, and the ironic complexity make for a film that is timeless.

The subtext is the eternal tension between "in the air" and "on the ground," "on high" and "here below," "from a distance" and "up close and personal." From a distance, war is no more rancorous than a chess game, with national boundaries as artificial as the squares on a chessboard. Up close and personal, war separates humans from their lives and aspirations, lovers from their beloveds.

The old elites loved nothing but their class and its accoutrements. It was peasant stock and noveau riche who belted out national anthems and honored the borders which in wartime could sever lover from lover but, paradoxically, also shield prison-camp escapees who made it across them to sanctuary. Renoir's genius was that he could show that an emergent new order, manifestly better on the ground, comes at a steep price, tragically, in the air.

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