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The Grand Illusion (1937)
"La grande illusion" (original title)

 -  Drama | War  -  12 September 1938 (USA)
8.2
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Ratings: 8.2/10 from 21,923 users  
Reviews: 113 user | 112 critic

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

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(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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Cast

Complete credited cast:
...
Dita Parlo ...
Elsa - Farm Woman
Pierre Fresnay ...
Le captaine de Boeldieu
...
Le captaine von Rauffenstein (as Eric von Stroheim)
Julien Carette ...
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)
Edit

Storyline

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

Plot Keywords:

pow | escape | captain | military | lieutenant | See more »

Taglines:

A Great Drama of Human Emotions

Genres:

Drama | War

Certificate:

Unrated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

 »
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Details

Country:

Language:

| | |

Release Date:

12 September 1938 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Grand Illusion  »

Box Office

Opening Weekend:

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

Gross:

$172,885 (USA) (30 November 2012)
 »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

| (1937 release)

Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See  »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Goebbels made sure that the film's print was one of the first things seized by the Germans when they occupied France. He referred to Jean Renoir as "Cinematic Public Enemy Number 1". For many years it was assumed that the film had been destroyed in an Allied air raid in 1942. However, a German film archivist named Frank Hansel, then a Nazi officer in Paris, had actually smuggled it back to Berlin. Then when the Russians entered Berlin in 1945, the film found its way to an archive in Moscow. When Jean Renoir came to restore his film in the 1960s, he knew nothing of Hansel's acquisition and was working from an old muddy print. Purely by coincidence at the same time, the Russian archive swapped some material with an archive in Toulouse. Included in that exchange was the original negative print. However, because so many prints of the film existed at the time, it would be another 30 years before anyone realised that the version in Toulouse was actually the original negative. See more »

Goofs

When Boeldieu is dead, Rauffenstein wants to close his eyes with his hand. When the hand of Rauffenstein gets close to Boeldieu, his eye moves. See more »

Quotes

Lieutenant Maréchal: So you're digging a hole like Monte Christo. What a laugh.
See more »

Connections

Referenced in Postcards from the Edge (1990) See more »

Soundtracks

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

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User Reviews

A Vision of Reality the Way it Shouldn't Be...
20 August 1999 | by (Philadelphia, PA) – See all my reviews

It is a wonder to see a film from the 1930's so definite in its view and opinions, yet so touching and revelatory. Jean Renoir's GRAND ILLUSION is a film of great importance, one that improves with each viewing. Having just finished the picture again for the first time in some 7 years, I was struck by its freshness. It is an Anti-War film set during World War I that is something to watch. It demands intense viewing.

This is a French work of art by the great Renoir, who would make his most acclaimed film, RULES OF THE GAME, two years later. If you ask me, GRAND ILLUSION is the superior pic and holds up immeasurably better. The small doses of humor and original characters in this film foresee the classic "shooting party" of RULES OF THE GAME. With this movie, Renoir uses prisoners-of-war and the ludicrous element of war so prevalent in early 20th Century Europe and merges them into a film not unlike a play (an extremely well-written play). The viewer has no illusions as to whether or not a war is happening. We happen not to see any battles or gunplay, rather, the human element between men and women who are not so different no matter their ethnicity.

Renoir's camera is an incredible tool used throughout. He probes the characters at the various prison camps with some smooth dolly shots and brilliant use of focus and pull-backs. It seems like an extension of his hand, much like his father's paintings. One striking scene has some weary soldiers singing the French "Las Marseilles" after getting third hand knowledge of a French victory over their German captors. Any scene with Erich von Stroheim is interesting because he is human and not some mindless German dictator so many people would come to know at the time of the film's release. He is a broken man, scarred by war and looking to gain a friend in the enemy. This is rare.

As far as prison camp films go, these guys seem to have it easy, however the fact that they are officers gives us some explanation. The story-line effectively moves from escape attempts to human realization of the situation they are in. Parts of it reminded me of STALAG 17, Billy Wilder's 1953 classic no doubt inspired by GRAND ILLUSION. This is Wilder's film without the Hollywood touch, realist and sometimes drab. Abel Gance's J'ACCUSE would follow a year later. If you want to see some anti-WWI films with two completely opposite methods of warning beneath the surface, see these two flicks back to back.

The illusion of reality is shattered by war, Renoir is telling us. If only it could be as simple as those amazing shots of the countryside from inside the German woman's house: a breathtaking, simple look at a peaceful scene the way it should be.

RATING: ***1/2


30 of 38 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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