Funny that I find myself forced to review this movie, but here I am.
I am reviewing it, because just recently, I have had the chance to witness the revival of R.C. Sheriff's play "Journey's End" on stage in New York, at the Belasco Theatre, starring Hugh Darcy, Boyd Gaines, Jefferson Mays and others, as well as being masterfully directed by David Grindley.
I left the theater shattered. I am not exaggerating, I was flabbergasted. After almost two and a half hours of a recreated and very claustrophobic depiction of soldier's life in the trenches of the Somme (I speculate), during World War One, brought to life vividly, by everyone involved, I came out of the theater with the shakes.
Mind you, I am not easily shocked, nor am I too sensitive. I am a stage actor and a director myself, so I know the buttons being pressed to achieve certain effects, both emotionally, as well as psychologically.
But what I had just witnessed, came so much to life, that I had chills in my spine as I left.
None of these emotions came to life, while watching "Aces High", the movie based on this play and even adapted for the screen, in cooperation with R.C. Sheriff himself, shortly before he died.
The screen adaptation takes place in the skies over France. So, gone is the claustrophobic ambiance to start with.
The only plus of the movie, are the aerial battle scenes, which look dated in their special effects, compared to today's standards, but still very valid in the flying tactics adopted on screen.
Granted there had been a couple of screen adaptations of "All Quiet on the Western Front" by Erich Maria Remarque, which takes place in trenches, and not in the sky, but that was the "German" vision on things, if one would like to be picky on such things.
"Journey's End" is just the other side of the medal, and would have made it into a great movie, if they had left it alone and intact.
The transfer on DVD is poor, even though in Widescreen and adapted for 16:9 TV screens, the quality of the film itself is that of a movie theater. Nothing more, nothing less. It sports various defects, such as minor scratches and dots, although the copy, for the rest, is clean.
If you want another WWI movie in your collection, especially for those who love and enjoy to see aerial battles among old-timers, then this is a picture for you. But I rather would suggest "Von Richthofen and Brown" as an alternative, although that too, is a movie filled with inaccuracies.
For the rest of you, who love good acting and drama, I would leave this one out. Buy the play. Go watch the play, if you have the chance to get a decent revival of it near you, but keep off this would-be adaptation.
It is an anti-war movie, granted, but the weakest I have ever seen in my lifetime ever.
The presence of actors such as Trevor Howard, Ray Milland, Richard Johnson and John Gielgud, is just a bluff, since they are just seen in very weak and very brief cameo roles throughout the movie.
McDowell, the very talented Christopher Plummer, Simon Ward and Peter Firth, all deliver very weak performances, not due to their lack of skills, but rather due to lack of true and solid direction.
There are too many gaps in it, and as said before, it drags itself to the dubious end. Dubious because in the original play, none of the men we come to know and sympathize with, stay alive. They are all killed in a fatal and futile mission. In the movie they all die, except Malcolm McDowell, who manages somehow to stay alive another day, being the wing commander of the unlucky bunch, just to receive another three pilots to fly and die for another lost cause.
The end of the play leaves a bare stage in total darkness. You just hear the cannons roar, the machine guns rattle, and grenade impacts throughout the theater. Then, suddenly, total peace and silence. The curtain comes up. Lights. And here they all are. Lined up, standing straight and rigid. Obedient corpses...
Far more interesting and far more shocking than "Aces High" finale, which is also dragged by the hair.
It is up to you to judge.
For me, if I had the money and the contacts to do so, I would take the play and develop it, the way it was meant. Adding here and there some action scene in the field, just to visualize the "outer" horror and slaughter going on in the "vasty fields of France", around the men involved, but then, just strictly concentrating on what is going on, in that tiny "shack" at the edge of sanity and the world...
Want such a movie?
Then ask for it.
This is not it.
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