Movie Dictator Club: Oh! What A Lovely War (1969)

After a month off I return to the Movie Dictator Club for the month of November, 2010!

Screenplay By: Len Deighton
Directed By: Richard Attenborough

There’s a scene late in Oh! What A Lovely War that perfectly encapsulates my feelings about this movie. A woman, a war protester, is speaking ill of the war effort. As she does so she makes the point that this war, World War I, will continue on and on with no end in sight, repeating the same pattern over and over again. She may not have been right about the war, it did in fact end, but her words could easily be applied to Oh! What A Lovely War. This is a film that isn’t subtle or discreet, it has an agenda, it has one simple message it wants to convey to the viewer and to do so it repeats itself over and over again. Oh! What A Lovely War repeats itself to the point of exhaustion, I was literally exhausted when the film finished, and not in a good way.

I don’t want to be too harsh towards this effort from Richard Attenborough. The topic for this months Filmspotting Movie Dictator Club is “Directors That Need More Love,” based on the previous Filmspotting Top 100 Directors of All Time list that is in the middle of being redone. My dictator, Mosca, chose Mr. Attenborough because she believed he didn’t receive enough love in the previous list as well as around the boards in general. Obviously in assigning me Oh! What A Lovely War she chose a movie that she likes, and that she hoped would represent the best of Mr. Attenborough to me. I don’t believe Mosca was wrong in her choice, I do however believe that Oh! What A Lovely War simply isn’t the movie for me. But, you never know if you don’t try and that’s why there’s no reason for me to be harsh in my review of this film, nor is it an experience I regret embarking upon.

The above being said, I do need to adequately explain to you, my few remaining readers, why exactly I couldn’t get into Oh! What A Lovely War. My reasons are pretty simple and I touched on the main one already. Oh! What A Lovely War is a farcical tale about the inane reasons we fight in wars and why ultimately wars are a bad endeavor for just about everyone. That’s fine, I can get behind that message, but I can’t get behind being told that same very thing over and over again. I needed more small moments of the soldiers talking amongst themselves and ruminating on what the war actually meant and where their world was going. I needed less of the same scene being presented time and time again. A few minuscule changes in the setting and visual artifices do not make up for the fact that I got the message of Oh! What A Lovely War in its full form within twenty minutes of the pictures start. After those first twenty minutes everything that Attenborough put in front of me was overkill, a lot of pomp and circumstance that fundamentally said the same exact thing repeatedly.

The other main factor in my growing dislike of Oh! What A War was its lack of humor, or failed attempts at humor as the case may be. Maybe it’s a cultural thing, but I am a man who enjoys a number of British comedies so I don’t honestly think this is the answer. For some reason I could not connect with Oh! What A War on a comedic level, I didn’t laugh once throughout the entire film. In a movie that is a farce, that is a satire on the state of Europe during World War I this is a major issue. To those who found this film humorous I have nothing to say other than that I didn’t and I tend to not like comedies that don’t make me laugh.

I don’t think I’ve been too harsh on Oh! What A War, and it’s not as if it is a terribly made picture. Mr. Attenborough is a professional director and even though this was his first directorial effort I could still see the work of a solid director on display. Oh! What A Lovely War comes across as a complete film with a definitive purpose, but in the end I couldn’t get past its major flaws to enjoy what I was seeing. Thanks for the dictation Mosca, I did try to enjoy this, but Oh! What A Lovely War just wasn’t the film for me.




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