Monday, September 3, 2012

#604: In Which We Serve

(Noël Coward and David Lean, 1942)

In Which We Serve is a respectable version of the propaganda churned out on both sides of the Atlantic during WWII. As such, it's a valuable historical artifact, particularly when combined with the Coward/Lean pedigree. But these kinds of films are a real difficult sell for me. All movies attempt to manipulate, but propaganda films are so obvious about it that it can be pretty hard to watch them with an open mind. The Soviet film program produced a couple of flat-out masterpieces about WWII in Ballad of a Solider and The Cranes Are Flying, but these were made years after the war and were intended as nationalistic unifiers rather than a call to arms. Movies made during the heat of battle are usually much less appealingly complex (I'm ignoring for a moment the elephant in the room that is Casablanca, since that film wasn't purely intended as propaganda, and isn't about war per se).

The American counterpart that immediately springs to mind here is The Sullivans, the film which told the true story of five brothers who were killed serving together and would go on to influence Spielberg's flawed but technically brilliant Saving Private Ryan. Like In Which We Serve, the people in The Sullivans are notably average, caught up in a fight bigger than them but dedicated to serving their country. I'm a pretty patriotic guy, but this sort of stuff makes me annoyed rather than inspired (note: I cried like a little baby at the end of The Sullivans - you will, too). There's something about war that brings out the simplicity in everyone - and that something is that the complex take on war is sure to lead any thinking person down the path of resistance. In Which We Serve has occasional moments that are enjoyable, but you aren't going to learn anything real about humanity, war, or cinema from the film. You'll just learn how the British chose to indoctrinate their civilians during their last great war. Spoiler alert: stiff upper lip, everyone.

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