Pack up your Troubles is only one of many Laurel & Hardy movies showing them at war. There are better examples but it still has a few iconic and quite hilarious scenes. I grew up with Laurel & Hardy, during my childhood they were always on Sunday TV and so, no matter how silly, I’m fond of them.
The US are entering WWI. In his typical boasting way Hardy pretends he would join up if only he was given a chance. The chance is given soon enough in form of a conscription officer but the moment Hardy sees him, he tries to escape and weasel out. To no avail. They are drafted and end up in the trenches of France where they go about their own business pretty oblivious of the mess around them. Food, warmth and a few other things are more important for them. While this was certainly essential for all the soldiers, in Laurel and Hardy’s case it’s center stage. They behave in the trench like an old couple at home. The shelling and bombing is perceived as a major nuisance but not as the real danger it is. Sent to make a few prisoners, they turn a dangerous mission into a hilarious adventure that ends with a surprising success.
Edie Smith, a fellow soldier, tells them about his little daughter. He had to leave her behind with a couple of really abusive folk. When he goes missing, our two heroes decide that after the war they will bring the girl to her rightful grandparents.
The second part of the movie takes place after the Armistice and shows their adventures with the little girl and all their troubles and mishaps until they finally find the grand parents.
Pack Up Your Troubles is one hour long. It’s amusing, not one of my favourites, but still entertaining. They pack all the elements of WWI movies into a film – the trenches, the barbed wire, the mud, the bombings – and add a humorous twist. Laurel & Hardy’s humour is slapstick, it’s not satirical, nor very profound. If you like it, you will enjoy this as well.
Do you have a favourite Laurel & Hardy at war? Or another favourite Laurel & Hardy?
Have you seen Capitaine Conan? You haven’t? Well then I’d like to know why you are sitting here, reading this blog when what you should really do, is chase a copy of this unique and brilliant movie? This is one of the best war movies I have seen in a while. I’m doing pretty bad with movies these days and have found my attention span is quite short but this movie had me glued to the screen. WWI movies tend to be a bit repetitive, it’s either the atrocity of the trenches, facial wounds, the analysis of the shortcomings of the high command or the incredible amount of dead and lost soldiers. All of it worthy themes but done a few times and quite brilliantly too. That’s why it was such a surprise that there is hardly any of this in Capitaine Conan.
Capitaine Conan is based on the largely autobiographical novel Captain Conan by Roger Vercel who won the prestigious Prix Goncourt for the book. Vercel based the main character on one of his comrades.
The most interesting aspect is that the movie (and the book) takes place on the Bulgarian border where French and English troops fought a guerrilla like war against Germans and Bulgarians. There are trenches but a lot of the combat is hand-to-hand combat, man against man.
The lieutenant Capt Conan is an insubordinate, extremely wild and brutal soldier. But also someone who cherishes camaraderie. Instead of eating with the fellow officers, he rather sits somewhere with the men. He leads a group of 50 men that he calls his wolves. They are all equally fearless, brutal and, as it seems, addicted to violence but also a tight-knit group, ready to do anything for each other. There is nothing they like more than fighting man against man and mostly with knives. Because Conan is highly efficient and can turn around the course of hopeless battles, his superiors let him do as he pleases but when the war ends, things go wrong. His bloodthirsty men are too easily bored. They start to commit one crime after the other. Pillaging, raping, robbery. Conan who calls himself a warrior, as opposed to a soldier, isn’t any better and let’s his men get away with everything. Conan has long-lost his sense of right and wrong and all that he cares about are his men. War has turned him into a brute.
Among this violent crowd is a more gentle lieutenant, who wants to become a school teacher in peace time. If it wasn’t for him, who is appointed as prosecutor, Conan and his men would be court-martialled. The friendship between these two men grows slowly but once it’s established, it is indestructible.
It’s quite difficult to do this movie justice as it is very complex and quite fast-paced. Conan is a fascinating character and the way Tavernier depicts him we can’t help but admire him. In the world of WWI, in which there are so many officers who never dirty their hands but make the most important decisions without having a clue, someone like Conan, with a sense of honour and dignity, despite the brutality, becomes admirable. He is ruthless but he has a sense of loyalty and justice. The problem is, that men like him cannot go back to a normal life, once the war is over. They have gone too far.
After the war has ended, they are boarding a train and sent around without really knowing where they go. They stop in Sofia for a long time and are finally sent to the Russian border to fight the Bolsheviks. The scene in which the general informs them of the Armistice is one of the greatest scenes in any war movie ever. It’s so absurd. We see the guy talk about victory and glory, while the rain is pouring down, half of the men are running away because of diarrhea and the highly decimated band plays an off-key Marseillaise and looks like a bunch of flea-infested hobos.
I really hope I could give a halfway good impression of this wonderful movie and how rich it is. It’s very witty with super fast dialogue that I hope is well captured in the subtitles. I have a French DVD so I turned them off. It’s one of the huge problems of French cinema in translation. French cinema does live to a large extent from the dialogue which is usually fast and a lot of it isn’t translated. This isn’t a comedy but it has a lot of funny elements because it shows how absurd war is and because it juxtaposes many different levels of French society and different French regions.
As I said, the movie is available with English subtitles but the only trailer I found is a French one with Spanish subtitles. It still gives a good impression of the movie.
January 1, 1915: Writing to friends in north Wales, a gentleman who is serving at the front in the City of London Territorials states:- “It was a memorable christmas Day in our trenches as we had a truce with the enemy from Christmas Eve till Boxing Day morning, not a shot being fired. The truce came about in this way. The Germans started singing and lighting candles about 7.30 on Christmas Eve, and one of them challenged any one of us to go across for a bottle of wine. One of our fellows accepted the challenge; that started the ball rolling. We then went half way to shake hands and exchange greetings with them. There were 10 dead Germans in a ditch in front of the trenches and we helped to bury these. I could have had a helmet but I did not fancy taking one off a corpse. These men were trapped one night while trying to get to our outpost trench some time ago. The Germans seemed to be very nice chaps and said they were awfully sick of the war. We were out of the trenches all Christmas Day collecting souvenirs.
It is debatable when watching a series whether you should review each installment individually. I haven’t done it for The Pacific, nor for Hornblower or Sharpe, so why now do it for ANZACS? Because it is so good? Yes, it really is but so are the others. That’s not the reason then, the reason is that I’m in the mood to do it. Not everything needs to make perfect sense in life, occasionally we can do something just because we enjoy it and I enjoy reviewing ANZACS. There are not all that many good movies and series on WWI, it seems justified to re-emphasize that this one exists.
Part three is a s good as the first two parts and leads us even deeper into some of the catastrophic and notorious battles of WWI. Who hasn’t heard of Ypres or Passchendaele, who hasn’t heard how many soldiers died in these two offensives alone?
In this part we see that the British Prime Minister, Lloyd George and General Haig are really not on the same page. Haig is gung-ho, his strategy seems to demand too many losses and Lloyd George doesn’t think it’s justified at all.
Once more we also see how the British and the Australian culture clash when it comes to subordination. Another aspect that is covered in this part is the role of the respective churches. While the Church of England was fully supportive of the war, there were some voices in Australia saying that it might be high time to underline that Australia was independent by now and that the Australian church should adopt another attitude towards the war.
The man on the photo, Jon Blake is one of the main actors in ANZACS. He was also in in The Lighthorsemen. While finishing The Lighthorsemen he had a car accident and sustained severe brain injuries that left him in a near vegetative state. He died on May 29 2011. It’s a very sad story. He was a very promising young actor and many say he would have gone far. We will never know.
ANZACS has five episodes in total and I have just watched the first one that could be called “Gallipoli”. I would say it is easily as good – if in parts not even better – as Peter Weir’s movie Gallipoli (one of my top 10!).
The series starts in Australia where the young guys, full of enthusiasm and inspired by a sense of adventure, enlist. While some of their parents think it is their duty towards their motherland (some can still not fully grasp the idea of being independent by now), the young men see the war as a means to travel and see the world. A bit of fighting will be great as well. Why not bash some Germans? Sounds sporting, right?
They are a composite little group heading off to Europe (as they think). Some are farmers, some are sports heroes, others are students.
When they finally arrive in Gallipoli, they are told that they will fight the Germans by entering the back door. Once they have overrun the Turks there will be no stopping them and victory will be certain.
Gallipoli is one of those names that stands for an unsuccessful campaign and battles in which losses were extremely high. The young lads are mown down by Turkish guns like weeds and the sporting spirit dies as soon as they have lost the first among their ranks. I couldn’t help wondering whether the British sent the Australians on purpose on this futile mission but considering that they lost as many and more of their own in France and Belgium, it seems more likely that high command had simply no clue what they were doing. Anyone reading this who is better informed is welcome to explain/contradict.
I liked the way this first part was told. It seems very accurate, very realistic, not overly emotional. There is a couple of brothers and friends who are devastated by the loss of their siblings and friends but this isn’t overly exploited.
I’m extremely curious to see how this will develop and whether the next episodes will be equally good or even better. At the end of episode one they were ready to move on to France.