Book Review: World War I on Film: English Language Releases Through 2014


by Paul M. Edwards

Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2016. Pp. viii, 256. Illus., append., notes, biblio., index. $39.95 paper. ISBN: 0786498668

Cinematic Versions of the Great War

Independent historian Edwards, director of the Center for the Study of the Korean War, in Independence, Missouri, gives us a reference guide to nearly 350 pictures in English (some dubbed) about the Great War, including some pre-war films with some bearing on the coming conflict.

As far as possible, considering that many films no longer exist or survive as heavily damaged clips or even stills, each picture is treated uniformly. After an introduction covering company, producer, director, and cast, Edwards provides technical details such as running time, whether the picture was sound or silent, in color or black and white, and summary of the plot. Edwards then gives us what he calls a “military correlation”, that is, a discussion of whether the film tells us something useful about the war, which is followed by some miscellaneous comments or observations about the film, such as cameo appearances of later notable stars. This is all quite valuable.

But the book suffers from several problems. Edwards lists the films by title, rather than chronologically, which would have allowed some commentary on the evolution of production values, trends in the theme, and so forth. A number of films in which the Great War is of importance to later events, such as the 1939 Roaring Twenties, the 1943 Stormy Weather, or the 1944 White Cliffs of Dover, are not listed. In addition, many of the comments on the historicity of particular pictures are just wrong; the Russian women’s “Battalion of Death” was hardly “infamous”, as it performed well on several occasions, nor was the “Zimmerman Note” a forgery, and the 1955 Billy Mitchell film is a wildly inaccurate account of the events, essentially USAF propaganda rather than history.

Although a useful guide to films on the Great War, this could have been better.

Note: World War I on Film is also available as an e-book, ISBN 978-1-4766-2063-3.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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