Journey’s End

I'd never seen James Whale's 1930 film of Journey's End before, but I found a slightly dodgy low-res DVD on Ebay (With the play running for years in the West End, why doesn't someone have the commercial nous to publish a decent remastered print?)

I've been reading Ben Shephard's A War of Nerves : Soldiers and Psychiatrists 1914-1994 and the film and book complement each other well. Whale conveys the strain of war, and the effort of repression brilliantly. Colin Clive plays Stanhope charismatically – you get a glimpse of what the young Olivier must have done with the part. The final scene between Stanhope and Raleigh has a remarkable homoerotic charge. You sense it wasn't really Raleigh's sister that Stanhope was in love with. There's a little final gesture, as Stanhope tousles the dead Raleigh's hair.

The action scenes are very good. The short wire-cutting episode and the raid on the German trench are among the most convincing Great War scenes that I've seen. Most of the opened-out war scenes are at night, and you get characteristic James Whale lighting – very dark blacks with dramatic highlights – but used here to richer effect than in the horror films that consolidated his Hollywood career.

Parts of the film are stagey, but I sense that Whale was right not to open it out more. The claustrophobic dugout matches the enclosed, repressed personalities of the characters.  Outside there is chaos.

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