Dalton Trumbo penned his famous cri du coeur at the outbreak of WWII, Vietnam and Resnais decisively inform his own screen adaptation in the age of MASH and Catch-22. Joe Bonham (Timothy Bottoms) gets his gun and sets out to the Great War trenches; heís declared a vegetable after a ghastly shelling but is kept alive for study, arms and legs are pruned until he's just "a simple matter of good nursing care." Stashed under a tent of sheets on a hospital bed, his face "scooped out," Joe agonizes via interior monologue, not sure "whether I'm alive and dreaming or dead and remembering." Memory and fantasy leak into each other: Mom (Marsha Hunt) and Dad (Jason Robards) are Norman Rockwell figurines, the pulpit of militarism is variously occupied by orators gassing before Ivy League tennis players and religious icons blessing "this just and holy war." Jesus (Donald Sutherland) plays cards with doomed soldiers ("A funny thing. I can do almost anything but hit a twelve") before hauling them away in a spectral locomotive; later, a mildly irritated Messiah shoos Joe from his shop: "Maybe you should go. Youíre a very unlucky young man and I think it rubs off." Trumbo avails himself of Paths of Glory, The Miracle Worker and La Jetťe, among others, but his filmmaking is frugal -- jump-cuts state the passage of time, a languid fade to yellow signifies solar warmth. ("Overlong and overintellectualized" was original director Luis BuŮuelís verdict in his memoirs.) Still, possibly because the authorís impassioned earnestness is so alien to the wise-guy nudging of counterculture antiwar salvos, such sequences as the vision of the "self-supporting basket case" put on carny display or the nurse (Diane Varsi) tearfully tugging below the traumatized patientís waist achieve an anguishing dignity beyond their cinematic inertness. And, apropos of dignity, Trumbo understands that the colonelís platitude ("Death has a dignity all its own") doesnít really help the living. With Kathy Fields, Donald Barry, Eric Christmas, and Charles McGraw.
--- Fernando F. Croce