Behind the Scenes of the Movie Grand Illusian Part 2

About the film Grand Illusion, behind the scenes on Jean Renoir's World War I class and one of the best movies of all time.



The Story behind the Story: An eloquent plea for humanism, Grand Illusion was made in France just prior to W.W. II by Jean Renoir, the gifted son of the painter, August. Hailed by Franklin D. Roosevelt as a film that "everyone who believes in democracy should see," it was also admired by Nazi leader Herman Goring. However, Goebbels called it "Cinematographic Enemy No. 1" and pressured Mussolini against awarding it a festival prize at its premiere at the 1937 Venice Biennale.

Part of Goring's liking for the film may have been due to Erich Von Stroheim's portrayal of the ramrod-stiff but dashing German Commandant von Rauffenstein. Assuredly what Goring didn't like was the sympathetic portrayal of Rosenthal by Marcel Dalio, and he ordered most of Rosenthal's scenes cut before permitting the picture to be seen in Nazi Germany. Mussolini, not taking any chances, banned the picture altogether from Italy, but he was rumored to have kept a private print for himself.

Curiously, when the film was reissued after the war in 1946, it was attacked as having been too kind to the Germans, and as having suggested a trace of anti-Semitism. Badly mutilated and cut arbitrarily during the war years, the film was reassembled in 1958 by Renoir (from negatives seized by the Germans and recovered by the Americans in Munich) and released again with an introductory sound track in which Renoir himself explained the film's genesis. "The story of Grand Illusion is strictly true. It was told to me by my friends in the war ?notably by Pinsard. Pinsard flew in fighter planes; I was in a reconnaissance squadron. One day I had to go to take photos of the German lines. He saved my life?. He himself was shot down seven times. His escapes are the basis for Grand Illusion."

Actually, although the basics of the story were "strictly true," the script had undergone a number of revisions after completion, most notably in the expanding and humanizing of the part played by Von Stroheim. Renoir, who had always admired actor-director Von Stroheim's work, had signed him for the film after the script was finished, and together Renoir and Von Stroheim rewrote the role of Von Rauffenstein. Their brilliant collaboration produced a portrait of the German commandant that brought a touching depth to the film and crystallized its humanistic message.

After winning an Academy Award nomination in 1938, Grand Illusion lost to an American comedy, You Can't Take It with You, but the film did succeed in winning a special award at the 1939 New York World's Fair. In 1958, at the time of its third release, it was voted one of the 12 best films of all time at Brussels, and in 1975 Renoir was given a special citation by the Academy Award Board of Governors.

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