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Johnny Got His Gun (DVD Review)

20 Apr, 2009 By: Billy Gil

johnny Got His Gun

Street 4/28/09
Shout! Factory
$19.99 DVD
Rated ‘PG.’
Stars Timothy Bottoms, Jason Robards, Donald Sutherland.

It’s about time, and it couldn’t be timelier: Johnny Got His Gun, the 1971 antiwar classic penned by Dalton Trumbo and based on his 1939 book about a WWI veteran who was rendered limbless and senseless in action, is hitting DVD for the first time in North America.

Many have read the book, but few have seen the film, outside of clips in Metallica’s disturbing “One” video. This DVD gives film buffs a proper chance to see the film in its lyrical, heartbreaking glory.

Johnny Got His Gun is not only a classic story about humanity, the power of memory and what it means to be alive, it is a stunning picture fully realized on DVD. Trumbo’s psychedelic storytelling, which bounces between black-and-white pictures to show nurses caring for bedridden veteran Joe Bonham (Timothy Bottoms), and color to show Bonham’s vivid dreams and memories, comes through with the utmost clarity; a few scratchy, faded reels appear near the end of the film, but it almost feels appropriate, given the subject matter.

This release isn’t just important as a film relic; in our own turbulent times, the movie offers a crucial understanding of the devastation caused by warfare and the plight of veterans beyond what can be gleaned by the 24-hour news cycle.

As the DVD format does the film justice, so do the special features, such as a new and illuminating interview with the excellent Bottoms; an hour-long documentary (made for the German DVD release) on the blacklisted Trumbo; that awesome Metallica video; behind-the-scenes footage with commentary; and, perhaps the coolest feature, a 1940 radio adaptation of the novel, starring James Cagney.

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