Johnny Got His Gun

Johnny Got His Gun is more or less a film of a one-man stage production. The main character is, strangely, not named Johnny, but Joe. We figure out pretty quickly that he’s a seriously maimed soldier in a hospital, though it took me longer to figure out which war. He appears in the film as a healthy young man played by Benjamin McKenzie, voicing Joe’s inner dialog and representing the vibrant person he used to be.

The film all comes down to McKenzie’s acting and the words he is given to say. Sometimes it’s quite good, and other times it’s a little sappy, awkward, or both. The message is clearly pacifist. Overall I would give it 3 stars out of 4 stars.

I saw the film at the Camera Cinema Club in Campbell, CA on 11/23/2008. Wesley Horton, one of the film’s producers, was at the screening to answer questions (there may be minor spoilers below):

  • The original book was written by Dalton Trumbo, and it was taken off the market during WWII, with Trumbo’s permission
  • It is read in many 10th and 11th grade honors classes
  • There was a radio play with Jimmy Cagney
  • There was an earlier film, but it is very hard to find on DVD
  • Jeff Daniels did a 1982 off-Broadway play, which lasted for 27 performances
  • The play is done more in Europe
  • The director saw it in the late 1980’s
  • The “archival” tape of the Daniels play had the lens cap on for the first 10 minutes, and even more was lost when it was transferred to digital
  • The editor saw an early rehearsal and encouraged the director to use a better camera
  • The director hadn’t seen “The O.C.,” but had seen Junebug
  • The actor fit the right look (All American) and had the theater experience the director wanted
  • They rehearsed for weeks in Venice CA in a dance studio, which is where the no shoes look came from
  • The film was shot in 4 ½ days (8 hour days) in a theater with one to three takes of each shot
  • “Live on stage on film”
  • The scene in the river was done for $53 in dry ice
  • The film was not shot sequentially, but due to sequential rehearsals, it worked
  • This is pretty much exactly the play, but not 100% of the book
  • Trumbo’s son and other family saw a rehearsal and liked it
  • The dedication has caused some objections from anti-war activists–the best the filmmakers can tell is that supporting soldiers is too pro-war for the activists (but not sure)
  • The Pentagon wanted to talk–he thinks it’s because Joe never gives up–but they can’t officially endorse the film
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