Written by: Michael Den Boer on April 15th, 2009
Theatrical Release Date: USA, 1971
Director: Dalton Trumbo
Writer: Dalton Trumbo
Cast: Timothy Bottoms, Jason Robards, Donald Sutherland, Diane Varsi, Marsha Hunt
DVD released: April 28th, 2009
Approximate running time: 106 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono English
DVD Release: Shout! Factory
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $19.99
Johnny Got his Gun was original published as a novel in 1939. Thirty two years later it would be adapted into a film. The novel and subsequent screenplay were both written by Dalton Trumbo a prolific screenwriter during Hollywood’s golden era. Trumbo also gained notoriety in the late 1940’s when he was black listed by Hollywood. Some of Trumbo’s more notable screenplays include Gun Crazy, Roman holiday, The Brave One, Spartacus, Exodus and Papillon. During his exile from Hollywood two of his screenplays Roman holiday and The Brave One, would win the Oscar for best screenplay. Johnny Got a Gun would mark the first and only time that Dalton Trumbo directed a film.
From a visual stand point Johnny Got a Gun is flawless. The stark reality of the black and white sequences perfectly complements the fever dream quality of the color sequences. Not to be overlooked is Dalton Trumbo’s screenplay which vividly draws the viewer into hell on earth by way of Joe’s dreams and memories and narration.
“Inside me I’m screaming, nobody pays any attention, if I had arms, I could kill myself. If I had legs, I could run away. If I had a voice, I could talk and be some kind of company for myself. I could yell for help, but nobody would help me.” – Joe
The plot moves along briskly as dreams and memories are evenly spread out with the scenes if Joe lying helpless in his hospital bed. The film’s most poignant moment is a scene after the nurse who befriends Joe discovers that he is trying to communicate through mores code. Through a military translator Joe finally realizes his fate and asks over and over again, “kill me, kill me, kill me.”
In his first leading role, Timothy Bottoms is cast in the film’s lead role of Joe Bonham. Performance wise he does an amazing job considering that for the bulk of the film he is hidden under a mask and blanket. So much of his performance is via narration, which makes the overall tenor of what he accomplishes performance wise even more impressive. The cast features several notable actors like Jason Robards as Joe’s Father, Marsha Hunt as Joe’s Mother and Donald Sutherland in the role of Jesus Christ. Another key performance comes from Diane Varsi a nurse who befriends Joe. The scene where she is talking to Joe by writing on his chest with her finger is one of many standout moments in the film. Ultimately Johnny Got his Gun is a brilliant dissection of the hypocrisy of war.
Johnny Got his Gun is presented in a 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen. This transfer is interlaced and has not been flagged for progressive playback. Colors look nicely saturated and accurate. The black and white image fares well with strong black levels and shadow detail. There is some mild print damage and a few scenes that look a tad too soft.
This release comes with one audio option a Dolby Digital mono mix in English. The audio sounds clean, clear and balanced.
Extras for this release include an article on the film from a 1971 issue of American Cinematographer, a reproduction one sheet poster for the film, a theatrical trailer for the film (1 minute 40 seconds), a music video for Metallica’s One (7 minutes 49 seconds) and a 1940 radio adaptation of Johnny Got his Gun starring James Cagney. Other extras include a ten minute interview with actor Timothy Bottoms and a eight minute behind the scenes segment that also comes with an optional audio commentary option with Timothy Bottoms and director of photography Jules Brenner. The main extra include with this release is an extraordinary documentary about screenwriter / director Dalton Trumbo titled, Dalton Trumbo: Rebel in Hollywood (59 minutes 10 seconds). This documentary is an insightful and detailed account of Dalton Trumbo career in Hollywood. The documentary also features comments from several of cast and crew about their experiences working on Johnny Got his Gun and working with Dalton Trumbo. Overall Johnny Got his Gun gets a fully loaded DVD release from Shout! Factory, recommended.