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Episode 156 - Legends of the Fall (w/ Kendra James)


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Poll: Episode 156 - Legends of the Fall (w/ Kendra James) (23 member(s) have cast votes)

Should Legends of the Fall enter The Canon?

  1. Yes (6 votes [26.09%])

    Percentage of vote: 26.09%

  2. No (17 votes [73.91%])

    Percentage of vote: 73.91%

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#1 Dalton Maltz

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Posted 28 May 2018 - 08:15 AM

Writer Kendra James (Shondaland) joins Amy to discuss the 1994 film “Legends of the Fall.” Amy and Kendra talk about the depiction of World War I in film, Anthony Hopkins’ performance, and the stigma of being a “girl movie.” Plus, we’ll hear about Brad Pitt’s rise to stardom and which baby name spiked in popularity after the movie’s release before they make their final arguments.

#2 Travis Johnson

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Posted 28 May 2018 - 04:09 PM

I like Legends of the Fall just fine (and better than most, judging from my peer group) but I think it falls short of Canon-worthy. It's a big, handsome, lush period piece that wears its heart on its sleeve but it's not the best example of its type, or even its director's work - if we're gonna pick a Zwick, surely Glory must be on the table? Put Legends next to, say, Mann's Last of the Mohicans and you can clearly see... well, not exactly its flaws, but where it sits on the scale. It's a solid, perfectly respectable historical drama, but solid isn't good enough in this instance.

#3 FictionIsntReal

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Posted 28 May 2018 - 04:52 PM

Melodrama may deserve to be in the Canon, but that doesn't mean this specific one qualifies. Go with Stella Dallas, something from Douglas Sirk (or John M. Stahl before him), or even something more recent from Todd Haynes. This movie was mediocre at best, and while kids may have been named Tristan at the time it seems more like one of Nathan Rabin's "Forgotbusters" which has little detectable impact today.

Anthony Hopkins' character is more than simply a "wise Vietnam vet" type character. He's a thoroughgoing cynic about the government. He dismisses the claim that "this war" is different by saying they said the same thing about the Civil War & Indian wars, so they are all the same to him. He doesn't care about what crimes Decker is wanted for, hates when his son is planning to run for Congress (without actually knowing what his son will do, it's still government), and in the end kills a police officer who comes to his property (in response to the criminal he's harboring murdering a different police officer). Edward Banfield in "The Moral Basis of a Backward Society" described southern Italy as being beset by "amoral familism" over any loyalty to the broader society, and here Colonel Ludow's held up as an example for that ideal.

This movie may appeal to girls, but I agree that this is really a movie about men (which ends with its lead knife-fighting a bear!). I just don't think it's an especially good example of one. I didn't find Julia Ormond's character that interesting, it was just "Which one of these three brothers is she going to be with". Maybe I wasn't watching right, but I found her suicide undermotivated. You say that you don't care when the characters are all doomed to die, and that was my take on Samuel. It was so obvious that she was going to pair up with Tristan, that you're just ticking off the minutes until Samuel is removed.

As it happened, I watched a WW1 movie last week as part of a King Vidor triple-feature ("The Big Parade"). It's definitely a less popular war since it didn't "make the world safe for democracy", but instead was miserable at the time and made things worse. The most famous Geneva convention was the fourth (after WW2), but there were three prior to that. There have been some movies railing about the stupidity of the war (I think "J'accuse!" did this in a very muddled way), but I'd be interested in seeing someone adapt Ernst Junger's insane embrace of it in "Storm of Steel".

#4 DrEricFritz

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Posted 28 May 2018 - 06:12 PM

I definitely skipped this one in 1994. As a (stupid) teenager boy, this really didn't appeal to me at all, especially with my vague memories of how it was advertised. So I am happy that I did get to watch this with adult eyes and not (stupid) teenager boy eyes. And now that I've seen it, here a just a few thoughts. It's well acted, nicely shot, and the score is nice enough.

The biggest problem to me is simply the script. It's kind of a mess: there are a lot of good elements there, but it could have maybe used another draft. Or perhaps it should have been some sort of miniseries like Lonesome Dove where the various storylines might be better fleshed out. The movie seems to start with a "previously on.." with all the narration, the introduction of Sam and Susannah returning from some unseen adventure, and then the story resumes. That's a part of the melodrama I suppose, but it doesn't quite click for me, the drama is unearned.

I had hoped at some point that the voice overs would stop, but they kept coming back and giving exposition that told me what to feel rather than the actors and visuals tell the story. For example, during the beginning of the WWI, Sam says that his two brothers aren't getting along and he didn't know why. That information had already been given to us in a previous scene through, well, acting and visuals. I really, REALLY did not like the voice overs.

I'm a soft no. I am glad that I have finally watched it, but I will probably never return to it. I'll go watch The Man from Snowy River now.

#5 EvRobert

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Posted 28 May 2018 - 06:47 PM

I went with a soft no on this too. I remember being 'forced' to watch this (as a nearing adulthood teenager) by some of my cousins and thinking "well this isn't so bad" (in fact if I had realized that it was from the director of Glory, I probably would have given it more credence at the time) but it's never stuck with me. In fact i would argue that A River Runs Through It is probably the better movie.

On the old DENZEL WASHINGTON IS THE GREATEST ACTOR OF ALL TIME PERIOD podcast, they labeled GLORY as "black people homework" but I can't see anyone saying that Legends Of The Fall is "white people homework". It's a decidedly middle of the road film that does its job fine, but I can't imagine it being a part of the "canon" of Great Films. No one gives an outstanding performance despite being some legit great actors (the actors involved would either give better performances later or prior to this), the cinematography, while gorgeous, is as Amy and Kendra said, the "Montana" sky. It was designed to be beautiful. There is no iconic score. It's just...fine. The film on the whole is just fine.

#6 sycasey 2.0

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Posted 28 May 2018 - 10:33 PM

As a teenage boy in 1994, I also never had much interest in seeing Legends of the Fall. It was certainly advertised as something primarily "for women," fairly or not, and I obliged by avoiding it. So I do appreciate the show giving me the opportunity to catch something that was pretty popular at the time but that I'd never seen. I wanted to see if the impressions I'd gotten from advertising and the general pop-culture conversation about this film were mistaken. Perhaps it had something more interesting going on than the ads suggested?

Nope. This was the soapiest soap opera that ever soaped. It's not even a soft no for me. This movie isn't within a mile of the Canon.

Sure, it's melodrama. It's not great melodrama. As others have mentioned, the best of Sirk easily outstrips this. So does Todd Haynes. Zwick himself has made better movies. The difference is that in the best of these, the melodrama isn't just there to tear at your emotions, it's all built towards a particular message or theme the filmmaker wants to get across. Far From Heaven is a melodrama, but it is very clearly about how a sheltered 1950s housewife is left unable to understand complex issues like racism and homophobia, and how said inability amounts to a personal tragedy for her and those around her.

Legends of the Fall is a muddle. It could be about the nature of the American West and how/why it faded, but then it wants to be a World War I film about brothers protecting each other, and then it wants to be about a love triangle featuring two brothers and one woman (and their other dead brother, kind of?), and then it wants to be about Native Americans and whites living together, and then it wants to be about Prohibition (?!) and government overreach . . . I think. Maybe the best you can say for it is that it's about the importance of "family," but even that is contradicted by the lead character (Tristan) spending most of the movie trying his damndest to get away from his family. I'd like to think I took this movie seriously and didn't dismiss it based on its chosen format . . . it just doesn't hold up to much scrutiny. It's very prettied-up nonsense that never settles on a theme.

Also, I have to say that I can't believe there was a conversation about how World War I had never been adequately depicted on screen and Paths of Glory never came up (though The Thin Red Line did, even though that's clearly a WW2 movie). Paths of Glory is also a movie with plenty of melodramatic aspects, but it doesn't feel cheap, because all of the drama is built towards making a point about how war is a meat grinder that robs men of their humanity -- that's the perfect thematic statement about the horrific trench warfare of WW1, suffusing every part of the narrative. Surely that's a better cinematic treatment of this war than the 20 minutes or so that Legends of the Fall devotes to it, before Henry Thomas is finally knocked off like we all knew he would be. Cinematic history didn't begin in the 90s!

#7 MadScientist

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Posted 29 May 2018 - 07:34 AM

I'm a no, but I just wanted to say that as a history buff, this episode drove me nuts. I was yelling at the both of you and my coworkers were looking at me funny.

#8 Fiona2017

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Posted 29 May 2018 - 11:33 AM

For me, the movie was just very average but with the addition of a number of stars and high production values. I voted no as there's nothing that makes it stand out in terms of quality or influence, so it doesn't deserve to be in the canon.

The point about not being aware of many WWI movies was interesting to me as a Brit. For us, there have been so many films and books about it and I just subconsciously assumed that was the case for everyone. Thinking about it now, though, all of the WWI movies I've seen have been either British, European, Australian or Canadian. It's interesting to realise that an event which was of such huge significance for our history is something of an afterthought for the USA.

If anyone is looking for WWI movie recommendations, personally I'd suggest Regeneration. It's also a nineties movie and it deals with what was then called shellshock (now PTSD). It's mainly set in the real war hospital of Craiglockhart in Edinburgh with Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen as supporting characters.

Edited by Fiona2017, 29 May 2018 - 11:34 AM.


#9 sycasey 2.0

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Posted 29 May 2018 - 03:23 PM

I also have to say that while the first shot of Brad Pitt riding triumphantly to the house in slow motion was indeed tremendous, by the fourth time it happened it had started to lose some impact.

#10 BumsPodcast

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Posted 29 May 2018 - 07:18 PM

I can testify to Legend of the Falls being an appealing movie for boys as well as girls. I remember liking this movie not for the love story or the sweeping tale, but for the character of Brad Pitt, because I (and guys my age at a certain time) was kinda obsessed with Brad Pitt as a badass. This movie made it into a group of masculinity defining character stories consisting of Fight Club, Snatch, and Troy. The fact that he was pretty, yet in those movies usually messy with dirt, or blood, and acting like a savage, was something my friends and I found really appealing. In fact, I think because he was so pretty, he was able to do those aforementioned roles that were so much more savage than the masculine action stars were doing at the time. Also, at the time I remember my heterosexual male friends saying that Brad Pitt was the only guy they'd have sex with. He really transcended. I did vote YES on Legends of the Fall, even though I think Troy outshines it in almost every aspect--Brad Pitt is more savage as well as much greasier, the tale is more sweeping and the world is more vast, the characters are larger, the love is more passionate.

PS
Regarding the bear scene, I totally forgot about LOTF when I was watching the Revenant. Thinking back now, I remember the bear fight being a bit underwhelming, like special effects weren't enough, and after all it was just a very short moment with a freeze frame? It's been a while since I've seen it. Revenant definitely has a leg up there. The bear fight in LOTF I interpreted as this masculine character doing a badass feat, and defined the moment through the character. The Revenant bear fight, on the other hand, I interpreted as evidence of nature's devastating power being inflicted on a character who had no control.

#11 Susan*

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Posted 29 May 2018 - 08:31 PM

View PostFiona2017, on 29 May 2018 - 11:33 AM, said:

If anyone is looking for WWI movie recommendations, personally I'd suggest Regeneration. It's also a nineties movie and it deals with what was then called shellshock (now PTSD). It's mainly set in the real war hospital of Craiglockhart in Edinburgh with Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen as supporting characters.

I swear I saw a WWI movie about Wilfred Owen that was a Welsh language movie with subtitles. I remember the theater where I saw it and who I saw it with, but not the name of the movie.

I haven't listened to the podcast yet but the WWI talk has me intrigued so maybe I'll listen tomorrow. Has anyone mentioned that the best WWI depiction is surely Blackadder's? [Edit: So now I've listened to the podcast and I laughed when the guest said there are no humorous depictions of WWI -- Blackadder is the answer, and it's also one of the more accurate and moving ones.]

#12 LindsayNelson

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Posted 30 May 2018 - 04:29 AM

My main memory regarding Legends of the Fall was that it was one of the first movies that I actively, specifically disliked. I saw it when I was 18, and it was one of the first times I can remember rolling my eyes a lot at a movie. Mainly I just could not understand the appeal of Brad Pitt--I thought his character was 30% moody glowering and 70% narcissistic asshole, and I didn't get why everyone swooned over him (both romantically and platonically). But I'm fairly sure that if I had seen the movie just a few years earlier I would have wept and lusted and just let it wash over me like the wave of big skies and big emotions that it was. (I have a vivid memory of weeping repeatedly during Far and Away and loving it SO MUCH, and it came out just two years before Legends of the Fall.) It's wild how quickly your tastes can shift in your mid-to-late teen years.

So yeah, that's a no for me.

#13 textbookleader8

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Posted 30 May 2018 - 12:24 PM

Watched this movie for the first time on Sunday and thoroughly enjoyed it. I was expecting it to be boring, but I kept on waiting to get bored and it never happened. This is a very watchable movie, and a very movie movie. I'm still thinking about it three days later. I'm not a very smart or astute consumer of film, but I'm voting yes.

#14 Johnny Pomatto

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Posted 30 May 2018 - 01:25 PM

I was pretty astonished that anyone would consider LEGENDS OF THE FALL to be great enough to grant entry into The Canon, though there were several factors about it that I didn't consider. Having not seen it since its original release, I had forgotten that the film was primarily sold on and remembered for its sentimental, melodramatic love story, the equivalent to airport romance novels. In fact, I had forgotten about Julia Ormond's presence entirely. I know. Basically the entire plot of the movie. I had remembered this more as a "death of the West" movie, one about father/son bonding and betrayal on the new frontier. Kind of a more serious Bonanza, if you will. Watching it again now, I was astonished by how little those elements stand out. And it's a shame, because that sounds like a great movie to me. I too lament that we don't get nearly enough World War I stories, (the recent JOURNEY'S END adaptation wasn't bad), but when I look to the elements of what WWI was about to me, very little of them are touched upon in this film.

The other thing I remembered about this film is that it had pretty stunning cinematography. John Toll's Oscar win was at the time the deciding factor for me to want to see this movie at all. I also remembered at the time that this was about when, post Oscar, Anthony Hopkins started to really phone in his roles. I remembered this being up there with BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA as one of his lazier performances, but watching him again now, I found him to be quite good, which might be more of a testament to how much worse it got for him later on. The only other really positive thing I can claim for this movie is that it made me really miss Bart The Bear. I'll give props to any film that uses a real bear, rather than the CGI animals that we get today, which even at their best look fake. I love the setting of this movie and individual set pieces, but I just couldn't care about the story at all. It was somehow even duller than I remembered it being. I appreciate Kendra's passion for films like these. I too enjoy a good epic melodrama. I just don't think this is the best example of one. I don't even think it's the best example of one featuring Brad Pitt. I wouldn't consider A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT for The Canon either, but I like it more than this film. There are so many epic family romantic melodramas I would submit for The Canon. We could go as big as GONE WITH THE WIND, to something more modern like GIANT, to something a bit smaller scale like THE SOUTHERNER. LEGENDS OF THE FALL just doesn't make me fell anything. I try not to make these decisions too personal and consider the film's legacy with a wider scope, but it seems to have slipped so far out of cinematic consciousness that I had quite forgotten it even existed. So while I feel like I should be perhaps abstaining from a vote, I'll be mean and cast a solid NO.

#15 Fiona2017

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Posted 31 May 2018 - 12:37 PM

View PostSusan*, on 29 May 2018 - 08:31 PM, said:

I swear I saw a WWI movie about Wilfred Owen that was a Welsh language movie with subtitles. I remember the theater where I saw it and who I saw it with, but not the name of the movie.

I haven't listened to the podcast yet but the WWI talk has me intrigued so maybe I'll listen tomorrow. Has anyone mentioned that the best WWI depiction is surely Blackadder's? [Edit: So now I've listened to the podcast and I laughed when the guest said there are no humorous depictions of WWI -- Blackadder is the answer, and it's also one of the more accurate and moving ones.]


That season of Blackadder is the best! I thought about that one too when the guest said that. Genuinely hilarious with those heartwrenching final scenes.

Could the Welsh movie be Hedd Wyn?

#16 Susan*

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Posted 31 May 2018 - 04:19 PM

View PostFiona2017, on 31 May 2018 - 12:37 PM, said:


That season of Blackadder is the best! I thought about that one too when the guest said that. Genuinely hilarious with those heartwrenching final scenes.

Could the Welsh movie be Hedd Wyn?

I thought it wasn't but I just watched part of the ending and that looked familiar. And it makes sense that it had to have a pretty high profile for me to see it where I saw it. We eventually get foreign movies that were nominated for big awards.

I used to see many movies with a particular friend and we tended to see war-related movies where the story being told was hopeless/sad. So I saw quite a few movies with WWI connections. The WWII movies were usually about the holocaust, not big battles. I saw all these great movies that I think most people don't remember, like I remember loving The Nasty Girl (nothing ticks more boxes than a movie about exposing holocaust deniers).

There are so many movies and TV shows that are not about WWI but take place between the wars and you can feel the huge impact WWI had in the UK. Like Chariots of Fire referring to a whole generation of promising men being wiped out and others bearing signs of having been gassed or mutilated. It is largely ignored in the US, which is a shame because we have had so much WWII coverage and how can you understand WWII without knowing about WWI? My mom's scariest childhood story was of a man in her neighborhood in a big US city who had been gassed in WWI and was never the same, but I suspect the influenza had a bigger impact in the US than the war. But back to the UK-Upstairs, Downstairs references the Titanic, WWI, and influenza!

#17 Susan*

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Posted 31 May 2018 - 04:26 PM

I saw Thelma and Louise during its initial theatrical run. When it ended, my friend turned to me and said "I'll bet you liked it because it ended badly." But we both agreed that, holy shit, who was that gorgeous guy who stole the movie. In the next few years, I remember tabloid crap about who he was dating, was he gay (a rumor that used to follow around most attractive male actors). He had some misses but as early as True Romance I liked that he seemed to want to take interesting roles rather than making the most obvious choices.

The positive comments during the podcast about Interview with the Vampire make me sort of want to give that a second chance. I don't remember much except that I hated it. But I'm sure I went in hostile. Every single woman I knew in college was obsessed with the books so I had tried to read the first one. And then all the hype around the movie -- There's no way I gave that movie a fair chance.

#18 bleary

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Posted 03 June 2018 - 08:51 AM

#1: You know it's not looking good for the film's chances when the most interesting discussion in the forum is about the differing views of WWI media from different countries instead of anything having to do with the movie. (That's not sarcasm, I think it is an interesting discussion!)

#2: Unlike MadScientist above, I am not a history buff, but I still raised my eyebrows at Helena being depicted as an up-and-coming city in the 1910s. Helena was the most populous city in Montana from the 1860s until around 1900, at which point it was the other nearby towns like Butte and Great Falls that began to flourish.


Anyway, through no fault of this film, I am currently suffering from fatigue of the sprawling family epic, having recently watched Giant, Howard's End, and Cimarron within the last 3 weeks or so. Therefore, I naturally placed Legends of the Fall into that category, rather than viewing it as a melodrama or a girl movie or a boy movie or anything. (In that respect, as alluded to by Johnny Pomatto, it falls rather short of Giant as a film.) So many of the beats are so predictable that I didn't even think of them as a question of "if," but "when."

And furthermore:

 sycasey 2.0, on 28 May 2018 - 10:33 PM, said:

Legends of the Fall is a muddle. It could be about the nature of the American West and how/why it faded, but then it wants to be a World War I film about brothers protecting each other, and then it wants to be about a love triangle featuring two brothers and one woman (and their other dead brother, kind of?), and then it wants to be about Native Americans and whites living together, and then it wants to be about Prohibition (?!) and government overreach . . . I think.


This is a spot-on analysis of what keeps the movie from having any chance of being great. To be fair, I think it knows it wants to be a film about family, but it digresses in frustrating ways. World War I is used as an excuse to deep-six Samuel and really little more than that. Sure, the film tries to draw parallels to the conflict with the American Indians, but it's very clumsy. The prohibition and bootlegging are used as an excuse to knock off Isabel Two, and also serves little more purpose than that. The result is that we get a Forrest Gumpification of this family, where the turning points in their lives happen to coincide with turning points of history. It's at least unnecessary, and at worst a bit laughable. I kept having the feeling that there was some deep symbolic meaning that I was missing that Kendra and Amy would bring up in the episode that would make me reevaluate the plot, but apparently not.

That said, I'm not as low on the film overall as a lot of other people are. The score, if slightly derivative, worked well in my opinion. Well-shot views of the northern Rockies are always welcome. Anthony Hopkins gives a great performance, even if it's almost surely not in his top 5 greatest performances. I'm always a proponent of putting First Nations people and Native Americans in non-stereotypical roles, though I wish the characters of One Stab and Pet were given a little more to do in that regard. And overall, I found it to be a reasonably fine movie.

But Canon-worthy? Nothing stuck out to me to make me feel that way. I'll vote a soft no on this one.

#19 sycasey 2.0

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Posted 03 June 2018 - 09:14 AM

 bleary, on 03 June 2018 - 08:51 AM, said:

That said, I'm not as low on the film overall as a lot of other people are. The score, if slightly derivative, worked well in my opinion. Well-shot views of the northern Rockies are always welcome. Anthony Hopkins gives a great performance, even if it's almost surely not in his top 5 greatest performances.


I'm pretty down on the movie, but I largely agree with these points. For Hopkins, I found the introduction of his character's stroke another bit of unnecessary plotting that served little purpose other than to make him talk funny for the rest of the movie. But Hopkins certainly commits to the bit.

#20 Shrew

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Posted 04 June 2018 - 12:40 PM

There are plenty of US WWI films, some of the most important films in film history are WWI films, and the first and third Best Picture winners are even WWI films, but I admit this is all in the past and WWI hasn’t shown up on screens much recently (anyone remember War Horse?). Then again, neither has WWII—we had that late 90s/early 00s surge of war films, but there wasn’t much else until last year’s Dunkirk explosion.

Part of the problem is that WWI holds a weird place in US history, and the films reflect that. US involvement was very brief, as was the large-scale popular support for the war. In 1918, you had a spate of pure propaganda movies against the evil "huns" like The Unbeliever (rich atheist pacifist joins up to prove his manliness, finds Jesus and war pretty ok) and Heart of Humanity (where von Stroheim throws a baby out a window). Make things quickly get more complicated. Most American troops didn’t experience much of the back-and-forth grind of trench warfare compared to European soldiers, so US WWI films tend to focus on one big battle wherein soldiers are mowed down advancing into machine gun nests. At the same time, WWI was the first chance for many Americans to see Europe, so lots of films center on leave in Paris or French villages and the excitement of just going abroad (see how “Paris” looms over American culture during the period).

This means that many films from the 20s like The Big Parade, Wings, and What Price Glory tend to be half-adventure films, half-War Is Hell senseless death. Films that centered on European characters or characters who joined the war earlier than 1917 tend to have a much more apocalyptic view of the war, like John Ford’s Four Sons, mostly eliding war scenes). Or the aptly named Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which focuses on European emigrants to Argentina returning to fight on opposing sides (and all dying).

That brings us to All Quiet on the Western Front and the 30s, when there was a growing sense of the futility and pointlessness of the war. Films in both Europe and the US start turning stridently anti-war, but also focusing more on European characters, casting the war as more of a European issue. This helps bolster isolationist tendencies in America, though that was likely never the intention (indeed, many of these filmmakers became active supporters of WWII). You also get more films where WWI is a past trauma (The Last Flight, about WWI vets drinking themselves into oblivion in Paris) or a narrative blip (as in Legends of the Fall), something that complicates a character or introduces an arc that needs to be resolved. Perhaps the best version of this is The Roaring Twenties with Cagney and Bogart, where the forgotten men of WWI become the gangsters of Prohibition, with varying degrees of guilt.

Then as WWII approaches, there’s a strong effort to rewrite the narrative with Sgt. York and Yankee Doodle Dandy, casting WWI as something brutal but necessary to defend democracy. Post 1945, WWII and later Vietnam suck up most of the oxygen in the war room. US filmmakers still return to WWI occasionally when in need of a flat-out “bad war” as in Paths of Glory, Johnny Got His Gun, or War Horse (or, in the same vein, Wonder Woman). But also note that almost all these films are about Europeans (or in the case of Chris Pine in Wonder Woman, an American who joined up early).

So why don’t we make more films about WWI? Recency? There are almost no films about the Revolutionary War, and really very few about the Civil War (though those few hover far higher in our cultural pantheon—hi Gone With the Wind). There also tends to be feast/famine pattern to war films about any period. But for America, a country that joined the war late has never made up its mind how to feel about getting involved, there’s also the unique problem of making a WWI film that doesn’t read, albeit often unintentionally, as isolationist.

Also, yes, Legends of the Fall is mediocre. But god yes Douglas Sirk forever.