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Film / The Great War

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The Great War (La grande guerra) is a 1959 film directed by Mario Monicelli.

It is a tragicomic tale of two common Italian soldiers in World War I. Giovanni and Oreste meet for the first time at an induction center when the former pays the latter thirty lira to get him out of being drafted, only for Oreste to simply pocket the money. Giovanni is angry, but soon the two are fast friends. They go through basic training together and soon enough, they are on the front lines of the front against Austria.

At the front they go through the usual misadventures of soldiers in war: complaining about rations, getting letters from home, trying to avoid being killed. Giovanni falls for Costantina, a high-spirited prostitute (Silvana Mangano). Meanwhile, the war, in all its violence and horror, goes on.



  • All for Nothing: A messenger, message in hand, is pinned down by Austrian snipers. Giovanni tells him to stay behind his cover, but the officer demands the message. So the messenger jumps out into the open and is shot In the Back as he's leaping into the trench. He dies. The message is a "Merry Christmas" message from headquarters.
  • And Starring: Mangano gets an "and with the participation of Silvana Mangano" credit.
  • Answer Cut: The lieutenant needs to send a message to the artillery, as the Italians are planning to attack. He tells his orderly, "Have two men send a message to the battery. Choose the less efficient." Cut to our bumbling protagonists walking through the countryside in the dark, bearing the message.
  • Black Comedy: A very dark comedy of the absurdities of war. In one scene, the soldiers want to cook pasta, but they need a strainer to strain the noodles. So an Italian soldier holds up a pan above the lip of the trench. After Austrian snipers shoot it full of holes, they use it to cook pasta. In another scene, Oreste's talking about how he prefers women with big tits is interrupted by the beginning of an artillery bombardment.
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  • Brick Joke: The regiment is marching around with 30 kg packs. Giovanni brags to the others that his pack is actually filled with straw, and they shoot back that if he's caught, his head will get shaved. In a following scene, Giovanni has been shaved bald.
  • Call-Back: A soldier named Bordin accepts cash payments from other soldiers in exchange for taking their place for dangerous tasks. After a big Austrian attack, he is killed, shot right through the little tin where he kept the money he collected from the others.
  • Clucking Funny: A chicken is wandering around in no-man's-land between the trenches, with both the Austrians and Italians trying to lure it to their side so they can eat it. Finally, when the chicken starts bearing for the Austrians, an Italian soldier shoots it—and the impact of the bullet carries the bird right into the Austrian trench.
  • Door Judo: When Giovanni finds Costantina's door locked, he thinks she's locked him out. He then takes a running start to knock down the door, but in the meantime she's unlocked it and cracked it open. He goes barreling through her room, crashing through her table and chairs.
  • Downer Ending: The film ends with the two lovable goofball protagonists executed as spies by the Austrians.
  • Hand-or-Object Underwear: As Giovanni is lounging in bed after enjoying sex with Costantina, a shirt is strategically placed to hide his privates.
  • High-Class Glass: The Austrian officer interrogating Giovanni and Oreste ostentatiously sports one of these. After Giovanni calls him "shit face", his glass pops out of his eye as he screams for Giovanni to be shot.
  • It Will Never Catch On: Oreste is hitting on a busty woman riding on a cart, who is toting a baby along. He says of the baby, "He is blessed to be born in 1916. He'll never have to fight wars."
  • Letting the Air Out of the Band: A town prepares to receive the regiment, staging a parade with the streets lined with cheering people, a reception committee on a dais, and a big brass band playing patriotic music. When the filthy, bedraggled, bandage-covered soldiers come staggering through town, the cheering rapidly dies off, and the brass band comes to a halt one instrument at a time.
  • Meet Cute: Giovanni and Oreste meet at an induction center when Giovanni pays Oreste, a clerk, thirty lira to get him whatever the Italian equivalent of a 4-F certification is. Oreste pockets the money, and Giovanni is inducted.
  • Mood Whiplash: Seen often in a satirical comedy that's also depicting the horrors of World War I. In one scene Giovanni and Oreste, who are planning to desert, scam some rich civilians at a party into donating money. They are giggling over their haul and anticipating getting on the train, when they meet Bordin's widow. She does not know she's a widow, and she asks them to carry a package for her husband on the front. They wind up giving her all of their cash.
  • Never Learned to Read: Lt. Gallina has to write letters home for illiterate soldiers in his company. One soldier's girlfriend is also illiterate and gets her letters written by the local priest, which makes Lt. Gallina uncomfortable.
  • Pin-Pulling Teeth
    • Played with in one scene where Lt. Gallina pulls the pin on a grenade at his desk—but the "grenade" is actually an inkwell.
    • Played straight by Costantina, who grabs Giovanni's grenade and pulls the pin with her teeth during their Destructo-Nookie.
  • Shot at Dawn
    • Some soldiers from the regiment are hurriedly pulled out of line to form a firing squad, and they shoot an Austrian spy.
    • And at the end of the film, Giovanni and Oreste are shot as spies by the Austrians after refusing to reveal the location of the pontoon bridge that the Italians are using for their counterattack.
  • Tactful Translation: The illiterate soldier gets a letter from home telling him that his girlfriend, Teresa, is dating another man. The lieutenant chooses to make up a different, less hurtful message when reading the letter back to Teresa.
  • Tap on the Head: Giovanni is barely slowed down when Costantina crashes a bottle over his head during their Destructo-Nookie.
  • That Cloud Looks Like...: Giovanni thinks a cloud looks like a naked lady. Oreste says that if it were a naked lady, she'd have a beard.
  • Verbal Irony: At the end as the regiment marches off for the attack against the Austrians, someone of observes that Giovanni and Oreste managed to get away again. They have been shot by firing squad.