Orson Welles said it was one of those films he'd want with him "on the ark." Franklin Delano Roosevelt, no less, said that "all the democracies of the world must see this film." Joseph Goebbels, on the other hand, accordingly banned it in Germany. When the Nazis marched into France, they seized all prints of the film.
It ran for 26 weeks in New York City and, in 1938, became the first foreign film ever to be nominated for Best Film at the Academy Awards. It won the 1938 New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Foreign Film.
The film is Jean Renoir's great film masterpiece "Grand Illusion," which is simultaneously one of the greatest anti-war films ever made and the template for some of the greatest escape movies ever made.
It was once reconstructed from remnants by Renoir -- inarguably one of the greatest humanists in film history -- and the 75th anniversary of the film is being marked by a digital restoration, which brings the technical quality of the film up to the level everyone should expect from one of the greatest of all film masterworks.
In an event that honors both the film and any theater (or city, for that matter) that shows it, that digital restoration will run at least a week in the Eastern Hills Mall theater beginning today. To anyone who insists on making distinctions between great "movies" and great "films," here is a masterpiece that is clearly both.
-- Jeff Simon