Monday, September 27, 2010

Johnny Got His Gun, by Dalton Trumbo

(pb; 1939)


The most effective horror stems from a sense of (unfair) helplessness, and our inhumanity to our fellow man. Using that logic, Johnny Got His Gun is one of the bleakest, bluntest and saddest books I've ever read.

Joe Bonham lies in a hospital bed, limbless -- as in: no legs, no arms -- blind, deaf and dumb. He can communicate with no one, it seems, and his sense of terror, loneliness, outrage and sorrow plumbs further hellish depths as he recalls, in wandery dream-like fashion, his mostly-happy small town life, and subsequent war experiences that led him to his current circumstances.

The finish is furious, surprisingly shocking (given the emotional rollercoaster that preceded it) and heart-rending. One of the best anti-war novels I've ever read. Own this.

Two film versions have resulted, both of them keeping the book's title.

The first version was released stateside on August 4, 1971.

Timothy Bottoms played Joe Bonham. Kathy Fields played Kareen. Eric Christmas played Corporal Timlon. David Soul played Swede.

Jason Robards played "Joe's Father". Marsha Hunt played "Joe's Mother". Donald Sutherland played Christ. Peter Brocco played "Ancient Prelate".

Don "Red" Barry (billed as Donald Barry) played Jody Simmons. Judy Howard Chaikin played "Bakery Girl". Anthony Geary, billed as Tony Geary, played Redhead.

Luis Buñuel co-scripted the film, with book author Dalton Trumbo, who also directed the film, as well as playing the role of "Orator". For his film role, Trumbo was billed as Robert Cole.

The second version came out in 2008. Ben McKenzie played Joe Bonham. Meredith Kendall lent her vocal talents to the role of "Mother's Voice". Shane Partlow also provided voice-work.

Bradley Rand Smith adapted the screenplay. Rowan Joseph not only directed the film, he did voice-work in it, too.

1 comment:

Stranger said...

This is one of my favorite novels of all time. I read it first when I was 11 and often revisit it. Nice review.

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