Timothy Bottoms plays Joe Bonham, an average all-American boy, questioning the wisdom of going off to fight in World War I and possible death but never faltering when it comes to his turn to do his duty.
He is hideously wounded in an explosion in the trenches (losing his arms, legs, eyes, ears, mouth and nose) and although he is beyond saving as a contributing member of society, the medical profession patch him up as best they can, seeing him as a guinea pig and a challenge to their professional skill.
While he lies there, only alive because his heart has not stopped beating, tubes and pipes performing all his bodily functions, he thinks back and his past life is recreated: scenes of family life, his sexual initiation and the awakening of true love.
He has grotesque fantasy imaginings too, where his mutilated body is touted around as a carnival exhibit – “The Self-Supporting Basket Case” – for other men to gasp at the product of war. But who would say that the reality is any less ghastly?
Full praise to Timothy Bottoms for his remarkable performance as Joe and to Diane Varsi as the compassionate nurse who realises that the vegetable she is caring for can feel and communicate in spite of everything. The scenes with Jason Robards as his father are also rewarding and Kathy Fields as the girl he loves oh so briefly, blends youthful curiosity with real emotional involvement.
The directorial debut from Dalton Trumbo (he also wrote the screenplay from his own novel) is arguably the most poignant anti-war film of them all.
Sandy Brown Wyeth
Don ‘Red’ Barry
Judy Howard Chaikin
Dalton Trumbo (as Robert Cole)