Blu-ray review: “Johnny Got His Gun” (1971)

“Johnny Got His Gun” (1971)


Running Time: 111 minutes

Written and Directed by: Dalton Trumbo

Featuring: Timothy Bottoms, Jason Robards, Donald Sutherland, Diane Varsi and Kathy Fields

Joe: “Inside me, I’m screaming and yelling and howling like a trapped animal… and nobody pays any attention. If I had arms, I could kill myself. If I had legs, I could run away. If I had a voice, I could talk and be some kind of company for myself. I could yell for help, but nobody would help me.”

Critical Commentary

The movie adaptation of “Johnny Got His Gun” was directed by Dalton Trumbo himself and was released in 1971. The film closely follows the novel’s storyline and themes, but with a few differences. The movie’s portrayal of Joe’s physical condition and his struggle to communicate with the outside world is visually stunning and emotionally intense. The use of flashbacks and dream sequences effectively adds depth to the character and his story.

The film’s anti-war message is powerful and poignant, and it raises important questions about the human cost of war and the responsibility of those in power. The performances by the actors, especially Timothy Bottoms as Joe Bonham, are excellent, and the cinematography and music complement the story well. “Johnny Got His Gun” is a thought-provoking and emotionally impactful movie that effectively captures the essence of Dalton Trumbo’s novel. It’s a must-watch for those interested in anti-war films and stories that challenge our perspectives on war and its consequences.

The movie is a harrowing and disturbing portrayal of the physical and emotional devastation wrought by war. It depicts the cruel and inhumane treatment of soldiers and the callous disregard for human life that characterizes warfare. One of the most striking elements of the film is its portrayal of Joe’s inner thoughts and feelings. By using voiceovers and surreal imagery, the movie effectively conveys the horror of Joe’s situation and the desperation he feels.

The movie also raises important questions about the nature of patriotism and the responsibilities of citizens in times of war. It challenges viewers to consider the ethical implications of military actions and the human toll that war exacts on soldiers and civilians alike. “Johnny Got His Gun” is a powerful and thought-provoking movie that remains relevant today. Its anti-war message is as urgent and necessary as ever, and it serves as a reminder of the high cost of conflict and the need for peace.

Additionally, the film’s themes of isolation and communication are expertly conveyed through the use of flashbacks and dream sequences. We see Joe’s memories of his life before the war and his struggle to connect with the world outside of his hospital room. The film portrays the importance of human connection and communication, emphasizing the need for empathy and understanding.

The performances in “Johnny Got His Gun” are also noteworthy. Timothy Bottoms delivers a remarkable portrayal of Joe Bonham, capturing the character’s emotions and struggles with incredible nuance. The supporting cast is also strong, with Jason Robards giving a memorable performance as Joe’s father.

The film’s visual style is also impressive, with stunning cinematography that captures the bleakness of Joe’s surroundings and the surreal nature of his dreams and memories. The film’s score is also haunting and effective, perfectly capturing the mood of the story. “Johnny Got His Gun” is a powerful and emotionally gripping movie that raises important questions about war, patriotism, and the human cost of conflict. The film is expertly crafted and features outstanding performances, making it a must-see for fans of anti-war films and powerful storytelling.

It is worth noting that “Johnny Got His Gun” is not an easy film to watch. The subject matter is intense and the depictions of war and its aftermath are graphic and disturbing. However, this is precisely what makes the movie so powerful and effective in conveying its message.

The film is also notable for its historical context. Dalton Trumbo, the film’s director and screenwriter, was blacklisted during the McCarthy era and was unable to work in Hollywood for several years. “Johnny Got His Gun” was his comeback project, and it is a testament to his talent and perseverance.

“Johnny Got His Gun” is a remarkable and important film that explores themes that are still relevant today. It is a powerful anti-war statement that challenges viewers to consider the human cost of conflict and the importance of empathy and communication. If you are a fan of thought-provoking and emotionally impactful movies, “Johnny Got His Gun” is definitely worth watching.

Technical Commentary


“Johnny Got His Gun” was shot by director of photography Jules Brenner with Panavision cameras and lenses on 35 mm film, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.66:1. The Imprint Films Blu-ray release features picture quality that’s sharp and well detailed. Hospital scenes were shot on color film but desaturated to black-and-white, while flashbacks and Joe’s fantasies remain in color. The flashbacks have a yellowish tint, with pasty flesh tones. The hospital scenes are somber, with dim light and pronounced shadows. Blacks are deep and velvety. The cinematography is fairly straightforward with only a single use each of a zoom, split screen, and a dreamlike image created by smearing Vaseline on the lens. In a few instances, characters completely disappear into blackness, a common stage lighting device.


The soundtrack is English 2.0 Dual Mono LPCM with optional subtitles in English SDH. Dialogue is clear, with doctors and military men discussing Joe’s injuries with detachment and a lack of empathy. Bottoms’ monologues communicate Joe’s thoughts when he no longer can.

Special Features

  • Audio Commentary with Matthew Asprey Gear
  • Dalton Trumbo: Rebel in Hollywood (59:11)
  • Interview with Timothy Bottoms (10:29)
  • Behind-the-Scenes Footage with Commentary by Timothy Bottoms and Jules Brenner(8:10)

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