Nazi Germany said this anti-war movie was 'cinematographic enemy number one'

Grand Illusion 1937‘La Grande Illusion’French Captain de Boeldieu and German Rittmeister von Rauffenstein chat in ‘La Grande Illusion.’

What was it about Jean Renoir’s 1937 film, “La Grande Illusion,” that made it so dangerous?

Nazi propaganda minister Josef Goebbels labelled it “Cinematographic Enemy Number One” and ordered the destruction of every print of the film.

But a copy survived, and the film has gone on to be considered one of the best ever. Take it from Orson Wells: “If I had to save only one film in the world it would be Grand Illusion.”

“La Grande Illusion” tells the story of French soldiers from different social classes who serve together in German prisoner-of-war camps. One of them befriends a German officer, two of them escape, and one goes on to fall in love with a German widow.

As for what made it controversial, take it from David M. Lubin (this reporter’s dad) in a new book, “Grand Illusions: American Art and the First World War“:

“Renoir was a messy, spontaneous, big-hearted artist, and here, in his gently ironic, never assertive way, he calls into question all kinds of “illusions” that, in his view sustain modern warfare: that one side is morally superior to the other, that humanity can be meaningfully and legitimately divided by national borders, that class divisions are natural, that men must be conventionally manly, that Jews are inferior to Gentiles, and so forth. That warfare can ever lead to a lasting peace is perhaps the greatest illusion of all.”

US president Franklin D. Roosevelt offered his own opinion: “All the democracies of the world must see this film.”

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