ruby keeler… cinema star from the early golden days of Hollywood. Born in Dartmouth NS, star of 42nd Steet, 1933.
2008 Canadian war film from Alliance Films, written, co-produced, directed by, and starring Paul Gross. The film, which was shot in Calgary, Alberta, Fort Macleod, Alberta, and in Belgium, focuses on the experiences of a Canadian soldier, Michael Dunne, at the Battle of Passchendaele, also known as the Third Battle of Ypres. The film opened at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 4, 2008, and was released in Canada on October 17, 2008.
Production on the film reportedly began on August 20, 2007, with principal photography in Calgary, Alberta. The film was shot over a period of forty-five days and involved over 200 actors, some of them Canadian Forces soldiers with combat experience in Afghanistan. Battle scenes were filmed on the Tsuu T’ina Indian reserve just outside Calgary, and principal photography finished in October 2007. The film was edited by David Wharnsby, and its score composed by Jan A.P. Kaczmarek.
This film was inspired by Gross’s relationship with his maternal grandfather, Michael Joseph Dunne, who served in the 56th, 5th, 14th and 23rd Reserve Battalions, CEF, in the First World War. Like many veterans, he was reticent about sharing his experiences with his family. In a rare conversation on a fishing trip; Dunne told the story of bayonetting a young German soldier, who had eyes like water, through the head and killing him during a battle. A long time later, as Dunne lay in a hospital bed in the last days of his life, his family was mystified by Dunne’s behaviour, asking forgiveness over and over. Only Gross knew that he was speaking to the young German he had killed.
“He went completely out of his mind at the end. He started telling me about a hideous event that happened during a skirmish in a little ruined town in World War I. He’d killed someone in a miserable, horrible way and that had obviously haunted him throughout the rest of his life. As my grandfather died, in his mind he was back in that town, trying to find a German boy whom he’d bayonetted in the forehead. He’d lived with that memory all his life – and he was of a time when people kept things to themselves. When he finally told the story, it really affected me and I’ve not been able to get it out of my head.”
During the early portion of the film, the scene is re-envisualised in a broken church, when Sergeant Michael Dunne bayonets a young German soldier through the forehead.
The main character is Sergeant Michael Dunne (later reverting to his mother’s maiden name McCrae for re-enlistment), introduced in the spring of 1917 after Vimy Ridge, a decorated veteran of the 10th Battalion, CEF.
During heavy combat in a ruined town, Dunne is wounded and sent home from Europe as a neurasthenia patient. While recovering from his injuries, he meets nurse Sarah Mann (Caroline Dhavernas) in Calgary, Alberta, where he had originally enlisted.
Sarah Mann is drummed out of the local nursing service, and ostracised in town, because her father was of German descent and had left Canada to rejoin the Imperial German Army in 1915. He was killed at Vimy Ridge on the opposing side to Sgt. Dunne. She has become addicted to morphine as a means of dealing with the recurring loss in her life. Dunne, of Irish, Scottish, and English descent, does not like the idea.
David Mann (Joe Dinicol) is Sarah’s younger brother. Despite being ineligible for military service due to asthma, he is desperate to win the respect of his girlfriend’s father at a time when military service is demanded of all young men. Ironically given his own German descent, he is accepted, being Canadian-born (unlike his older sister). He is vehemently anti-German and tries to expunge the fact that his father was German, and had died fighting for Germany, from the family history. His girlfriend’s father pulls strings to get him enlisted, arguably in the hope that he will not return and marry his daughter. Sarah originally thinks Michael has enlisted David, in his role as local recruitment officer, but later finds this is untrue. The enlistment is further facilitated by a British recruiting officer whose malice and goading of David Mann and Michael Dunne makes him the film’s principal antagonist. Michael however feels a responsibility and re-enlists as Pvt. MacCrae in order to protect David at the front.
As a result, both David and Michael meet up in the trenches in France. Sarah also enlists and follows the 10th ending up as a nurse in triage at an Advanced Dressing Station near the front. The three arrive in Flanders in time for the Battle of Passchendaele. Dunne and Sarah soon meet up again when Dunne brings a wounded man to the aid station. Although Dunne’s cover as MacCrae is soon found out, by the inquisitive British Major (who has escaped his recruiting duties and also followed the 10th to France), he manages to escape punishment and is promoted to platoon leader by the Colonel who knew him from earlier fighting, when his past heroism “Should have earned him the V.C.” and because of the need for experienced soldiers as high casualties were expected.
When the Canadians launch their attack, the 8th Battalion, Royal Winnipeg Rifles, known as the Little Black Devils, faces a German counterattack and becomes pinned down. Dunne’s company is sent to support them. After the support company arrives, the 8th Battalion retreats from the battlefield, wrongly believing that they are finally relieved, leaving the job of holding the ground to Dunne’s small force. As the reality of the war begins to set in, David Mann begins to realize the war was not what he believed it would be. Dunne’s forces spend the night in their trenches, and as a result of the shelling, David begins to have an asthmatic/panic attack and Dunne calms him down, relieving the problem.
The next morning the Germans counter-attack, and make it as far as the line, and both forces attack each other in a horrifying slaughter, culminating in a brutal hand-to-hand combat involving bayonets, knives and makeshift weapons. A German soldier attacks Dunne and nearly stabs him, and David is forced to shoot the German (and hesitates). The viewer sees that the reality of actually killing another human being has finally been realized by David. As the Germans retreat, David breaks down and chases them back to surrender. He jumps into their trenches and is met by a gun to the face where he begs, telling them he is German. He is about to be shot when an artillery shell lands and the explosion throws him onto what is effectively a cross, created by walkway timbers from the trench. He is visually crucified by the explosion. This relates to Dunne’s earlier story of the legendary, but false, report of the crucified soldier. When Dunne sees this he takes his helmet off, throws his gun down and runs to David, in a reckless attempt to keep his promise to keep him alive, getting shot in the process. He crawls to the cross on his knees, looking up at it. Both sides cease shooting, realizing that Dunne is harmless and only wants to retrieve David. Dunne carries the cross with David upon it across the calm battlefield, as the skies clear, once again mirroring Jesus bearing his cross. Dunne slowly makes it across the battlefield to his men. The fighting swiftly resumes with a shell landing, and the viewers are brought back to the reality of the war. David lives, but Dunne is carried to the hospital where he dies after his last words with Sarah. This happens just as the news comes in that the Canadians have managed to take Passchendaele Ridge.
In its opening weekend, Passchendaele grossed $847,522 in 202 screens in Canada, ranking second at the Canadian box office behind Max Payne. As of January 22, 2009, the film had grossed $4.45 million, accounting for half of 2008’s box office revenue from made-in-Canada anglophone films.
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