Johnny Got His Gun is a 1971 American drama anti-war film written and directed by Dalton Trumbo and starring Timothy Bottoms, Kathy Fields, Marsha Hunt, Jason Robards, Donald Sutherland and Diane Varsi. It was based on the novel of the same name by Trumbo, and features an uncredited writing collaboration by Luis Buñuel. The film was released on DVD in the U.S on April 28, 2009 via Shout! Factory, with special features.
Although Johnny Got His Gun was a minor success at the time of its release, it was largely forgotten soon after by mass audiences. While it is well known that Jimmy Carter required all his new State cabinet members to view the film shortly after his election as Georgia governor in 1971, the film became far better known when it was incorporated in the video of Metallica's song "One", whose popularity subsequently turned Johnny Got His Gun into a cult film. Eventually, the members of Metallica bought the rights to the film in order to keep showing their music video without routinely paying royalties fees.
Joe Bonham (Bottoms), a young American soldier hit by an artillery shell during World War I, lies in a hospital bed. He is a quadruple amputee who has also lost his eyes, ears, mouth and nose. He remains conscious and able to reason, but his wounds render him a prisoner in his own body. As he drifts between reality and fantasy, he remembers his old life with his family and girlfriend (Kathy Fields). He also forms a bond, of sorts, with a young nurse (Diane Varsi) who senses his plight.
Eventually, Joe tries to communicate to his doctors, via Morse code by nodding his head, saying "help." He wishes for the US Army to put him in a glass coffin in a freak show as a demonstration of the horrors of war. When told that his wish may be impossible to grant, he responds begging to be euthanized, repeatedly saying "kill me."
He ultimately realizes that the Army can grant neither wish, and will leave him in a state of living death. His sympathetic nurse attempts to euthanize him by clamping his breathing tube, but her supervisor stops her before Joe can succumb. Joe realizes that he will never be released from his state of entrapment and he is left alone, weakly chanting, "S.O.S. Help me."Timothy Bottoms as Joe Bonham
Kathy Fields as Kareen
Marsha Hunt as Joe's Mother
Jason Robards as Joe's Father
Donald Sutherland as Christ
David Soul as Swede World War I Soldier
Anthony Geary as Redhead World War I Soldier
Charles McGraw as Mike Burkeman
Sandy Brown Wyeth as Lucky
Don 'Red' Barry as Jody Simmons (billed as Donald Barry)
Diane Varsi as Nurse #4
The film is well known for distinguishing between Joe's reality and fantasy with black-and-white for the hospital, and color for his dreams and memories. His dreams are drug-induced, as when he talks to his dead father and Jesus Christ, with the color being saturated. His memories are in a clearer color, such as the fishing trip and his last night with Kareen. Joe's injuries are never seen in the hospital scenes, his face is covered by a mask and his body by the hospital sheets.
The film was entered into the 1971 Cannes Film Festival where it won the Grand Prix Spécial du Jury and the FIPRESCI Prize. The film currently has a 70% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
In 1988, the heavy metal band Metallica wrote the song "One", based on the book, and used clips from the film in the video for the song.
In early 2009, the 1971 film made its U.S. DVD debut, produced by Shout! Factory. The DVD included the film plus a 2005 documentary (Dalton Trumbo: Rebel In Hollywood), new cast interviews, an article about the film from American Cinematographer, Metallica's music video "One," behind-the-scenes footage with commentary by stars Timothy Bottoms and Jules Brenner, the 1940 radio adaptation, and the original theatrical trailer. However, it contains some brief edits, because a European print was used for the video source.
In the 2008 remake, actor Benjamin McKenzie earned critical acclaim for his solo performance (as Joe Bonham) in the "live on stage, on film" version of the 1982 Off-Broadway play based on the novel, McKenzie's first starring role in a feature film. In October 2010, a special educational DVD of the 2008 film version starring McKenzie became available free of charge to every high school library in the U.S. The educational DVD contains both a pre-screening and post-screening discussion guide for students in addition to a 15-minute featurette on the making of the film, the original movie's theatrical trailer, and a history of the original novel.