This grim soldier’s tale has some bad acting and some overextended melodrama, but eventually it hits its stride and becomes a gripping drama. Based on his own novel, this film was written and directed by Colorado’s Dalton Trumbo, one of the filmmakers blacklisted in the McCarthy era.
We are introduced to a group of WWI doctors discussing their “decerebrated” patient. (The novel was written between the two world wars.) A quadriplegic without eyes, ears, nose, or mouth, he is assumed to be brain-dead. This patient, our hero, is actually alive and thinking, though unable to communicate. He spends his time pondering two things: his life before the war, and his present gruesome condition. Johnny Got His Gun may sound like a preachy and heavy-handed anti-war film, but the story’s focus on the man — and not on Man in general — keeps the film grounded.