Johnny goes to war

Johnny Got His Gun (original title Johnny Got His Gun ) is an American film directed by Dalton Trumbo in 1971 after his novel published in 1939.


Joe Bonham ( Timothy Bottoms ) is a young, enthusiastic American who decides to commit to fighting on the front during the First World War . During a reconnaissance mission, he is seriously wounded by a shell and loses speech, sight, hearing and smell. The four limbs are then amputated when it is believed that he is no longer conscious. Lying on his hospital bed, he remembers his past and tries to guess the world around him with the only remaining possibility: the sensitivity of his skin. A dedicated nurse helps her find a connection with the outside world. When medical personnel understand that their soul and being are intact under this apparently deceased body, they must make a medical decision based on the values ​​and beliefs of the time.


The original title Johnny Got His Gun is most likely conceived as a response to the propagandist song Over there by Henry Burr and the Peerless Quartet, broadcast in 1917 to encourage the engagement of American citizens during the First World War. The first lyrics are “Johnny get your gun, get your gun, get your gun. ”

The novel at the origin of the film

The book was published for the first time on , Two days after the beginning of the Second World War , and became famous for its openly anti- militarist character . It showed the violence and absurdity of war in a context where America was reluctant to get involved in the conflict. After the exhausting of the copies in bookshops, its reissue did not occur until the end of the Second World War, in 1945 .



Trumbo alternates black and white for reality (hospital and trenches), and colors for dreams (memories of Joe and his dreams).


While the United States was in the middle of the Vietnam War , the film’s release and recognition at the Cannes Film Festival resonated with the news. The various pacifist and anti- militarist movements of the 1970s made Johnny go to war, a major work in which one of the most violent indictments against the absurdity of all wars should be seen.

Data sheet

  • The Title: Johnny En va-t-en guerre
  • Original title: Johnny Got His Gun
  • Directed by: Dalton Trumbo
  • Scenario: Dalton Trumbo , based on his novel published in 1939 and Luis Buñuel
  • Production: Bruce Campbell, Tony Monaco and Christopher Trumbo
  • Music: Jerry Fielding
  • Photography: Jules Brenner
  • Editing: Millie Moore
  • Scenery: Harold Michelson
  • Costumes: Theadora Van Runkle
  • Country of origin: United States
  • Format: Black and White / Colors – 1,66: 1 – Mono – 35 mm
  • Genre: Drama, War
  • Duration: 111 minutes
  • Release dates
    • (United States)
    • (Re-release France)
  • Film forbidden to children under 12 when it is released in France


  • Timothy Bottoms : Joe Bonham
  • Kathy Fields : Joe’s girlfriend
  • Marsha Hunt : Joe’s Mother
  • Jason Robards : Joe’s father
  • Donald Sutherland : Jesus Christ
  • Diane Varsi : the 4 nd nurse
  • Eduard Franz : Colonel (then general) Tillery
  • Donald Barry : Jody Simmons
  • Peter Brocco : the old prelate
  • David Soul : a soldier (with the glasses, during the game of cards, at the beginning of the film)


  • Festival de Cannes 1971 : Special Jury Prize and FIPRESCI Prize (International Critics’ Prize)

Cultural References

  • The lyrics of the song Metallica ‘s One (on the album … And Justice for All ) are inspired by the thoughts of the character. The video of the title includes excerpts from the film.
  • The lyrics of the ballad piano / vocals Johnny Got His Gun of the French group Little Nemo (album Sounds in the Attic ) are directly inspired the film 1 .
  • Johnny goes to war is adapted to the theater with in the title role Jeff Daniels which won for its composition an Obie Award in 1983 2 .
  • A theatrical and filmed version was made in 2008 with Benjamin McKenzie as Joe 3 .
  • The Dirty Majesties have released this same title on their album Sexe, Fric & Politique!
  • The Bérurier Noir group was inspired by the film for the title “SOS” (on the album Abracadaboum ) and the instrumental “Johnny returns from the war” (on the album Macadam massacre )

Notes and references

  1. ↑ Lyrics of Johnny Got His Gun [ archive ] – Official site of the band Little Nemo , Sounds in the Attic
  2. ↑ ” Biography: Jeff Daniels [ archive ] , (accessed February 24, 2014 )
  3. ↑ ( in ) ” Johnny Got His Gun [ archive ] , IMDb (accessed 24 February 2014 )