Two French officers in a POW camp during World War I befriend a Jew and begin to hatch an escape plan from the supposed impenetrable fort. The three are separated with the two Frenchmen arriving at a fort months later only to find their friend there already.
A profound examination of the nature of war, with a strong pacifist — but not appeasing — streak. In 1916, commandant Von Stroheim runs a supposedly escape-proof German POW camp and comes to respect one of his charges, aristocratic French officer Fresnay. They share a doomed vision of honourable war that the carnage of World War One has rendered hideously obsolete, and a tragic escape attempt brings the truth home to them both.
With a letter-perfect performance from Von Stroheim, and a potent examination of the differences of class and attitude among the prisoners and the guards, this is less hectoring than most anti-war films, but nevertheless makes a lasting statement.
One of the great humanist war films, Jean Renoir's masterpiece continues to echo down the decades.