Saturday Matinee 2016 25: Soldier of Orange (Dutch, 1977)

This is the movie that made Dutch director Paul Verhoeven a “name” in Hollywood and led to his subsequent career in the American movie industry. (He continues to work in his native Netherlands, too, occasionally returning to wartime stories). It is the story of several young friends and their disparate experiences in World War II Holland, including the brief shooting war of 1940, occupation, resistance, collaboration, exile, and liberation.

Scenes set in Holland are subtitled in English. Scenes set in England are not.

Scenes set in Holland are subtitled in English. Scenes set in England are not.

As the movie opens the protagonist, Eric Lanshof (Rutger Hauer), and his friends are undergoing the horrifying experience of a fraternity hazing, unaware of the real nightmares that lie right ahead. The friendships forged here are tested in various ways.

Several of the boys join the resistance: some boldly, some timidly. One is turned by threats against a third party — throughout, the Nazi counterintelligence operation is portrayed as ruthless and competent. One is torn by his mixed Dutch/German ancestry. One will be buried in an unmarked grave in the Dutch barrier dunes; another, executed in a horrifying way in a concentration camp. One winds up in the Dutch SS and becomes, for a time, a hero of the new Europe. And one just stays in school until it, too, is forced underground by the Occupation — and manages to keep studying.

Eric himself is not looking to be a hero, which makes him all the more convincing one. At one level, this movie is a gripping (if complicated) adventure story of resistance against an implacable and evil empire. At another, it’s an exposition of the techniques and countertechniques of resistance and repression. And overall, it is a great arching human tragedy of chances, choices, circumstances and consequences.

It can be difficult to see here in North America; it was posted to YouTube in sections, but at least one has been taken down by the copyright lawyers determined to score valuable points by keeping their clients’ art unseen. (Lawyers. Is there any question but that most of them would flock to the  ranks of the collaborators, were they to face the choices of these film characters?)

Acting and Production

The movie was quite expensive for a continental European production, with the best Dutch talent in front of and behind the talent, and some talented Germans brought in just to creep the audience out — the avuncular CI chief will stick in your mind, as will his gutter-minded assistant.

Rutger Hauer is powerful as Eric. He is perfectly cast as a big Dutchman (after all, he is a good-sized Dutchman). One other actor familiar to Anglosphere audiences is Edward Fox, typecast as usual as a British officer. The other actors, mostly Dutch,

Accuracy and Weapons

Someone worked hard on accuracy for this film. The 1940 Dutch Army is painstakingly equipped with appropriate guns, like Dutch Mannlichers and Browning 1922 pistols.

soldier_of_orange_02

Resistance guys have Stens, Webleys, and other British hardware. Dutchmen in exile train with Lee-Enfields. This is all more or less correct.

A couple of incidents involve a revolver (possibly a Webley) and a small .25. The Germans are armed appropriately, with German weapons, although they have an MG42 in 1940.

soldier_of_orange_01

Some of the bigger stuff works, some doesn’t. The “British” floatplane that comes to pick up a courier is a postwar DeHavilland Canada product; “German” tanks are Leopards. But a Russian RGD-33 grenade, a nearly forgotten frag grenade that would be just right for the tax in which it’s employed.

A lot of small, unexpected little details are accurate; some of the Morse radio calls and prosigns are those actually used: messages begin QRA DE (“any station receiving, this is…”) and then lapse into

The security check and duress check signals that the SOE and SIS used in 1940 are simplified, but the radio procedure is close.

Explosions are, unfortunately, Hollywood fireballs (one is excusable, as it is a gasoline FOOM).

Eric’s many roles in the war — Resistance man, pilot, aide to Queen Wilhelmina — seem to make him a Dutch Forrest Gump (or Zelig, if you prefer characters crafted by famous Hollywood pervs). But the character is actually based on a real Soldier of Orange, who filled all the roles.

The bottom line

Soldier of Orange is one of the best resistance films made in the last fifty years. (Hmmm… that would be a good list to make, wouldn’t it?)

For more information

These sites relate to this particular film. We watched it on a movie channel, where it occasionally shows up.

  • Amazon.com DVD page (yikes. Expensive DVD).

https://www.amazon.com/Soldier-Orange-Rutger-Hauer/dp/B000X03BBM/

  • IMDB page:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0076734/

  • IMFDB page:

http://www.imfdb.org/wiki/Soldier_of_Orange

  • Rotten Tomatoes review page (a rare 100% Fresh rating):

https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/soldier_of_orange/

  • Wikipedia  page:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soldier_of_Orange

  • History vs. Hollywood Page. (none).

Notes

none

3 thoughts on “Saturday Matinee 2016 25: Soldier of Orange (Dutch, 1977)

  1. Aesop

    Perhaps I’ll make the attempt to check it out.
    Verhoeven should probably have always stuck to his own country’s stories.
    To be fair, he made one decent US movie: RoboCop, and two tolerable ones Total Recall and Basic Instinct, and those last two just because studios were more prolific and the quality bar amongst ’80s and early 90s flicks was rather low for wide audiences. (Sharon Stone’s presence in both flicks didn’t hurt him at the box office, nor Ronny Cox and Michael Ironside’s repeated returns to his work. If anything, he’s at least loyal to his actors. Soldier of Orange was his third – of five, so far – uses of Rutger Hauer as well).
    Showgirls, OTOH was universally acclaimed as the most unwatchable piece of tripe to sail out of Hollywood’s alimentary canal in multiple decades, in itself a notable accomplishment given the homegrown versions of Worst Picture they assail us with year in and year out; and Hollow Man was positively dreadful, and would have killed anyone’s career lacking anything less than the cockroach-envy career stamina of Kevin Bacon, who through no fault of his own can apparently do anything on camera and still get work. (Which has at least made playing “Six Degrees Of Bacon” much easier to play with people with each passing year.)
    Black Book was another stinker, and should have stayed a Dutch release forever, as, apparently, his earlier work Soldier Of Orange was pre-destined to do.

    But what Verhoeven deliberately and gratuitously did to Starship Troopers, turning it on its head and into a grinning self-parody was monstrous and unforgiveable to fans of Heinlein, sci-fi, war movies, or the military itself, and has, at least for me, earned his eventual burial site the Jane Fonda Memorial Head Call treatment should it and I ever happen to cross paths after he finally kicks the bucket.

    I can but live in hope, including the fond wish that no one outside the Netherlands, and most particularly not anyone in the U.S., ever gives him another buck to make another movie. It’s morally worse than giving Sam Mendes a Bond flick, or handing Sean Penn a microphone. If Hollywood were possessed of instincts no better than most housecats, most of Verhoeven’s suggestions for movie projects would have been best buried in a litter box.

  2. archy

    ***what Verhoeven deliberately and gratuitously did to Starship Troopers, turning it on its head and into a grinning self-parody was monstrous and unforgiveable to fans of Heinlein, sci-fi, war movies, or the military itself, and has, at least for me, earned his eventual burial site the Jane Fonda Memorial Head Call treatment should it and I ever happen to cross paths after he finally kicks the bucket.***

    Why wait?

  3. Phil K

    I did notice that one of the characters fired his Webley revolver seven (7) times at a couple of bad guys.

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