Soldier of Orange (1978) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

Scoopy's comments in white:

If you love movies, you have to cry when you think of the movies that Paul Verhoeven has actually made in the past decade or so (Showgirls, Hollow Man), compared to what he should have made. Even his "good" films for Hollywood (Total Recall, Basic Instinct) are pale in comparison to what he might have done on an alternate path where he made films with a purpose beyond mere titillation. 

I don't claim to be an expert on Dutch Cinema, but Soldier of Orange must have a strong case as the best Dutch film ever made. To me, the factors that separate it from similarly capable movies, like Turks Fruit and Antonia, are not just related to quality. There are also the matters of its scope, its patriotic theme, its Dutchness, and its inherent epic nature. Verhoeven did a brilliant job on this World War Two story about six fraternity friends whose lives are altered dramatically by the war. The movie is tense when it should be tense, moving when it should be moving, fun when it should be fun, sexy when it should be sexy. It is the ultimate summary of the unusual way that WW2 affected The Netherlands.

For Holland, it was a different kind of war from the picture you have in you mind. The Nazis didn't have any racial enmity for the Dutch, and the Dutch government had no desire to attempt a protracted war against an enemy hundreds of times stronger, in order to defend a country with no natural defenses. Holland is just one big flat lowland with good roads, practically tantamount to a sign that says "Panzers welcome". 

The war started with Holland expecting to remain neutral. When Germany and England were at war, Hitler agreed to recognize the neutrality of Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Denmark and Switzerland. This was a trick, of course, to make the French ignore their northern defenses and prepare for an attack from the east. The Benelux countries knew there would be trouble, when Germany invaded Denmark in April, 1940, showing that all previous bets were off the table. One month later, the German tanks rolled over the borders of all the remaining neutral countries except Switzerland, and the Luftwaffe started bombing the Dutch air bases and bridges. The only real potential Dutch strength in wartime is a tricky seacoast and experienced seamen, but the German bombing leveled the port of Rotterdam in a day, and that was that. The Germans told the Dutch government to surrender or face saturation bombing of population centers, so they capitulated only six days after the Germans had invaded. That may sound one-sided, but in fact Hitler had underestimated the Dutch. He had expected The Netherlands to surrender the same day it was invaded, and Dutch resistance gave the French at least a little extra time to prepare. 

As time progressed, the Germans confiscated all the Dutch radios, rationed Dutch food, and started to evict Jews from their businesses and positions in the government and universities. Holland had a policy and a general attitude of religious tolerance, with substantial numbers of Catholics, Moslems, and Jews living peacefully among its Protestant majority, so the Dutch found the religious persecutions to be completely offensive. 

By the way, Rotterdam got bombed even more, by the British, to prevent the Germans from using it for war. Even the Americans bombed a Dutch city once (Nijmegen), mistaking it for a German one!

The story of the rest of the war had altogether too many chapters involving Dutchmen scheming and fighting against other Dutchmen. Many chose to collaborate with the Germans (some opportunistically, some to save their families), many chose to join the resistance, and many able-bodied men fled in order to fight with England or Canada. (It is not well remembered today outside of Holland, but it was fundamentally the Canadian Army which liberated The Netherlands.) The Dutch plotted and tried to survive amid a backdrop of Jewish persecutions and forced labor. As the Germans started to lose the war, their desperation made their treatment of the Dutch turn harsher. The round-ups of Jews intensified, and the Dutch were forced to work long hours with inadequate food supplies, in industries supporting the German war machine. By the end of the war, Holland's biggest problem was starvation, not bullets.

The film has some stirring chapters. One of the most memorable involves the rich fraternity boys taking the German-English war lightly, claiming they'd be neutral as always, but as time went on, the rich lads were seen driving through the Dutch streets on their fancy motorcycles, wearing their tuxedos, forced to notice the signs about them. There were German bombs stuck in the ground, and the even more ominous German parachutes trapped in the trees, but where were the German enemies? Somewhere, they knew. But where?

The two rich boys went to enlist, only to find the recruitment offices in disarray. By the time they got to see any action, the general came along to tell them the government had capitulated. From that point on, we follow our heroes as they work with the resistance, try to leave the country, try to transmit messages to England, then finally get to England, from which base they return for underground sorties against the Nazis. The real excitement of the film is that they are always only seconds from death, whether they are playing tennis or trying to sneak back to Dutch soil from England. Invariably they are just a racing heartbeat away from the Germans.

Since much of the war came down to Dutchman versus Dutchman, so it was here. One of the six frat boys had a German mother. When Germany had not yet invaded or conquered Holland, his mother was abused by the locals, and he vowed revenge against the neighbors who tormented her. He got it when the Germans won and he joined the SS. Another of the lads was a Jew, and his struggle was doomed. A third was married to a Jew, and he became a Nazi collaborator to protect her. His own friends had to face the sad task of killing him because he was a traitor to his country and his friends, even if he had only done it to save his wife. One of the boys was killed by the Germans as late as Christmas Day, 1944, while his best friend was flying a bombing raid for the RAF the same night.

Tremendous film, based on an autobiographical novel by a Dutch patriot. Not a false note in it, and a real heart tugger at the end of the war when the two remaining fraternity boys look at the picture of the six of them taken at a drunken frat party before the war, knowing, as we know, what happened to them all, and how different it might have turned out in peacetime. This scene was handled by the director with simplicity and economy, using a minimum of words and music, which made it all that much stronger.

This is one of the best films I have ever seen and, oddly, it was not even nominated for an Oscar for best Foreign Language Film, although the Golden Globes did give it that award. I recommend it with no reservations. It is a good history lesson, and it is good entertainment. Even if you don't like subtitled foreign films, you'll like this one because Dutch is a lot like English, because the structure of the film is so accessible, and because some of it is in English anyway. 

And it's just a damned good film. 


There is topless exposure from Belinda Meuldijk in three scenes, and from Susan Penhaligon as a British military secretary. In one of my favorite scenes in the film, Hauer is talking to Queen Wilhelmina in a courtyard, and sees his friend making love to Susan Penhaligon through an open window.

There is male nudity from an anonymous Dutch peasant (rear), and from Huib Rooymans as John.

Tuna's comments in yellow:

Soldier of Orange (1977), originally Soldaat van Oranje is one of three brilliant films in Dutch by Paul Verhoeven. The other two are Turks Fruit which I recently did, and The Fourth Man, which Scoopy covered recently. Whether or not you think his recent work is garbage, the man knows a thing or two about film making, and that includes the realization that every film should have bare breasts. The nudity in this film is totally gratuitous in that it doesn't advance the plot, but does add to the enjoyment of the film, and gives a more complete view of the characters. Paul, keep showing us those breasts, and look for a project that you personally believe in strongly.

The film opens with pseudo-newsreels of Queen Wilhelmina of the House of Orange making a triumphant return to a newly liberated Holland from her exile in England. With her is her aide Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema, who was a famous Dutch resistance fighter, and author of the autobiographical book the film is based on. Most of the opening is taken from actual news films of the time, with a few inserts showing Rutger Hauer in the scene. The entire sequence was produced in the style of Dutch news reels of the period, and Verhoeven even went so far as to bring an old news reel announcer out of retirement to narrate. Cut to a fraternity initiation where a group of freshmen are being hazed. Verhoeven embellished this section from his personal experience as a student in the same fraternity 10 years later. The scene shows how this group of wealthy young men became acquainted, and the brutal hazing was a precursor to the rest of the film, which is full of Nazi atrocities. 

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.66:1

  • Full-length director commentary

  • trailer and bios. Interesting and candid written interview with Jeroen Krabbe

As WW-II breaks out, the group each deals with the War in his own way. Most become resistance fighters, although one who has a Jewish girlfriend (Belinda Meuldijk) is coerced into collaborating by a threat to send his girlfriend to a Polish work camp, and one who is of mixed German/Dutch descent joins the Reich. The rest of the film chronicles the events in the lives of these characters as they cope, each in his own way, with the War. 

The film is historically interesting, is very well made and acted, and is entertaining as well. The DVD is a little grainy, but does have a full length commentary by Verhoeven, where he talks non-stop about filming details, which is exactly what I want in a commentary. Even those who hate subtitles may enjoy this. It is in Dutch, German and English.

The Critics Vote

  • Maltin 3.5/4

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 7.7, high enough to be in the top 250 of all time, but lacking enough votes to meet the minimum.
  • A monumental achievement when you realize it was made for only five million guilders.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, Tuna scores it a B, Scoopy a B+.

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