Music:  Donald Stark and Craig McConnell

             COMPANY K

                                 56:40 (2004)


Content on this page requires a newer version of Adobe Flash Player.

Get Adobe Flash player


William March/Company K combines documentary and narrative film to tell the story of author William March and his autobiographical novel Company K (1933), considered by many to be the finest American novel about World War I and often compared to All Quiet on the Western Front for its raw depiction of the soldier’s experience.

As Paul Fussell points out in his groundbreaking book The Great War and Modern Memory, the scope of the disaster in World War I sparked an unusual number of combatants to speak the truth about their experience -- in the words of literary scholar Benjamin Dunlap, to ‘express the inexpressible.’ March, born William Edward Campbell in Mobile Alabama in 1893, volunteered for the Marine Corps after America’s entry into World War I in April 1917. He won three decorations for bravery at the battle of Blanc Mont, but suffering from what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder, March never talked about his war experience and little is known about the acts for which he was decorated. According to critic Philip Beidler, the act of writing Company K -- in effect reliving his very painful memories -- was itself an act of tremendous courage, equal to or greater than whatever it was that earned him the Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross and French Croix de Guerre.

Company K, his first novel, employs a multiplicity of viewpoints and sense of irony that bears comparison to Faulkner’s achievement in The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying. The book was a critical success on both sides of the Atlantic when it was published in 1933. “March has succeeded” wrote Graham Greene. “His book has the force of a mob protest; an outcry from anonymous throats. It is the only war book I have read which has found a new form to fit the novelty of protest.” March went on to write five other novels and many short stories set in the pine barrens of Alabama where he grew up. His final novel The Bad Seed (1954), about an eight year old murderess, was by far his biggest commercial success -- though March himself is said to have called it ‘the worst thing he’d ever written’.

Philip Beidler reminds us that in all his novels March displays a deep compassion for people who suffer. March himself had frequent bouts with depression and mental illness, most likely stemming from his war experience, but kept writing until his death in 1954. Recalling Kipling’s famous line from “Charge of the Light Brigade,” Beidler feels March lived in a a world in which ‘someone had blundered. And it was left for the sergeants, and the corporals and the privates to pick up the pieces. It was a very courageous thing he did to keep looking the world in the eye.’

The film includes scenes from the feature film version of Company K, in which the author is portrayed as the character ‘Joe Delaney”; excerpts from other works by March including the classic short story “The Little Wife” and the novel Come in at the Door, and the trailer for the classic black and white film The Bad Seed (1956) based on March’s best-selling novel.

•  Click here to read a review of William March/Company K
•  Click here to read Philip Beidler’s Introduction to Company K
•  Click here to read an article on William March/Company K
•  Click here to learn more about the feature film version of Company K

Produced in association with the Foundation for New Media and funded with generous support from the Alabama Humanities Foundation, New Jersey Council for the Humanities, Sybil Smith Charitable Trust, Blount Foundation, Hugh Kaul Foundation, M.W. Smith Foundation, Alabama Power Foundation, A.S. Mitchell Foundation and Gulf States Paper Corporation, and from private donors.