BIRMINGHAM POST HERALD
SEPTEMBER 2004

REVIEW

WILLIAM MARCH/COMPANY K
Saturday 10:30 a.m.
Alabama Theatre

“It’s the ones who we leave behind who suffer. They are the ones who must put their grief behind and move on.” – William March

If ever a soul was troubled by the horrors he witnessed in war, it was Alabama native William March. As a young man, he volunteered to fight with the Marines in World War I. Fifteen years after the war’s conclusion, March penned Company K, the finest American novel focusing on the Great War. For March, however, each post-war year filled with literary success did nothing to alleviate the mental anguish that tormented him from the battlefields of Europe.

William March/Company K explores March’s war experience and literary rise that ended with the commercial success of his final 1954 novel, The Bad Seed. Alabama native Robert Clem directed the film, and his southern imagery and deliberate storytelling style suits the movie’s subject. Clem blurred the line between documentary and narrative feature with Company K. Splicing interviews and old war footage with excerpted material from a recently completed feature film version of Company K, the audience gets to see scenes from March’s life and novels portrayed visually.

One of the most intriguing scenes revolves around the tale of March’s “Nine Prisoners” short story. The groundwork for Company K, March wrote a disquieting tale of nine unarmed German prisoners executed by American soldiers – probably the first recorded example of an American author writing so candidly about American war atrocities.

In line with Ernest Hemingway’s philosophy, March’s war experience proved a double-edged sword: you’re never as alive as you are when you’re so close to death. March’s post-war condition produced a succession of critically acclaimed novels, but it also contributed to an inevitable downward spiral of his mental and physical health. As a result, literary scholars have described March’s empathetic characters as the walking wounded of the 20th century. “March lived in the aftermath of the world,” was how Phillip Beidler put it, one of the scholars interviewed in the film.

Until now, March’s body of work has never been so thoroughly combed in the aftermath of the writer’s untimely death in 1954. Clem details it all, highlighting those world-weary figures March created who must deal with the world’s repercussions. Through this lens, it is disturbingly evident that the demons March wrestled with never strayed far from the surface of his writings.

Phillip Jordan