Title: Soldier of Orange
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Cast: Rutger Hauer, Jeroen Krabbe, Susan Penhaligon, Edward Fox, Lex van Delden and Hulb Rooymans
Synopsis: Soldier of Orange focuses on five Dutch students – Erik, Jan, Guus, Robby, and Alex – and the different paths they take during the German occupation the Netherlands in WWII. Starting in the late 1930’s during a freshman inauguration, Erik (Rutger Hauer) is singled out by Guus (fraternity chair) and takes a hazing incident too far by breaking a bowl over his head. Despite a head injury, they become close friends, and Erik is soon living with Guus and his friends in Leiden. After the Germans invade the Netherlands in 1940, the five break off. Erik and Guus escape to London to join the Dutch resistance. Alex joins the Nazi Party. Jan (a Jew) is captured by the Germans. Robby is coerced into becoming a spy to save his Jewish fiancee. Soldier of Orange is indeed a fully fleshed out war film, though precious little combat is seen in the traditional sense. The excitement is derived from the character driven action that doesn’t let up from the film’s opening. Erik’s journey from a student to sleuthing freedom fighter to a bomber pilot is credible and exciting thanks in part to strong directing and acting from Hauer and Verhoeven.
Critique: Soldier of Orange is a great film, and, personally speaking, one of my all time favorites. While there might be a dividing line between Verhoeven’s American films and his Dutch films, his rhythm, pace, and tone are consistent from this epic war/espionage story to his tragic love story Turkish Delight or his energetic coming of age film Spetters. Soldier of Orange honestly doesn’t waste a second of film, from Erik’s recruitment to his friends’ divergent experience of WWII, to his involvement with the resistance movement after his escape to London. The tone of Verhoeven’s film feels comfortable, even familiar, but all the notes he hits sound new and original every step of the way.
Why it Belongs in the Collection? While Verhoeven’s American work is great, his earlier movies from Holland are exceptional. Soldier of Orange is a magnificent film, and serves as an ideal catalyst to expand Verhoeven’s audience via a Criterion release. It doesn’t help that Soldier of Orange has not been treated well on home video, with roughly five different versions of the film on DVD alone. It seems like the Anchor Bay DVD is the most legitimate, while there are three different Tartan releases (that I know of), it’s also available on the not-so-available Paul Verhoeven Collection, a five-disc set with The 4th Man, Turkish Delight, Business is Business, and Katie Tippel. You’d think that having so many versions of the film around would make it either accessible or affordable, but prices range from thirty to ninety dollar online. Not to mention the various inconsistencies regarding aspect ratio, region, running time and bonus features…like I said, it’s a mess. Who better suited for the job than the Criterion Collection?