Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

"War of the Buttons" -- Playing at the Game of War

Cleveland Press August 6, 1965

A pair of French school boys intent on selling charity stamps find that their territory has been invaded by boys from a neighboring village. The rivals meet, there is a brief skirmish and along with a few stones some epithets also are hurled.

One Rabelaisian phrase stumps them, but some ingenious research reveals that they have been more than insulted -- their very manhood has been impugned.

THE BOYS sneak into the rival village after dark and scribble across a wall an equally insulting and dirty phrase.

War is declared. The boys meet half-way and fight with sticks and slingshots. What to do with a captive poses a problem -- although the youngest boy has some novel ideas for bodily torture -- until they hit on the idea of cutting off all of his buttons, sending the victim home in disgrace.

This sort of punishment is exchanged until one leader comes up with an idea to foil it -- go into battle without clothes. This happens on a cold, wet day and the tactic is not repeated.

THE BOYS grow more ingenious, cunning and murderous as their war parallels the best and worst in adult warfare.

The film demonstrates that children are just as stupid as their elders, that you can find courage and cowardice at all levels.

The humor is dependent on the incongruity of little children mouthing dirty words. Once is funny, over and over again is tiresome and the humor grows thin.

The salty language has been translated in the English subtitles with amazing candor.