Although he plays a coward in this film, in real life Eddie Albert, who served in WW II, was a war hero. At the Battle of Tarawa (1943), whilst braving heavy enemy fire, he rescued over 70 wounded Marines, loading them on to his landing craft and taking them back to other ships to receive medical care. For these actions he was award the Bronze Star with "V" device for valor.
Robert Aldrich said of this film in Edwin T. Arnold's biography "The Films and Career of Robert Aldrich": "My main anti-war argument was not the usual 'war is hell,' but the terribly corrupting influence that war can have on the most normal, average human beings, and the terrible things it makes them capable of that they wouldn't be capable of otherwise." Aldrich added that the film was meant to be a "sincere plea for peace."
Eddie Albert was approaching his 50th birthday at the time of filming, making him much older than the character he played. However, director Robert Aldrich felt it didn't matter since Albert looked young for his age. During his lifetime Albert's year of birth was often given as 1908, although he was actually born in 1906.
After reading the script, the Defense Department flatly refused to allow any co-operation with the production. That meant no tanks, no uniforms, no troops. They didn't even allow director Robert Aldrich to view any Signal Corps footage. Aldrich managed to rent two tanks; by careful staging and ingenuity, he was able to convey the impression that many more were being used.
Congressman Melvin Price openly criticized the military for their non-involvement in the film, calling it a "shameful attempt at censorship". United Artists were only too happy to exploit this with teaser posters asking "Is this the most controversial picture of the year?" On the back of this, the film grossed nearly $2 million (United Artists had projected a gross of around $20,000).
Cast member Richard Jaeckel said of this film in Edwin T. Arnold's biography, "The Films and Career of Robert Aldrich": "There were scenes of incredible tension--Palance [Jack Palance] coming down the stairs to get Albert [Eddie Albert]--we were all impressed, even in rehearsals. It was a heavy project."
Records in the Department of Defense Film Collection at Georgetown University Library suggest that both the US Department of Defense and the US Army refused to assist with the production of this movie based on its script. Just before filming began on 16 January 1956, a 13 January 1956 letter from the Office of the Chief of Information of the Department of the US Army said that the script "is a very distasteful story and derogatory of Army leadership during combat including weak leadership, cowardice, and finally, the murder of the Company Commander." Moreover, a 26 January 1956 Department of Defense memo reiterated this, concurring with the "Army appraisal." The upshot of this was that the production was forced to buy or hire army and military equipment and weapons and could not hire or borrow them from the government.
On 27 February 1956, director Robert Aldrich wrote a letter to the Chief of the Motion Picture Section of the Pictorial Branch of the US Department of Defense (DOD), Donald Baruch, protesting this movie's rejection by the US Army and US DOD. It stated: "Theatrically and film wise, moral values are measured in comparatives; strength is measured against weakness; heroics against cowardice . . . We feel strongly that our film is one that shows beyond question qualities of moral righteousness, leadership, courage, heroism and above all, personal integrity on the part of both enlisted men and officers of the Army. To make characters white it is necessary to have a reflective comparison against characters that are not white. Such is the case in our film." In a later 11 March 1956 reply letter, Aldrich added: "No citizen sets out intentionally to defame the defense organization of his country. There obviously can and at times should be differences of opinion as to what is for the good of the country and what is not. Should one lose such an argument at such a level, fine, but never to have the chance or the opportunity to make that argument to me seems a little ridiculous."
Combat and battle sequences were filmed on the back-lot of two studios: The RKO-Pathé Studios back-lot and the Universal Studios back-lot. They were also shot on the Albertson Ranch in Agoura, California.
Although the MG-34 and the MG-42 were seen and used widely throughout the war, the German army had the MG-08 machine gun from WW I that served on into WW II. The MG-08 is a water-cooled weapon similar in appearance to the M1917 US Army's Browning Heavy Machine Gun. The MG-08 is a derivative of the famous 1884 Maxim machine gun.
The scene where Lt. Costa hits Pvt. Ricks should have never happened if Sgt. Tolliver had done his job. Tolliver, as the platoon sergeant should have understood what his lieutenant wanted and should have had Ricks keeping his eyes open and watching enemy movement. If he had been more responsible, he would have been doing the observation himself as he was more experienced and knew what to look for. There being only three privates, a platoon sergeant and a lieutenant, made the sergeant's job easier. If you watched Band of Brothers (2001) and noted what First Sergeant Lipton did, you'll see what should have been done. Both Tech Sergeant and 1st Sergeant are senior non-commissioned officers (NCOs), with the Tech Sergeant being the highest NCO slot available at the platoon level; they are responsible for the enlisted men.