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From the same director who brought us "Norma Rae" this classic World War II
"resistance band fights guerilla warfare against Nazis in the snowywoods"
has an interesting twist: they're all women and decked out in leather bomber
jackets, crew cuts and machine guns.
Jeanne Moreau, Barbara Bel Geddes, Silvana Mangano, and Vera Miles - all shaved, humiliated, and thrown out of their peasant villages for sleeping with the enemy - now have taken arms against that enemy, but the "real" resistance doesn't want them. So these women must fight the men who are against them AND the men who are supposedly on their side, as well as each other.
Melodrama, to be sure, but different enough and with a fascinating sub-text, that it has become a "guilty" pleasure.
This film is one of the least known gems to come from producer Dino de Laurentiis. Five women in war-torn Yugoslavia have their heads shaved for having intimate relations with a German soldier. The five bond and eventually join the partisan group who punished them back in their village. The film documents their fight against the enemy of their homeland, and their internal feelings of remorse, love, and hate. The women all give stellar performances--Silvana Mangano, Barbara Bel Geddes, Vera Miles, Jeanne Moreau, and young Carla Gravina. Van Heflin and Harry Guardino also deliver fine performances, as the leader of the Yugoslav partisan group and the troublemaker of the partisans, respectively. But perhaps the most touching performance comes from Richard Basehart as the German Captain Erich Reinhardt. In the little screen time he has, Mr. Basehart delivers a gem, bringing poignantly to life a gentle widower, plucked from his comfortable life as a university professor to fight in the war. He is captured by the partisans, and bonds with the 5 Branded Women who have been accepted into their group. He had shown sympathy for the women in the beginning of the film after their disgrace was made public, and in captivity, he bonds with them, particularly Mira (Carla Gravina),(whose baby he delivers) and Ljuba (Jeanne Moreau),(who finds herself in danger of falling for him). It takes a special talent to make you care for a character who is supposed to be a "bad guy", and to do it in less than ten minutes of total screen time is an art form. Mr. Basehart was indeed an artist. This is just one touching instance of the emotional exploration of the characters in this movie. Each character comes to life. A very little known film, but a must see. The action and emotion is raw and realistic throughout.
I have not seen this movie in many years. But I remember it being very interesting. I always love Barbara Bel Geddes. She is one of the most overlooked actresses of our time. When I saw those women walking down the street with their heads shaved, it was a shock for a little boy. I was about 10 when I saw this movie, but it left an impression on me.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Director Martin Ritt had reportedly disowned this sleeper. If true, that's perplexing because it's a well-made, exceptionally acted anti-war film. In WWII Yugoslavia, five women are accused by partisans of consorting with the enemy (in this case, callous Nazi stud Steve Forrest). Run out of town, the women trek through the countryside having one brutal encounter after another. Soon, they show their collective courage and rejoin their compadres. Silvana Mangano, Vera Miles, Jeanne Moreau, Barbara Bel Geddes and Carla Gravina are the women and while they're all fine, Mangano is the standout as the de-facto leader. Moreau is the lovelorn shop girl and Bel Geddes is a bitter widow. Miles finds herself in the most ironic spot...never having been with Forrest in the first place. Gravina, the youngest, is pregnant. Van Heflin is the lead partisan, first hell-bent on punishing the women, then, possibly, falling in love with the strong-willed Mangano. Richard Basehart is a captured German soldier and Harry Guardino is one of Heflin's hot headed cohorts. Ritt's direction is fine and the script is really unflinching. There are no happy endings. The cinematography is by the great Giuseppe Rotunno, who shot Visconti's ROCCO & HIS BROTHERS the same year.
Just watched this World War II drama directed by Martin Ritt on Netflix streaming. The title characters are played by Silvana Mangano, Jeanne Moreau, Carla Gravina, Barbara Bel Geddes, and Vera Miles. They've all been involved with the Nazi soldier played by Steve Forrest though one of them had only kissed him. As a result, they all got their hair shorn by the men who think they're the lowest of the low for sleeping with the enemy. But they start redeeming themselves when they shoot many Nazi soldiers in an attempted raid of a sheep ranch. I'll stop there and just say this was quite a compelling movie that addressed the complexities of the way men and women acted during wartime that got them certain punishments they wouldn't have otherwise during a time of peace. And the performances of the above are all greatly done especially that of Ms. Mangano as well as that of Van Heflin who plays the reluctant commanding officer who accepts these women into his unit. Among the other male supporting cast, Harry Guardino and Richard Basehart also deserve kudos for their performances. Really, all I'll say now is I highly recommend 5 Branded Women.
This relatively unknown gathers a very impressive cast of both European
and American actors and actresses. Silvia Mangano gives a fine
performance as the leader of the titled women. These women are casted
away from a little town in Yugoslavia 1943 because they have slept with
a Nazi Sargent (except innocent Vera Miles who didn't go beyond kissing
but anyway is accused as the others), not before they are humiliated by
their own people by cropping their hair.
The girls bound together and they wander around the country until they resolve to join the partisans despite their initial resilience. The women will form relationships with the partisans and a captured German Captain (R. Basehart).
But it's wartime and this is no Hollywood movie: there are no happy endings or black and white feelings or situations. The movie is gritty and somehow cruel. The movie has its flaws, the pacing could be better and some characters feel underdeveloped, but all things considered, this is a very good movie. It's not released on DVD, but you can find it over the Internet. It's well worth the search.
Martin Ritt who partnered with Paul Newman in such films as The Long
Hot Summer, Hud, and Hombre did this rather unknown work that was
critically well received back in the day, but remains fairly unknown to
today's filmgoers. I remember well seeing 5 Branded Women in theater
back in the day and never saw it again until very recently.
The women are Yugoslavs who have all been seduced and abandoned by one German sergeant played by Steve Forrest. All slept with him for various reasons, all are trying to survive the best way they can. After partisans capture Forrest with one of them, all of them are shorn of their hair as reminders of what fraternization with the enemy means. The five woman so branded are Silvana Mangano, Jeanne Moreau, Vera Miles, Barbara Bed Geddes, and Carla Gravina. Gravina is pregnant by Forrest. The Germans banish the women because they remain walking symbols of partisan reprisals. As for Forrest that son of the fatherland is shorn of something that doesn't grow back.
The women stick together because all they have now is each other. Not for long because when a partisan band headed by Van Heflin sees the now armed women deal with a Nazi patrol, they get accepted in the band. But their rules are pretty strict as they all find out.
War is a brutal business and guerrillas fighting occupiers make it the most brutal kind of war. The mixed feelings that director Ritt leaves you with, you are supposed to have. You watch 5 Branded Women and especially if you are a woman you wonder what you might do to survive.
5 Branded Women is both an anti-war film and a film that shows you just what you might have to do to repel an invader. Nice ensemble performances from the whole cast and a strong if mixed message is delivered.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Not quite an exploitation piece, but not quite a solemn-and-sincere
drama either, Five Branded Women is a fascinating early picture from
Martin Ritt. Initially greeted with passable but hardly rave reviews,
the film was somewhat ahead of its time and would probably play much
better now than it did when released. The strong anti-war sentiments,
the streak of feminism, and the film's persistent refusal to be yet
another play-it-safe flagwaver, make it the sort of film which
questions attitudes and prejudices rather than simply falling into line
with them. It has some surprisingly powerful sequences during the
course of its 100 minutes, it must be said.
During WWII, in Nazi-occupied Yugoslavia, five women are accused of consorting with the enemy after sleeping with womanising German officer Sgt. Keller (Steve Forrest). Four of them have actually succumbed sexually to the charms of the promiscuous Nazi soldier; the fifth is innocent as, beyond kissing him, she chose not to consummate any kind of relationship with him. Reviled by their own people for what they have done, the five women Jovanka (Silvanna Mangano), Daniza (Vera Miles), Marja (Barbara Bel Geddes), Mira (Carla Gravina) and Ljuba (Jeanne Moreau) are shaven bald and kicked out of town. They wander aimlessly through the countryside, bitter and angry at being treated so harshly simply for falling in love, and eventually decide to redeem themselves by joining up with the local partisans, led by the ruthlessly disciplined Velko (Van Heflin). It is an uneasy alliance at best, but gradually a mutual respect forms between the women and their comrades-in-arms.
Five Branded Women is well-acted and well-written throughout. It fares especially well when highlighting the cruel ironies and senseless contradictions of war. Ljuba begins to enjoy the company of a German prisoner, but is reluctantly compelled to shoot him in the back when he tries to run away. Daniza is branded unjustly when she didn't even sleep with the Nazi however, when she sleeps with one of her own men (subsequently falling asleep while on watch) she is sentenced to death for misconduct. Many films over the years have pointed out the idiocies and wastefulness of war, and Five Branded Women is another to add to that list but it presents its points powerfully, economically and persuasively, thanks in no small part to the stark photography. It has a surprisingly high calibre cast for this sort of thing too, with the least well-known of the main actors (Mangano) being, curiously, the one entrusted with the meatiest role. She acquits herself very well, being neither outshined nor out-acted by her illustrious co-stars; her physically strong but emotionally stronger heroine acts as a real focal point for the whole story. Overall, Five Branded Women is a surprisingly tough, fresh and worthwhile war film, one that is particularly ripe for rediscovery.
5 Branded Women (1960)
This is a pretty amazing film right from the start, and it doesn't let up. It's a horrifying war movie with five women the victims and sometimes heroes in it. It shows the brutality of guerrilla fighters against the German army, and it shows WWII in Yugoslavia, without an American or Russian in sight. It's even well made, filmed in wide screen black and white in 1960, and it stars several absolute marquee actresses.
In many ways this is an unusual and necessary and brave movie, and the American director, Martin Ritt, had already proved his abilities with serious themes. So why does it have such a low reputation? Yes, it gets a little preachy sometimes, and it doesn't seem completely believable in a few instances of high drama. There is a good but merely good directing and editing, so the events are sometimes oddly lackluster, or maybe held at a distance and made slightly false.
But some of these complaints are only moderately true. And even more, there are themes here that are completely counterbalancing and make it worth the viewing. I don't mean for action film war scenes, but for the interior of war, and for another side to the rotten, expansive Nazi decade. This does not romanticize the situation, and in fact there is no romance to hook the viewer at all (which is no flaw, but may explain a certain lack of success with audiences). That is, it's not actually a very warm or entertaining movie. If you take at all seriously what is happening to these women you'll be horrified, and for a Hays Code era movie (though an Italian Dino de Laurentiis production, which helped), it pushes the tender envelope just enough.
To be sure, there is some really good acting here. The lead male is the unlikely leading male actor who I have grown to really like, Van Heflin. When he first appears he seems overblown, but as the movie continues he settles into his role as a weary, determined rebel leader in the mountains really well. (The one other man plays a German, Richard Baseheart, and he doesn't get enough to do, unfortunately, because his presence if important.)
The five women have all been accused of "sleeping with the enemy," loosely called fraternizing. I won't even give away the start of the movie here because it comes as a shock, but it's fair to say the women are forced into a world of their own. They don't trust each other in particular, but they gradually come to need each other to survive. Among them are some huge talents: Jeanne Moreau (between her two most famous films, "Elevator to the Gallows" and "Jules and Jim") and Barbara Bel Geddes (famous as the second woman in "Vertigo" but more amazing in the great Ophuls film, "Caught").
But it's the less known Italian actress Silvana Mangano (married to the producer) who has the leading part and who gives the most involved and critical performance--she represents the trap of young women in the war the best, wanting love, hanging on the idealism, not understanding (or refusing to accept) the brutality that comes with war beyond the front lines.
As the war moves from the town to camps in the hills (it was filmed in Italy and Austria) to run-ins with the enemy and back to town for a big finale, the drama is great. Maybe the overall theme was so huge and so laced with forbidden elements it was impossible, in 1960, to make a truly fair and wrenching movie. But Ritt has tried. If this isn't a lost masterpiece, it's still a really excellent WWII film and should be on short lists along with the usual films that also, on close watching, have their limitations.
You could easily slam the content here for what it doesn't do, for the things Ritt doesn't say through the story. (The New York Times review from 1960 does exactly that, very nicely.) In fact, the story is begging to be remade, without limitations, and we'd get a harrowing and beautiful story that really bothers the viewer directly. Instead, so far, we have a movie whose ideas bother the viewer, which is something a little more indirect.
I saw this film on television when I was about 11 or 12 and it made a
deep impression on me. While I had little understanding of war and
certainly no personal experience of it, it pointed out the danger of
isolation in the midst of endless violence and the horror of rejection
for what would in peacetime have been regarded as a youthful
The casting of Vera Miles and Barbara Bel Geddes among the European actresses was a clear ploy to make this film resonate with American audiences whom during this period were more accustomed to light, frivolous films. Films of a more serious and thoughtful nature were mostly coming from Europe. At the dawn of the 60s this was a shocking exploitation film, preying on women's feelings of vanity, Americans' collective puritanism about sex, and our waning jingoism. It would be interesting to see how audiences would react to it now.
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