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In the winter of 1944, the Allied Armies stand ready to invade Germany at the coming of a New Year. To prevent this occurrence, Hitler orders an all out offensive to re-take French territory and capture the major port city of Antwerp. "The Battle of the Bulge" shows this conflict from the perspective of an American intelligence officer as well as from a German Panzer Commander. Written by
Anthony Hughes <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Ah yes! The scorched plains of the Belgian desert...
December 1944. The Germans launch their last major offensive in the west. The plan is to break through the Allied lines at several points in the hilly, densely wooded Ardennes region of Belgium and make an all out drive to recapture the port of Antwerp, thereby cutting the Allied forces in two. The Allies cannot use their air superiority due to dense fog covering the region. The task of stopping the vast armoured advance falls to small groups of US soldiers making a stand wherever possible.
I really have mixed feelings towards this film. In terms of historical, geographical and meteorological accuracy, it's an utter shambles from start to finish. All the characters are ficticious (some are obviously composites of real participants in the battle). A fact already well documented is the use of '50s/'60s US tanks to represent the German Tigers and US Shermans. There is no mention whatsoever of the fact that General Patton managed to basically turn the advance of his 3rd Army through 90 degrees, then head north to break through to the 101st Airborne at Bastogne. Finally, to suggest that the Germans ran out of fuel and simply 'walked back to Germany' is plain insulting. The geographical errors are also quite glaring. During the first half of the film these errors can be largely overlooked. However, from the artillery train sequence onwards to the climactic tank battle, the terrain looks more like Arizona than the Ardennes! (vast desert like plains). Then, as if all that isn't bad enough, there's the weather. The winter of '44/'45 was one of the worst in recent history. In the Ardennes that meant deep snow, freezing temperatures and thick fog. Apart from some snowy scenes early on, there isn't much evidence of any of this!
Considering all the inaccuracies catalogued above, I should despise this film, but I don't. Taken on its' level, it's quite enjoyable. It has a strong cast; Robert Shaw and Hans Christian Blech are both very good, Charles Bronson was an old hand at these all star extravaganzas, and Henry Fonda exudes his usual quiet dignity. The script, if a bit hokey, is no worse than others from the period and the cinematography and score are fine. The battle scenes are professionally staged and comparison with modern war films would be unfair.
A point worth noting is the fact that this film has been cut in recent years. The missing scenes are briefly:- 1. The introduction of the Germans dressed as US MPs. 2. Shaw inspecting his tanks. 3. A conversation between Fonda and Bronson. 4. A lengthy sequence in Ambleve with a conversation between Shaw and Bronson, followed by an attempt on Shaw's life by a young boy. The boy's life is spared but his father is executed. The missing footage accounts for roughly 10 minutes of running time. The quoted running time on most reference works is 167 mins., which I assume includes the overture, intermission music and exit music. This would seem to be correct, for if my old widescreen VHS copy contained the missing scenes (the music is all present) it would run approx. 160 mins.(running time is speeded up on PAL). But I digress.
Overall then, a film with some very major flaws. If you're expecting a film in the same vein as 'The Longest Day' or 'A Bridge Too Far' you'll be terribly disappointed. If you can accept it as a fictional account of the battle however, and can view the complete version, then it's well worth a look.
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