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As the son of a man who fought and almost died in the Battle of the
Ardennes (Battle of the Bulge is a stupid name that brings to mind
something to do with weight control), I not only think this is the
worst action picture I've ever seen, I'm ashamed that Hollywood
insulted our veterans with this stinker two decades after the battle in
which so many Americans died to turn the tide in Europe. You know it
must be pretty insulting to war veterans if Ike himself bothered to
become a movie critic and denounce it as demeaning to our soldiers and
I try never to say I hate something, but I hate this movie on every possible level. In the war movie genre, it's a zero. In the historical recreation genre, it is a sub-zero. As an action picture, it is unbelievable. Quite simply the only reason anyone should watch this thing is to catalog a list of things you should avoid doing if you ever decide to make a war movie.
By now, you've already read about the gaffs: The anachronisms like a German reading Playboy magazine in the background. The cheap and silly plastic-models-on-a-tabletop war scenes ala Godzilla, The breathtaking inappropriate location of the filming on the Spanish plains instead of using, if not Belgium, then at least some northern European forest country with snow! I mean, my God, would you film a movie about Eskimos in Venezuela? And some reviewers here struggle to make apologies for all this, saying in essence "So what? It was a fun war movie." Who cares if it was filmed in a desert instead of the Ardennes forest? Who cares if they made the Germans into cartoonish Nazis and the Allies into G.I. Joe and Sgt. Rock comic book heroes? Who cares if almost nothing is as it was during the battle?
Well then, why bother to make a movie with the specific title "Battle of the Bulge" at all? Why not just call it, "Clash of the Panzers"? I know, it was the 1960s and it was just meant to entertain and jerk a few bucks out of people's pockets with gimmicks like Cinerama and marquee brand names like Henry Fonda. I know all that.
But it was an insult to the vets who fought and died there. They said it at the time it was made. I can't get beyond that. I have walked the forests and fields around Bastogne where my father endured such an ordeal he would not ever speak of when he was alive. I've walked among the white gravestones of men who died there. I can't bring myself to get to, "So what? It's just a movie." Neither, apparently could the many vets who decided to take their families to this picture when it was released, and then had to sit there, embarrassed and speechless as this movie made a mockery of their struggle.
I fully expect that I'll get a negative rating as to how many people found my comments "useful," but that's OK. From what I've seen, people tend not to like criticism of a film based on subjective, rather than objective remarks. In this case however, I don't care if I get a single "useful" vote. This movie was a travesty in its day, and worse now with the passage of time. It is truly the "Plan 9 From Outer Space" of war movies.
But ending on a positive note: I'd like to see somebody do a spoof film about the making of this movie and how everybody from the screenwriters, to the director and actors and location scouts to the extras in the background didn't give a flying flip about what they were working on except getting a paycheck. That, I'd watch.
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.
VIEWED ON REGION 1 DVD FROM WARNER BROTHERS
This big, bloated epic re-creation of the battle which turned the tide of World War II manages to be on the most historically inaccurate and over-blown adventure pieces ever produced. It's also one of the most entertaining war movies to grace the big screen. The combination of heroics and history shouldn't work as well as it does.
Writers John Melson, Philip Yordan and Milton Sperling remain faithful to the broad outlines of the real battle, and then fill their story with several important fictional characters, and director Ken Annakin uses a combination of Hollywood heroics and historical accuracy to deliver an entertaining tale. The film relies solely on the excellently-shot action sequences and superb acting by the leads to hold it together.
Veteran director Ken Annakin knows how to make this film work. In the lead, Henry Fonda ("Midway") seems to be having plenty of fun as Colonel Kiley. He gets to argue with people, shoot at Germans, fly in a plane, and even help fend off a Panzer attack not bad for a civilian-turned-soldier, eh? On the flip-side, Robert Shaw ("Force 10 from Navarone") is fantastic as the fanatical Colonel Hessler, a devoted Panzer officer who will stop at nothing to accomplish his mission. Hessler brings new meaning the Hollywood-Nazi-type: he's brutal, nasty and dedicated despite the fact that he knows Germany cannot win the war.
The supporting cast is filled with the familiar faces of Charles Bronson, Ty Hardin, James MacArthur and Telly Savalas but the real star is Hans Christian Blech ("The Longest Day"). As Conrad, the war-weary, aging German Corporal, it's his best work in a war film. Conrad wants to go home and is devoted to Hessler, until he realizes that his commander's dedication sits precariously on the edge of madness. His facial expressions bug-eyed outbursts, sad frowns, frightened glances at strafing airplanes have never been more convincing.
This epic was shot for the big screen using Cinerama, and the only way to appreciate the action sequences is to see this movie in widescreen. Pan-and-scan prints cut it down from a 2.7:1 ratio to 1.33:1 - that's losing more than half of the image! It was shot on the vast plains of Spain, and although it looks nothing like the brutal winter in the Ardennes forest, this scenery makes from some very impressive landscapes for which to shoot colossal battle scenes. Annakin shows tanks facing off with each other on the plains and in the snow-encrusted woods and shows hand-to-hand fighting in the streets of a French city. These scenes are set to an excellent, rousing Ben Frankel score, which only adds to the excitement. There are hundreds of extras running about, as well as several dozen loud, clanking tanks. Annakin often places his camera on the front end of a tank, train or moving car to give the viewer a "you-are-there" perspective, a technique which is ruined with the pan-and-scan process.
The dramatic effect of the serious scenes is severely hampered by preposterous Hollywood heroics and some incredibly poor special effects. Quite often, the combat and destruction look incredibly real, but there are some truly laughable shots of exploding model tanks and roaring model trains, too. The battle scenes, notably a huge tank vs. tank battle and a conclusion involving an attempted German capture of an Allied fuel dump are incredibly corny and false-looking - first for their false-looking special effects, which looked bad even in 1965, and secondly for their placement in a desert rather than a snowy forest - which really destroyed the credibility Annakin had been working up to. A strong subplot involving an American tanker, Guffy (Telly Savalas, "The Dirty Dozen") and another, centering on the Malmedy Massacre, help to offset this cheesiness.
"Battle of the Bulge" is a true Hollywood epic in every sense of the word. It may not be historically accurate, but it's probably the most entertaining and engaging war film I've had the pleasure to watch. The characters are main fleshed out enough to keep the viewers interested, the scope is amazing and the direction often borders on brilliance as often as it fails miserably.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When I was a little kid, I watched "Battle of the Bulge" approximately
58 million times. I thought it was the cat's pajamas.
But even back then, my young and usually trusting mind could detect a strong whiff of baloney from this movie. I had difficultly believing, for example, that every Allied soldier in World War II was an incompetent nitwit except for the all-knowing, all-seeing Henry Fonda. Throughout the course of this movie, Fonda's character predicts the battle (rather like a psychic, or someone with access to the script), uncovers every weakness in the German plan, and then finally plays a key role in stopping the entire German offensive. What a versatile guy, huh?
And yes, even my inexperienced child-self found it rather weird that, in this movie, the Americans are depicted as being utterly incapable of fighting the Germans. The film suggests, in a somewhat insulting fashion, that in point of fact the Americans did not win this battle in the traditional way - we only won it because the Germans ran out of gasoline and decided to walk home! What complete rubbish. Anybody with even a vague understanding of the real battle knows that the Americans won simply by counterattacking - what a novel idea!
Some commentators on this site have argued that the film's historical inaccuracies don't matter, and that only World War II nerds will be offended by the script's tinkering with history. However, I would argue that "Battle of the Bulge" is SO inaccurate that such a defense doesn't hold water. And it's not as though the inaccuracies make the film better; in fact, I'm confident that a more realistic portrayal of the battle would have made the film far more exciting, even-handed, and worthwhile.
And yet... and yet... I still like this stupid movie! The tank battles are fun, the music is great, and the cast is really top-notch. Here's a general rule of thumb that I apply to the film as a whole - the scenes with the Americans are stupid, and the scenes with the Germans are good. For example - Robert Shaw is simply awesome as the (fictional) German commander. He has a fascinating series of moral debates on the nature of the war with his aide, a long-suffering corporal played by Hans Christian Blech; these scenes are a real highlight of the film, and their intelligence makes for a stark contrast with the general idiocy of other scenes.
There's also a very good scene when Charles Bronson tells Fonda that his men are so angry because of the war that they want to completely annihilate Germany and its people. This somewhat sinister note always gets my attention, but it pretty much amounts to nothing.
Perhaps the best thing that I can say about this movie is that it got me curious about the real battle, and the war in general. Because it's reasonably cool and exciting, the film is a pretty good vehicle for generating interest in the events it depicts so carelessly. Also, the script is perhaps not quite so inaccurate as some people claim - the early forest battles are somewhat like the real thing, and the general nature and goals of the German offensive are accurately portrayed.
It's just that too many dumb Hollywood moments spoil the movie for any serious aficionado of history and/or cinema. That's a shame, really. I wouldn't mind seeing a more accurate remake, which presumably would not involve an omnipotent Henry Fonda singlehandedly foiling the last great German offensive of World War II.
After 20th Century Fox had put out The Longest Day to such critical and
popular success, you might have thought that Warner Brothers would have
learned and copied that formula. They even hired Ken Annakin who was
one of the directors for The Longest Day.
But if you are looking for the names of Eisenhower, Bradley, Patton, Hodges, and Montgomery on the Allied side and Von Rundstedt and Model among the Germans you will be disappointed. All the names of the principals are changed. Folks like Henry Fonda, Robert Ryan, and Dana Andrews are playing fictionalized characters.
A couple of things are brought in mainly because they are part of the legend of the Bulge, the Malmedy Massacre and the famous reply of General McAuliffe to the German inquiry about surrendering the besieged town of Bastogne. In fact the latter is just dropped into the story without any of the principal players involved. I guess the producers had a thought that no film about the Bulge would be accepted without it, no matter how forced.
It would have been nice if a straight dramatic narrative approach had been used like The Longest Day. With of course the names of the real people. Part of the Bulge story was told in MGM's Battleground and in Patton.
In this film the best performances are that of Robert Shaw as the fanatical Nazi Panzer commander and his war weary aide Hans Christian Blech. Honorable mention should also go to George Montgomery as a tough American sergeant and his lieutenant James MacArthur who grows in stature thanks to Montgomery's example.
For a film that is more than two and a half hours in length, I'd have liked to have seen the real deal though.
A disclaimer on the end credits states, in effect, that the events and
people in this picture bear no relationship to a battle by the same name
that took place in WW II. Filmmakers have dealt with the problem of filming
the big event in various ways; some show many fragments, following
individuals here and there; some concentrate on the view of the generals,
with long-shots of big battles; some opt for telling just a little part of
the big picture, a microcosm. The solution here is to pretend that only a
few dozen people were actually involved in the whole campaign.
One has to assume that someone had a cavalry western script but realized westerns weren't selling any more, so they sold it by doing a quick rewrite to make it a war movie. Henry Fonda is the grizzled scout who insists the Indians are about to attack, based on his reading of the signs in the dirt, and who pulls his boss, the general, out of the fire time and again. Yes, it's Hank who, in the first skirmish, moves up to see if the Indians have a cache of rifles, who recognizes their leader as an escaped renegade fighter-Indian, who discovers that the friendly Crows at the pass are actually deadly Apaches in disguise, who, at a number of critical points, goes out with his young partner to scout around and comes back to the campfire with vital information, who realizes that the big battle is actually a ruse for the Indians to send a party to the water hole to fill their canteens with badly needed water, and who, with an arrow sticking through his shoulder, singlehandedly leads a few raw recruits in a clever maneuver to keep the Indians from the water hole and saves the day. In the last shot, the Indians march back to the reservation across the desert. The Fonda character, in particular, seems to still be in that western. He isn't just A scout, he's THE scout, the only scout, and all intelligence info that's important to the battle is his. The other characters fit the western mold pretty well also, including Shaw's Nazi. Only the Savalas character is indelibly out of WW II (or, more accurately, out of the Bilko show).
You know you`re in for a bad film when the first ten minutes are composed
entirely of actors sitting in front of back projection trying to convince
you they`re in a plane or a car. BATTLE OF THE BULGE does this , but it
doesn`t warn you how bad it all becomes later on. I`ll warn you, this is one
bad war film.
The worst thing about BATTLE OF THE BULGE is that it`s based on the real life Ardennes campaign of December 1944 when the Nazis threw the last of their reserves into trying to beat the allies in Western Europe , and this film is a lost opportunity to show the facts. " I need to look inside one of those tiger tanks " says Henry Fonda . But they`re not Tigers , as everyone else has noticed they`re American tanks from another generation. A German tiger tank has a very distinctive square shape . Couldn`t the script have been changed so that they could have been Panther tanks ? At least Panther tanks had roundish angles like the ones used in this film.
And the editing is extremely suspect. One scene features a wooded forest covered in snow then the next scene features a landscape devoid of trees and without a flake of snow ! Worst of all in the final scenes when characters walk on the ground dust can clearly be seen following their footsteps, the terrain they are walking hasn`t seen snow or rain for weeks ! It`s like the director and editor have been splicing scenes from another film . This is bad enough but what makes it so bad is a line spoken by a German General at the start of the film when he mentions fog hiding the German advance so that the allies can`t use their massive air support to slow down the advance , but up untill the last half hour there`s been nothing but bright blue skies to be seen !
If you enjoyed this film may I also recommend THE PRODUCERS which features SPRINGTIME FOR HITLER , the true story of Adolph Hitler`s all singing all dancing stormtroopers
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The years between "The Guns of Navaronne" and "Patton" saw the release
of a number of World War II epics and would-be epics, some good and
some, like "Anzio", pathetic. "The Battle of the Bulge" is about in the
middle, with nothing much to recommend it and no outrageous flaws.
I hated to click on the "Contains spoiler" box above because this is, after all, a pseudo-history of one of the major battles that took place towards the end of the war in Europe and he or she who does not know the outcome has been living on the distant planet of Ymir. But so be it. A poll taken some years ago indicated that a substantial number of America's youth didn't know which side of the war Japan had fought on. So here it is, kids. Spoiler alert.
The Allies were at war with Japan and Germany, and by the end of 1944 (A.D.) the Germans were running out of everything, especially fuel. Hitler organized and implemented a last-ditch counterattack against the British and American lines in the mountainous Ardennes forest near the German border.
Those thick and snowy woods were considered unsuitable for tanks and deemed a quiet sector where infantry already exhausted by combat elsewhere could be sent for rest, and an area where newly formed and unseasoned units could be safely stationed and get used to conditions in the field.
Nobody expected the Germans to roll through these mountains with massive tanks and hordes of infantry but that's what happened. Everyone was caught unprepared (except Patton). But the Germans were so short of fuel that the success of the attack depended on the capture of American stores. That didn't happen. The "bulge" created by the attack was squeezed by Montgomery from the north and Patton from the south and eventually disintegrated.
This movie doesn't give a viewer a clear sense of what happened. The Germans' fuel shortage isn't even mentioned until the climax, when it is discovered by Henry Fonda, who plays an intelligence officer. Fonda's figure is a familiar one in war movies. He's the only guy who can figure out what's going on -- and nobody upstairs listens to him or believes him. Most of the other characters are familiar too. The dumb young lieutenant (James McArthur) who learns to develop character and leadership from his tough top sergeant (George Montgomery). There's one of those tough, avaricious Brooklyn characters (Telly Savalas) who manages to have a romantic encounter with Pierangeli in the middle of this hailstorm of battle. Robert Ryan is wasted as a general. Dana Andrews is Ryan's chief of staff who delights in ridiculing Henry Fonda's warnings with cutting sarcasm. None of the characters are real historic figures. General McCauliffe, who was surrounded in Bastogne, isn't named either, though he's identified as the figure who responded to the German demand for surrender with "nuts." (Some have argued that his real response was a single word that, in Samoan would be rendered "turu," in Selozi "masipa", and in French, "merde.") The most complex character and the most challenging role is that of the German colonel who led the Panzers in the attack, played by Robert Shaw. He's so ambiguous he's almost real, but unfortunately Shaw plays him as some kind of a frozen tree stump who eschews the company of easy women and whose only passion is victory. The most endearing performance is that of Hans Christian Blech who plays the German corporal who is both Shaw's servant and sidekick. His lines, like all the other lines, may be stilted but he makes the sentiments believable. A good actor, here and elsewhere.
I've watched this twice now and my opinion of it hasn't changed much. The overall dynamics of the battle are lost amid the tumult of charging tanks, dueling infantrymen, arguments among officers, and faceless figures diving into muddy ditches. There are three or four different plot threads, mostly unrelated to one another. And only one simplified map to tell us where we're headed.
There are better cinematic descriptions of the Battle of the Bulge available ("Battleground," "Band of Brothers") but the incidents are seen from the grunt's point of view and none gives us the more general textbook picture. This one has a grandiose title and aims high, but it loses the battle.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
How could anyone ever know of the price paid by soldiers in terror,
agony, and bloodshed if they'd never been to places like Normandy,
Bastogne, or Haguenau? Battle of the Bulge or Battle of the Ardennes
was the last German offensive on the Western Front during World War II,
an unsuccessful attempt to push the Allies back from German home
The name "Battle of the Bulge" was appropriated from Winston Churchill's optimistic description, in May 1940, of the resistance that he mistakenly supposed was being offered to the German's breakthrough in that area just before the Anglo-French collapse; the Germans were in fact overwhelmingly successful The "bulge" refers to the wedge that they drove into the Allies lines...
Ken Annakin's film forgets those who fought and died in the real 'Bulge'. The Ardennes offensive never occurred like it was related in the film...
The movie takes us to December 1944, where British and American armies are in the threshold of victory Stretched across half of Europe, the Allies gathered themselves for the final assault on Germany To the north stood Montgomery's Eight Army, to the south, Patton's Third, in the center, a few battle-weary American divisions rested in a quiet sector To them, the war seemed already won But for Col. Kiley (Henry Fonda) the German army, facing the Allies, is still an undefeated enemy Kiley still believes that the Germans are planning one last major offensive His superiors, Gen. Gray (Robert Ryan) and Col. Pritchard (Dana Andrews), are doubtful of a German move
Col. Hessler (Robert Shaw) leads the full-scale attack in a huge wave of tanks, eliminating everything in its way His new 70-ton King Tiger tank has two-and-a-half times the firepower and double the armor of the American tanks
Filmed in Cinerama, the motion picture is a bloody war spectacle, quite literate and handsome but too noisy and with emphasis on strategy rather than character
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I understand that sometimes you just don't have the budget to make a
big war movie. If that's the case, you better a) reduce your ambitions
(and your spectator's expectations) or b) forget the project
altogether. Don't hire Fonda, Savallas, Bronson and other big names,
let them work in something more useful.
If you're going to make a movie on the Battle of the Ardennes (the Bulge for the Americans), at least make sure that you will be filming in wintry and snowy conditions. Not saying that you should film here in Canada, but if you go to central Spain in autumn, it's pretty sure you will not have a lot of snow.
If I do a film on a major battle of WW2 in my backyard, with some friends and a hand-held camera, it's OK to use any kind of tank (I got a real tank for my movie, wow !), or maybe a badly disguised Chevy 1962 with a rusty pipe as a cannon. But if I had such a cast and a studio behind me, I can not get by using some '50s tanks from the Spanish Army.
And if you want to make a movie on a battle that important, which veterans of both sides will certainly watch, at least show some respect and hire a historian, consultant or whatever, and get a script that includes some realities and not only outright fantasies. The last scene, with a whole German Panzer division charging at high speed (Tigers moving at some 40mph!! Without infantry !) against a fuel dump is just ridiculous. Fonda saving the Allies single-handedly? I guess the guys who stood up against the Germans in Bastogne or the German Panzer crews would have something to say. That's not just an "historical inaccuracy", it's like making the Martians appear in the middle of the battle in a flying saucer and blow up the whole German Army. Beyond ludicrous.
Bottom line is, if you don't have the money, the locations, the resources, the information to make a historical war movie, just don't bother. If you go forward anyway, well, the result is this cheap, nationalist (in a bad sense), flat, boring and ridiculous mess.
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