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Less than 5 years after the Vietnam War officially ended, Director and
acclaimed (but aged) film writer Sam Fuller attempted to recount the
experiences he encountered while serving as an infantry soldier in the
European Theatre of WW2. He had written many war scripts in his day, but
fully realized that the world would not be ready for the true story of
(He is quoted infamously as saying that a truly realistic war picture
involve live grenades and machine guns in the theatre). As his career
and the world changed, he decided to make a go of his life long pet
project... to make a film about the REAL story of WW2, about his own
experiences in the Big Red One, or The First Infantry Division.
Too ahead of it's time to be appreciated during it's birth, and too dated to be appreciated in hindsight.
Some of the other user comments suggest this film is inferior to modern war films. Of course this film is not at the caliber of Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers in it's war scenes. How could it? When it is of a time closer to The Green Berets (John Wayne wins The Vietnam War) then to anything that came after it. Infact I would go as far as to say that this film broke the first ground, and made films like Platoon, Hamburger Hill, and Full Metal Jacket socially acceptable, and paved the way for films like Saving Private Ryan. Sure, Apocalypse Now has better War scenes, but is so fictional in it's scripting and "epic" war moments that it missed the point of the soldier on the front (and is widely regarded as being unrealistic by Vietnam Vets). The Big Red One tells the story from a WW2 Vet's point of view, Sam Fuller, and is wonderfully acted by a WW2 vet, Lee Marvin. Perhaps the last film to have such credits.
Sure, The Big Red One is cheesy, and harkens to a time when war films were more about the characters, then the violence. Still, there is something charming about the scripting, and Lee Marvin holds the movie together, while being surrounded by actors who were trendy on the cheap for 1979. The film also has technical inaccuracy, as in the Sherman tanks used as Panzers. However, the real strength of the film is in the script, and not in the battles. It breaks ground in it's defiance of films like the Sands of Iwa Jima. The soldier is not a clean sterile fighter for the holiest do goodynest army of all time, he is a human being locked in a battle for survival, and most importantly, he hasn't lost his sense of humor, or his libido.
Regardless of it's dated, almost 70's TV movie feel, I must mention that this film was first to show D-Day in a light other than that cast by The Longest Day, and uses some very clever cinematography to illustrate the violence. Sam Fuller consciously decided to make the battles less violent, and choose to focus on the characters instead, depicted the main characters as cynical and the fallen as humorous tragically short lived figures. This film also was first to introduce words like "replacement", "non-Coms" and "Krouts" to the war movie dictionary. It has the entire bangalore scene from Saving Private Ryan (although merely a concept compared to SPR) and shows North Africa, Italy, France, Germany, and a concentration camp. Before this film, WW2 was only depicted in such an epic manor that Bible films are seemingly tame.
THE BOTTOM LINE: This film was one of the last war pictures to emerge from the dying studio system, and is comparable in the way of battles to The Green Berets, Longest Day, etc. However it shines in the script category. and was first to show soldiers as young clumsy men, and not heroes. It attempts almost too much and that is it's strongest limitation. Still, a must see for war movie fans who can appreciate the older films. 7/10.
This is an under-appreciated war film. You never see it on TV, I know of no widescreen version available on video, and no one talks about it in books, newspapers or on television, but it is worth renting. Made up of a number of short vignettes, the main characters experience everything from delivering a baby (in a tank!) to D-Day on Omaha Beach to liberating a death camp as they fight their way through Africa, Sicily, and Western Europe. I understand that it is semi-autobiographical, and boy, does it pack a wallop. From the opening scene to history repeating (almost) itself at the end, it is well-crafted, says a lot and leaves the viewer changed. When the voice-over at the end says that the only glory in war is surviving, you KNOW why. Watch in particular for how Lee Marvin leads his squad, in particular when he gives an extra clip of M-1 ammunition to one of his soldiers at the Death Camp to help the soldier process, in a unique way, the horror of what they have discovered. It is unforgettable.
Some movies are like buried treasure; someone manages to slip them into the
theater, practically under every critic's nose, where they either thrive or
famish and then vanish into the nearest video catalog. "The Big Red One" is
one of those films. For all the hoopla created by "Saving Private Ryan"
(another excellent film, which, in my opinion, had a better
understanding of it's subject than a lot of it's critics gave it credit
for), it owed a great deal to what Sam Fuller did a decade and a half
Lee Marvin, an actual WWII veteran himself, holds the film together as the tough but exhausted seargent. When he tells Mark Hamill (yes, Luke Skywalker, folks) that you don't murder animals, you kill them, the look on his face after that seems to say that he wished it could be some other way. It's hard to grab defining moments in this film as stand-out, but the two sequences that stick the most to my mind are the taking of the insane asylum and the horrors of the concentration camp. While other movies have focused on specific campaigns, "The Big Red One" deserves high marks for painting the broad canvass of the Second World War from the perspective of the guys who actually had to do the work.
This review is on the "reconstructed" DVD, a version that came out
several years ago, adding 49 minutes to the original 1980 movie. (The
film runs 162 minutes, not 158 as stated on the IMDb title page.)
The "old" version was very good, and this newer version makes the film even better. Either way, you have a solid war movie.
For men - and that's who will primarily watch this movie because it's a guy's flick with no romance and no women leads - this keeps the action coming, but without overdoing it. You can different kinds of action scenes, too, not just people shooting at one another.
I also appreciated the photography. It's a good visual movie. The added footage looked sharper and clearer than the previously shown, but either way it was nicely filmed and directed. Of course, the director is the famous Sam Fuller, who did a number of tough film noirs, among other things.
Speaking of tough, the person who makes this movie a notch above average is Lee Marvin. He is just excellent as the tough-on-the-outside-but-soft-hearted underneath commanding officer, known only as "The Sergeant." With his deep voice and weathered face, Marvin makes for an effective leader of tough guys. The language was much milder in here than you find in more modern films, although it can be crude in a few spots. There are no f-words and about seven usages of the Lord's name in vain. However, there are a number of sexual references, some crude but, hey, that's "guy talk." All the young soldiers were good, too. It was especially interesting to see baby-faced Star Wars' star, Mark Hamill, playing one of the soldiers in the unit called "The Big Red One."
The story with narration by one of the soldiers, tells of Marvin and his handful of men who travel and do battle from North Africa to Sicily, then Italy, the beaches of Normandy on D- Day and into Germany in addition to a few other memorable stops such as "an insane asylum."
It's long, but I never found it boring and the men never stay too long in one spot.
This film is really about the experiences that Sam Fuller had during WWII.
It is a bit dated, and the low budget really shows, but SF clearly did the
best with what he had, and it stands as a great monument on war from a
director who was really there.
All of the characters are very likeable, and well acted by Lee Marvin, Mark Hamill, Robert Carradine, and company. The movie is fiction but influenced by real events. Many of the scenes, especially one involving a group of older sicilian women who cook a big meal for the squad, ring very true, since a fiction writer would obviously try and spice them up--the film is very honest, and it is good that Fuller left this story for us. I also like how it ends on a positive, optimistic note.
"The real glory of war is surviving."
In the past several months, I've clicked by on television and seen that
The Big Red One was on, and I would check it out for a few minutes or
so, here and there as it were. I knew though, once it became official
that the New York film festival was premiering it, that the
reconstructed version of Samuel Fuller's epic was going to be seen as
no longer being truncated. When it was over, I felt as though, like
with his other films I've seen (Pickup on South Street and Shock
Corridor to a degree), that I'd seen something special- a work of art
that's told with such straight-forward precision it elevates the B
genre. There is something about war that is, like life usually, a
contradiction. There are scenes and instances in Fuller's film where
confusion occurs, and tragedy comes about as if it's springing out of
But what Fuller captures as well is the camaraderie, so to speak, of the platoon- the humor, the understanding of one another that strengthens when other soldiers come and go without much notice. And the strengths and humanity of the sergeant (here portrayed in a performance that could possibly be better or at least on part with what was in The Dirty Dozen) comes through clearest of all. The Big Red One, at its extended length, is one of Fuller's triumphs as a storyteller; infusing his own experiences in the first battalion (the cigar that re-appears with one character signify who he made as his kind of alter-ego) as well as others he fought with, stories he heard, etc. While it is a film that lends itself partly to the ideals of the "old-fashioned" WW2 films, it's very modern in its personal take on the situations, battle sequences/outcomes, and the dynamics of the characters. To put it another way, what Oliver Stone was to Vietnam, Samuel Fuller was to WW2, to an extent.
Though his version of, for instance, the invasion of Omaha beach, doesn't have the grainy, documentary feel of Saving Private Ryan, the realism and suspense and chaos it all there. Fuller's experience as a journalist - his sense of detail and pacing in the scenes - is what gives that sequence involving Marvin and his men, among others, such truth. Along with the Israeli cinematographer Adam Greenburg, who would go on to lens the first two Terminator films, The Big Red One brings forth numerously unforgettable images. The climax, in and of itself, in which the quote I mentioned is put to the test for Mark Hammil's Pvt. Griff, is extraordinary. The shots, the faces, and usage of light, and the acting by him and the others, brought to me some of the strangest emotional reaction (not as in crying, but empathizing) I ever felt in a war film. In that respect the film, in scenes like that, and in the little moments with the "four horsemen" and their episodes, are on the level (if not superior) to the emotional connectedness that Spielberg or Stone achieved.
The script is a feat as a story of the stead-fast progression of the soldiers from North Africa to Germany. However without the cast it might have faltered. Marvin pulls off a rounded character by the end and is successful in his own right, but the four privates are the show. Most of the time if not all through, Ward and Di Cicco (not very well known actors to me before viewing this film) are very dependable for some comic and sensible interludes. Carradine's Zab (Fuller's re-incarnation) is in a performance of insight, amusement, and is a crucial piece to the film. It is Hammil then that comes away as most rewarding. His character is given a brilliant arc as the sharpshooter, and in the "cremation" scene, he proves he is far more valuable and compelling an actor most would give him credit for. My advice to people who think he can only play Skywalker and the occasional voice-over work is that this film is a must-view.
I can say, in wrapping up this review, that there was not much at all to nit-pick or complain about with this film, long length and all. There may or may not have been truth to the English-speaking Germans, but that didn't matter to me. When some of the dialog was not entirely clear as well, that was not a problem. Almost every frame (in particular a few key long shots on the beaches and some close-ups of faces and eyes in the third act) are like carefully molded sculptures/paintings of the condition of war. Bottom line, I can't tell whether or not the film has bettered from the additions, but I do know for certain I would not want to sit through a truncated version when these forty or so minutes fit in so well. So, whether you've seen the original 1980 version or not, when this new version comes to DVD, it's for certain to be a collector's item.
A lot of people hate The Big Red One. They call it farcical, uneven,
clichéd. They find it farcical, I believe, because the film revels in
the absurdity of war rather than gloss over it. They would rather watch
a film, like Saving Private Ryan, which ignores absurdity in favor of
violence. These people find it uneven because the "important scenes"
(like the D-Day and North African invasion) take only a minute or two
to conclude, while other scenes, less typical of a war movie, spread
out before us. They call it clichéd because the movie is unsubtle in
its treatment of character development and plot.
I cannot agree with these beliefs. The Big Red One is not only one of the greatest WWII films, it is also one of the greatest war movies.
Sam Fuller's film, which was butchered by the studio, is the picaresque tale of 5 members of the First Infantry, known, because of their shoulder patch, as the Big Red One. The film moves from one story to the next without spending too much time on any particular tale.
The individual vignettes, as they must, vary in quality, but on the whole are excellent. The Big Red One stirs within you a desire to run right out and tell your friends about this amazing scene or that.
There's the soldier who loses his testicle, the birthing scene in the belly of a tank, Lee Marvin, in Middle Eastern garb, traipsing across a beach, soldiers dug into holes over which a Panzer tank division travels, the entire Mad House segment... The list goes on.
Some people dislike the absurdest nature of several of this film's stories, but, for me, those surreal touches make this film great.
Without them (and there are a lot), you would be left with a very normal and very boring film. Using bandoleers as stirrups is genius, as is the woman faking crazy as she whirls through a monastery, slicing German throats.
The performances are solid, for this type of film, but if you are looking for subtlety, go elsewhere. Each character is drawn in broad strokes; you never learn too much about them, but you learn enough to understand who they are and why. Lee Marvin, as usual, is amazing. He is one of the great, gruff actors of our time, bringing a special, intangible quality to every film in which I've seen him. He makes every movie he's in better just by showing up. There are too few actors about whom you can say that.
Like the acting, the direction is masculine, but, for a war movie, that's a compliment. In some ways, Fuller's direction here and in his other films reminds me of Hemmingway's writing - terse and effective. Both men believe in an economy of shots or words, depending on their medium, but, through that economy, they attain a muscular sort of poetry akin to the beauty of a horse's rippling muscles as it races on a plain. Fuller's direction here, though not his best when compared to Underworld USA or Shock Corridor, is still better than most, especially considering that this was his first film in several years.
All in all, I find the Big Red One to be an exemplary war movie, even in its emasculated format (I cannot wait to see the restored, 140 minute print, which should improve upon scenes that feel to brief in this version). It's certainly no Apocalypse Now, but it puts to shame most World War II epics before or since.
I have seen this film quite a few times and have always been somewhat puzzled about it. There was no doubt that it had some of the most emotive scenes of any war film but seemed fractured. At times there seemed to be far more realism in it's morality than other films which was understandable since Sam Fuller actually served with The Big Red One at this time so much of it is a first hand account of events and attitudes. I have now read some of the background to the making of the film,I think in the L.A. Times,which now makes sense of the flaws in the film. Apparently Sam Fuller's budget was cut to the minimum by the studios after a regime change and the original screenplay as shot was hacked to death by the same studio against Fuller's wishes. This was not the film he wanted to make but he made it. And it was not the film that he shot as is indicated by the very complete screenplay notes he made. I think it is Richard Schickel, the noted reviewer of Time magazine, who has laboured to find the missing outtakes and to put the film together in its complete form with over 40 minutes added to the length. Apparently this more complete cut significantly improves the film and adheres to Sam Fullers screenplay more accurately. This new cut is now playing to limited audiences and, hopefully, will be available on DVD. It must be emphasized that this is not the film that Fuller originally wanted to make as the budget was cut by 75%. Some of the comments made by other reviewers on these pages are valid as to authenticity specifically in battle scenes. But Fuller did not have the budget that both the Longest Day and Saving Private Ryan had. It will be interesting to see the new cut. Hopefully it will flesh out what could have been one of the greatest Second World War films.
BR1 has been my top WWII movie for 25 yrs, incl. Private Ryan.
Spielberg wishes he could have created something this real, this
moving. No smoke and mirrors, just the gritty reality.
The Reconstruction is a different movie. About 3 minutes of original film to 15 of new. It's so obvious, if you know the first movie, that Hollywood forced Sam FUller to trim away most of the grit and pain. BR1 is tough and real, but squeaky-50s-clean compared to the Reconstruction. All the real impact was trimmed away. That must have hurt.
There was a point, about 2 hours in, I thought, "I can't take much more of this." And it hit me that Fuller intended that. Pushed us to that limit, so we would experience a tiny bit of the exhaustion, the overload, the need to just get away from it for a while. Private Ryan never even got close. I can't think of any WWII movie that got close. And I've watched them all.
Band of Brothers is the only work I would put in the same frame as the Reconstructed BR1. If you haven't seen either, buckle up. It's going to be a bumpy night.
"The Big Red One" is a nickname given to the 1st Infantry Squadron's on
World War 2. The film is brilliantly scripted, and feels very realistic in
it's depictions of World War 2 battles. There's a reason why the film is
realistic. It's based on actual experiences that the Writer/Director, Sam
Fuller, went through during his time in the war.
The movie follows several soldiers in The 1st Infantry. Lee Marvin brilliantly plays The Sergeant. Four soldiers under his command, played by Mark Hamill, Robert Carradine, Kelly Ward and Bobby Di Cicco, have been named The Four Hoursemen, and they become well known among other soldiers. Despite being in a position and squad, where most troops come in and die before others even know their names, these four manage to live through the most dangerous situations and missions. Most of the time without even getting a scratch on them.
There's no big overall story in "The Big Red One". It's made up of many different combat scenes that The Sergeant and his men fight in. The D-Day footage is almost as realistic and frightening as those shot in "Saving Private Ryan", and this was made 18 years earlier. There are some very dramatic and intense scenes in this film, but it avoids making the viewer feel too depressed or saddened, thanks to a lot of light humour throughout the script.
Although "The Big Red One" is not well known, it easily ranks up there with Saving Private Ryan, Apocalypse Now, and Tora Tora Tora as one of the greatest war films of all time. I can't recommend this movie enough to anyone reading this. "The Big Red One" does not disappoint. It gets a perfect 10 from me.
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