According to a review in the 'Variety Movie Guide', this movie was "Based on [the] writer-director's [i.e. Samuel Fuller] own experiences as a GI, pic was announced as a John Wayne starrer in the late 1950s and came close to realization on many other occasions, but only came together when producer Gene Corman found means to make it almost entirely in Israel."
In the "Reconstruction" documentary, Robert Carradine says that when he, Mark Hamill, Bobby Di Cicco and Kelly Ward first met Lee Marvin, Marvin didn't say anything at first. After they got into a taxi to drive out to the shooting range where they would hone their skills, Marvin finally said, "Which one of you is Carradine?" Robert Carradine answered, "I am." Marvin's response: "Fuck you, Carradine." A short time later, after they'd been working together, Carradine asked Marvin why he said that to him. Marvin replied, "Because yours was the only name I recognized."
The screams from the foxholes as the tanks roll over them seem strangely out of place, but actually happened. Samuel Fuller said, "When we were in those holes, and the tanks were rolling over us, it was our only chance to scream all the terror out and not be heard. We got it all out in those holes . . . ".
The bulk of the picture was shot in Israel, and director Samuel Fuller remarked that it was unsettling after a scene was shot when the German soldiers and SS troops would take off their helmets and Fuller would see them wearing yarmulkes; also, between takes they would be sitting around the set in full Nazi uniform speaking Hebrew or reading the Torah.
Until this film, Samuel Fuller hadn't directed a picture in 11 years, his last credited film--he directed part of The Deadly Trackers (1973) before being fired, and was not credited for it--was Shark! (1969)_.
In the Reconstructed version, the captain in the World War I prologue reappears in a short segment as the commanding general of the Big Red One just prior to the Battle of Huertgen Forest in the fall of 1944. The actual commanding general during that time period, Maj. Gen. Clarence R. Huebner, really was a captain in the Big Red One at the end of World War I.
According to film historian Richard Schickel, the scene in which the sergeant (Lee Marvin) is wounded is a re-creation of how Marvin was wounded in real life as a Marine in the Pacific. As in the film, Marvin was shot through the back and collapsed down on his knees.
In the film commentary, Richard Schickel points out two incidents which really happened to Samuel Fuller while serving in the Big Red One and are given to Pvt. Zab (Robert Carradine) in the film: One was when Zab is playing basketball and spots Keiser (Perry Lang) reading his novel. In real life, Fuller didn't know his novel had been published until he spotted a soldier reading it. The other major incident is when Zab acts as runner during the D-Day invasion and tells the colonel that they've broken through. Fuller was awarded a medal for his actions.
During the course of filming, Lee Marvin and Perry Lang got into an argument. While filming the scene where they come to Crucifix Hill (where the Germans are planning an ambush), Lang kept waving and gesturing his arms while he spoke. After the scene was finished, Marvin growled at Lang, "What the fuck was all that crap about?", and Lang replied by cursing out Marvin. According to the other actors in the Reconstruction Documentary, neither Marvin nor Lang spoke to one another for the next week. Finally, Marvin began talking to Lang and treated him with respect for standing up to him.
According to Robert Carradine in the Reconstruction Documentary, he was originally cast as Pfc. Griff. However, when the producers learned they could get Mark Hamill, fresh off of the success of _Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977)_, Carradine was given the role of Pfc. Zab, so Hamill could be cast as Griff.
In 2005 Mark Hamill, who plays Pfc. Griff, lent his voice talents to the video game Call of Duty 2: Big Red One (2005). Like the film, the game follows the exploits of a squad from "The Big Red One" from North Africa to Eastern Europe.
When Pvt. Zab is talking to a fellow soldier who is reading the book 'The Dark Deadline' they both drink from a triangular shaped Grants whisky bottle. Grants Whiskey didn't sell triangular shaped whisky bottles until 1957.
Zab's novel is called The Dark Deadline. The movie author Samuel Fuller based the character Zab on himself and also wrote a book called The Dark Page. The 25th anniversary novel for The Big Red One has a black cover with a very similar style to the insert book cover on Zab's book.
In November 1942, Camp Laguna in Yuma, Arizona started as a major training site for George S. Patton's armored units. It was one of fourteen such camps built in the southwestern deserts to train United States troops during World War II. It was a major training facility for units engaged in combat during the 1942-1943 North African campaign. The desert was extremely suitable for the large-scale maneuvers necessary to prepare inexperienced American soldiers for combat against the highly trained and much feared German Afrika Korps in the North African desert.
Samuel Fuller put the actors through a mini boot camp. Lee Marvin, as an ex Marine, was the drill instructor, even for the smallest details, such as how to hold a rifle and change a magazine of the rifle at the right time; same as in real combat.