This film opened in London in the winter of 1963 at a length of 175 minutes and was universally criticized for being too long. It did not generate much box-office interest in this initial engagement and, by the time it went out on general release several weeks later, it had been trimmed by a little over a quarter of an hour. As it was a film filled with brief (or prolonged) episodes of war rather than one continuing plot-line, it was easy to shorten the film by taking out one episode in its entirety - a story concerning a young French orphan who is unofficially adopted by the platoon, and who, as the soldiers are horrified to discover, has survived the German occupation by becoming a child prostitute. This role was played by the French teenage actor Joel Flateau, who was still prominently billed on the film's posters and in the opening credit sequence. The film did no better at the box-office, and vanished from sight in Britain for many years, until, in 2004, it began to appear again on British television, and also got a DVD release in the same period. The episode was not restored, however, and Flateau's name was now excised from the credits. The film was also now missing other scenes, notably a brief one where some British soldiers, finding a piano in a ruined building, sing the traditional army song, "The Long And The Short And The Tall" - not in the usual bowdlerized version, but with liberal use of the F-word, which here was used for the first time in an English-language film.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
The film includes a very touching scene based on the execution of Private Eddie Slovik, the only case of a soldier executed for desertion in US Armed Forces during World War Two. In 1960, Frank Sinatra intended to produce and direct a film based on the same story with a screenplay by Albert Maltz, one of the blacklisted in the infamous Hollywood Ten. But Sinatra decided against the project when a backlash in the press affected his family. Carl Foreman, who left the United States in 1952 because he was being investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee, decided to use the case of Private Slovik, for which Frank Sinatra recorded a new version of the song "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas".