The story of a hardened army Sergeant and four of his men from their first fight at the Kasserine Pass after the invasion of North Africa through to the invasion of Sicily, D-Day, the Ardennes forest and the liberation of a concentration camp at the end of the war. As the five of them fight - and survive to fight yet again in the next battle - new recruits joining the squad are swatted down by the enemy on a regular basis. The four privates are naturally reluctant to get to know any of the new recruits joining the squad, who become just a series of nameless faces.Written by
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. See more »
Early in the film, the German soldier who is eating some bread has a grenade sticking out of in his right boot. As he climbs the sand dune, the grenade switches to his left boot. See more »
In 2004, film critic Richard Schickel restored this film to a new director's cut length of approximately 160 minutes. Using Samuel Fuller's production notes and the full-length, unexpurgated script, Schickel restored the footage that was forced to be cut by the studio upon its original 1980 release (which runs 116 minutes). The restored version's DVD release date is 3 May 2005. This longer, epic-length version is closer to Fuller's original vision for the film. See more »
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.
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