#324 The Big Red One

(1980, Samuel Fuller)

“By now we’d come to look at all replacements as dead men who temporarily had the use of the arms and legs. They came and went so fast and so regularly that sometimes we didn’t even learn their names”

If you’ve read through my blog by now, you probably are aware that one subject I’m sick of seeing in movies is World War II. Name a battle in that war and chances are there are at least five movies that examine it in great detail from multiple angles. We have movies from the perspective of innocent civilians caught up in horrendous circumstances. And now, apparently, we have a movie set entirely around a specific squad.

The Big Red One is focused on a band of American soldiers in the 1st Infantry Division, aka The Big Red One. During the events of the movie they fight in battles in North Africa, Sicily and Normandy. And…uh…that’s it. That’s the movie.

I never thought I’d find a movie that could be summed up accurately as little more than “war porn”, but lo and behold, The Big Red One is straight-up war porn. From the opening shot, we find ourselves in the middle of a battle where a man is killed at the end of World War I. From there it’s little more than a series of lengthy, protracted battles separated only by shots of the squad moving to their next battle.

Now, this structure probably wouldn’t have mattered too much if there had been some decent human interaction between the battles. We have a squad of four men and their sergeant surviving some of the worst of World War II, which inevitably took its toll on them. They’d have some degree of comradery that leads to them being lasting friends. Perhaps some introspection around the idea of these four men travelling the world and killing many people along the way (but not too much, or else we’ll have The Thin Red Line and no one wants that).

Nope. The interactions between soldiers give us no insight into who these men are, or what effect the war has on them. Instead, it’s four dudes who interact in the most generic ways possible, sharing the odd bit of banter that could literally be said by any of them and make no difference. The only character who stands out is Lee Marvin’s character, but that’s mostly because he’s a higher rank and therefore distinguishable from the fact that he’s the one giving orders.

Well, okay, Mark Hamill stands out too, but that’s mostly because I was half-expecting him to whip out a lightsaber at any given moment. The only personality he had was one assigned to him by me based on another role he was in. That’s not high praise.

In fact, this movie is really hard to review. If you like endless scenes of war, you’d probably like The Big Red One. It gives you all the intimate details about real-life battle that you’d ever want to know and show them all from every possible angle. It’s well-shot, with every shot being measured and careful to capture exactly what you need to know in an artistic way.

Of course, if you don’t like endless scenes of war, The Big Red One is a tiresome slog of an experience. And that’s certainly where I stand on the matter. It failed to hold my interest and did little to endear me to the WW2 genre.

Starring Lee Marvin, Mark Hamill, Robert Carradine, Bobby Di Cicco, Kelly Ward, Siegfried Rauch & Stéphane Audran
Written by Samuel Fuller
Produced by Gene Corman
Music by Dana Kaproff
Cinematography by Adam Greenberg
Edited by Morton Tubor

Favourite Scene: There’s a brief discussion about whether or not what they do is murder. This could have gone somewhere interesting. Aside from hearing it parroted by a German officer, it didn’t.
Scene That Bugged Me: It was around the time the squad reached Sicily that I realised there wasn’t much else to the movie besides battles.

Watch it if: You’re a WW2 fanatic
Avoid it if: You’re anybody else


Posted on November 6, 2014, in 1980s, War and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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