October 14, 2010


I guess this could class as a Catch-Up Classic, though it's not on my list. And Sam Fuller's tale of young men in World War II is something of a forgotten classic when it comes to war films; everyone knows Apocalypse Now, Born on the Fourth of July and Platoon. It has also been drowned out by the spate of modern war films like Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line

It follows four young enlisted men and their Sarge, all members of the First Battalion - The Big Red One - through World War II. Their tour of duty takes in Africa, Sicily, D-Day, Belgium and Germany. So, it's almost like Band of Brothers, but condensed down to five characters and in two-and-a-half hours. Now, yes, that's a very simplistic breakdown of the film but it largely applies. It carries with it the pretty standard war movie theme: War Is Hell and Destroys Young Men. It also deals with the bonding of the five main characters (referred to as Sarge and his Four Horsemen by the other men) during combat. Every other character comes and goes with alarming speed - cut down during battle or just disappearing, presumably killed. Fuller keeps it all pretty disorienting and confusing, suddenly cutting from a small Italian village to a German officer recovering from a wound. Oh, and yes, all the Germans speak English. To each other. It's a somewhat small thing, but it's just one of those "movie things" that annoys me no end.

Coming back to those modern war films, it's difficult to prise them and their visceral impact out of your cinematic brain, especially when watching something like this on the big screen. The Big Red One definitely falls into the "shoot a lot and bad guys fall down" time of filmmaking, rather than the "shoot a lot and various arms and viscera fly out" time. How far special effects have come. 

I'm not sure if it's because of the different cinematic sensibilities, or the cinematic language or something else entirely but I never felt myself connecting with any of the characters and, by extension, the film. Perhaps if this story had played out over a mini-series timeframe, I could have got to know the characters more, could've felt less disorientated as locations changed and large swathes of time were cut out. It's been difficult to write about this film, not because I hated it or anything but because I have struggled to feel one way or another about it. It's easier to write about a film I love or hate, but I'm afraid to say Sam Fuller's The Big Red One just left me distanced.

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