A Movie A Day: Quint joins the BATTLE OF THE BULGE (1965)
Maps. Clocks. Toys. But with what will I fight?
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection or from my DVR and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Can we just state for the record that Robert Shaw is the coolest badass to ever exist? Sure, we have the Churchills, the MacArthurs, the Alexander the Greats, the Genghis Khans, etc, etc, etc and they can’t be under appreciated for how badass they are, but damn, guys. If Robert Shaw had thought to conquer the Western world, he would have put them all to shame.
Case in point, today’s movie BATTLE OF THE BULGE, following screenwriter Philip Yordan from yesterday’s crime noir gem DILLINGER. Technically he’s only credited as screenwriter on this film, when in actuality he was a front for blacklisted screenwriter Bernard Gordon. He did still produce the film, though, if you wanted to be a stickler about the bridging system.
If you don’t know about the famous battle this film takes as its backdrop, it’s the German Hail Mary push in December of 1944, a tank push that damn near snatched the victory from the grip of the Allies. The plan involved the assistance of an English speaking squad that was spread within the Allied ranks doing everything they could to assure victory while not blowing their cover.
The film is a nearly 3 hour multi-character war epic toplined by Henry Fonda as the only high ranking officer to suspect the Nazis are still going strong when everybody else assumes the war is all but over. The first act of the movie is split between him and Robert Shaw as Col. Hessler, a superstar Nazi officer noted for his unwavering dedication to success and expertise in tank command.
While Fonda is busy gathering tidbits of intel and trying to make a case that the Allies should be more on their guard, Shaw is being convinced that he will be given the tools it takes to launch this last ditch effort to change the tides of battle.
Needless to say, it takes much less time for Shaw to be shown what he needs to see than it takes the Allied Generals and when the Panzer attack begins.
From here on out it’s a mad scramble for the Allies as Robert Shaw pushes them further and further back. Really, if this maneuver had been made without a ticking clock (the Nazis only had roughly 50 hours worth of full-attack supplies) then the world would be a very different place today.
The movie is essentially the Allies in constant retreat, desperately trying to figure out a way to stop the badassity of Robert Shaw… Futile, I tells ya’. Can’t be done.
Great character actors pepper this thing. Telly Savalas plays an enterprising tankman running a business on the side, selling the finer things of France and America to the troops and locals. He’s a bit of comic relief, but when you piss off Telly Savalas the comedy falls completely. That’s another badass mofo you don’t want to have you in his crosshairs.
New favorite of mine, Robert Ryan, plays the General who makes the best of the situation, responding with backbone, intelligence and fortitude.
Dana Andrews is paired with George Montgomery… opposites if there ever were. Andrews is terrified when the shit hits and even though he outranks Montgomery, it’s ol’ George who takes the lead. Andrews has the best arc of the movie, starting out yella (notice he’s not even yellow, but yella), but finding his courage after he fucks things up past the point of rescue.
Charles Bronson pops up (as was law for any epic Western or War film shot between 1960 and 1970) as hardass Major Wolenski who has a great scene as a POW with Robert Shaw. I suppose if one man could throw his balls on the table next to Shaw’s and come away with a draw it was mid-‘60s Charles Bronson.
Fonda is fine in the movie, but he must have been a little pissed when he read the script and was offered the lead. Sure, it’s top billing, but his character has almost zero growth. He’s right at the beginning, he’s right at the end and in the middle he does little but drive around and use binoculars. He does play a big part in the sweet finale, but just looking at it from a character perspective he doesn’t go anywhere.
Robert Shaw is the reason to watch this movie. I know that’s really surprising coming from me, but I swear it’s true. He gives Hessler depth and paints him in shades of grey. He’s a man obsessed, just as Ahab, just as Quint, just as Hitler himself, but his insanity doesn’t fully show itself right away. He’s tempted by doubt at the beginning, but by the end he’s alienated his true friends and laid bare his thoughts.
He views the war as unwinnable. The allies can win, but Germany can not. They can, however, sustain an indefinite war, which is what he’s fighting for. He likes fighting, that’s his reality.
The flick is cinemascope widescreen and looks amazing in Technicolor. I linked to the standard def DVD above, but I watched it on HD-DVD (also available on the still existing high-def DVD technology) which only impressed upon me the great work of DoP Jack Hildyard (who also shot BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI).
The filmmaking in general is strong, with the exception of one or two unimpressive model tank shots that looked like two kids playing war with remote control tanks they got for $19.99 at Walgreens. I hate even pointing those shots out because we’re talking maybe 2 or 3 shots in a movie that probably used 200-300 tank shots. The rest of the tank work was awesome.
I didn’t feel the length of the movie at all, which is good. Nothing’s worse than having to count down 170 some minutes if you’re bored out of your skull. I think the only error in pacing is that the final battle at the allied fuel yard happens too quickly. It’s awesome, but just too fast, especially following the epic final stand tank battle between Robert Shaw’s forces and Robert Ryan’s forces.
Final Thoughts: This is a must see if only for Robert Shaw, only a couple of years removed from his role in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (he’s supporting the same hair-style in this one, no less). The cinematography and tank action is top notch and there’s enough men’s men testosterone-filled icons of cinema in this one to entertain anybody. There’s also a nice one-scene appearance by the lovely Pier Angeli as Telly Savalas’ partner in blackmarket goods who uses his love for her to make him acknowledge his humanity. You might remember her from past AMAD Somebody Up There Likes Me where she played the Adrien to the late, great Paul Newman’s Rocky. If you go for this flick, go for the HD experience. Technicolor in HD is better than bad oral sex.
The schedule for the next few days is:
Monday, September 29th: DAISY KENYON (1947)
Tuesday, September 30th: LAURA (1944)
Wednesday, October 1st – Friday, October 31st: H-MAD! Horror Movie A Day! Check out the list here!
Tomorrow we hit Fox Noir DAISY KENYON, following Henry Fonda. We’re only two days from the beginning of the All Horror AMAD October! I’m getting into the spirit of the season already! Are you?
June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
June 26th: Torn Curtain
June 27th: The Left Handed Gun
June 28th: Caligula
June 29th: The Elephant Man
June 30th: The Good Father
July 1st: Shock Treatment
July 2nd: Flashback
July 3rd: Klute
July 4th: On Golden Pond
July 5th: The Cowboys
July 6th: The Alamo
July 7th: Sands of Iwo Jima
July 8th: Wake of the Red Witch
July 9th: D.O.A.
July 10th: Shadow of A Doubt
July 11th: The Matchmaker
July 12th: The Black Hole
July 13th: Vengeance Is Mine
July 14th: Strange Invaders
July 15th: Sleuth
July 16th: Frenzy
July 17th: Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut
July 18th: Cadillac Man
July 19th: The Sure Thing
July 20th: Moving Violations
July 21st: Meatballs
July 22nd: Cast a Giant Shadow
July 23rd: Out of the Past
July 24th: The Big Steal
July 25th: Where Danger Lives
July 26th: Crossfire
July 27th: Ricco, The Mean Machine
July 28th: In Harm’s Way
July 29th: Firecreek
July 30th: The Cheyenne Social Club
July 31st: The Man Who Knew Too Much
August 1st: The Spirit of St. Louis
August 2nd: Von Ryan’s Express
August 3rd: Can-Can
August 4th: Desperate Characters
August 5th: The Possession of Joel Delaney
August 6th: Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx
August 7th: Start the Revolution Without Me
August 8th: Hell Is A City
August 9th: The Pied Piper
August 10th: Partners
August 11th: Barry Lyndon
August 12th: The Skull
August 13th: The Hellfire Club
August 14th: Blood of the Vampire
August 15th: Terror of the Tongs
August 16th: Pirates of Blood River
August 17th: The Devil-Ship Pirates
August 18th: Jess Franco’s Count Dracula
August 19th: Dracula A.D. 1972
August 20th: The Stranglers of Bombay
August 21st: Man, Woman & Child
August 22nd: The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane
August 23rd: The Young Philadelphians
August 24th: The Rack
August 25th: Until They Sail
August 26th: Somebody Up There Likes Me
August 27th: The Set-Up
August 28th: The Devil & Daniel Webster
August 29th: Cat People
August 30th: The Curse of the Cat People
August 31st: The 7th Victim
September 1st: The Ghost Ship
September 2nd: Isle of the Dead
September 3rd: Bedlam
September 4th: Black Sabbath
September 5th: Black Sunday
September 6th: Twitch of the Death Nerve
September 7th: Tragic Ceremony
September 8th: Lisa & The Devil
September 9th: Baron Blood
September 10th: A Shot In The Dark
September 11th: The Pink Panther
September 12th: The Return of the Pink Panther
September 13th: The Pink Panther Strikes Again
September 14th: Revenge of the Pink Panther
September 15th: Trail of the Pink Panther
September 16th: The Real Glory
September 17th: The Winning of Barbara Worth
September 18th: The Cowboy and the Lady
September 19th: Dakota
September 20th: Red River
September 21st: Terminal Station
September 22nd: The Search
September 23rd: Act of Violence
September 24th: Houdini
September 25th: Money From Home
September 26th: Papa’s Delicate Condition
September 27th: Dillinger
Readers Talkbackcomments powered by Disqus
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Sept. 29, 2008, 5:43 a.m. CST
by Mavra Chang
Quint's making his own monsterfest for us. Rock on!
Sept. 29, 2008, 6:01 a.m. CST
Some of the early parts of the movie are at least in the woods, but some of the later scenes.. well the Ardennes Forest sure looks a lot like southern california, guess it was a budget thing but even at an early age I thought It looked wrong..
Sept. 29, 2008, 6:16 a.m. CST
by Grammaton Cleric Binks
The Dirty Dozen, The Guns of Navarone, and The Devil's Brigade like this are all required viewing. Thanks Quint for pushing out another great review on a classic movie with little sleep. Get some rest now.
Sept. 29, 2008, 7:08 a.m. CST
Is this bit in it? During the Battle of the Bulge there was a French town occupied by the Americans under siege by the Nazi's. Well after like 3 days the Americans were completely out of supplies and the Nazi's sent a message to the commanding officer of the American troops. "We have you completely surrounded, escape is impossible, victory is unlikely. If you surrender you will be shown mercy." The American commander sent back a response. "Aw, nuts!" Apparently the German officer's response was "what the fuck does that even mean." Anyway the Americans were reinforced and they won. That story always makes me laugh.
Sept. 29, 2008, 8:14 a.m. CST
by Grammaton Cleric Binks
That was the US commander's response to the Germans. It could have been just "nuts." The Battle of the Bulge was the last German offensive of WWII. After that the allies kept rolling until Berlin was a smoking cinder.
Sept. 29, 2008, 9:27 a.m. CST
by Gungan Slayer
love watching it
Sept. 29, 2008, 10:09 a.m. CST
Goose-pimple inducing scene makes you want to sign right up and be a Nazi.
Sept. 29, 2008, 11:36 a.m. CST
The biggest oops was that in reality most of the battles took place during a cold, snowy winter along the forested border of France and Germany. The big tank battles in the movie took place on the broad sunny plains of Spain - totally wrong.
Sept. 29, 2008, 2:14 p.m. CST
First, a comment about what would have happened if the Germans won. NOTHING. What, are they going to take back all of France and Belgium and roll the Soviets back to the Urals? Forget it. Tactically, no matter how well they would have performed, they ccould have won a battle, but they were definitely going to lose the war, no matter what. As for the tanks, the more you know about WWII, the worse the battles look. Savalas' tank's gun gets knocked out and what does he say? "We can still ram them!" I know he's not supposed to be playing the most even-tempered guy, but that's just stupid. Shakatany's comments are dead on too - the plains of Spain subbing for the Ardennes forest? And Henry Fonda flying around in the fog turning off the engine to listen for tanks? And winning the BATTLE OF THE BULGE by rolling 55 gallon drums of diesel at a convoy of ersatz panzers and lighting them on fire? And then the German commander Shaw saying he knows he can't win the war but he will fight fight fight forever? The original reviews must've headlined "A Great Cast Squandered". Battleground tells the story in a far superior manner. Few tanks in that one, but a better use of time.
Sept. 29, 2008, 8 p.m. CST
1.Robert Shaw <p> 2.Panzer song
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