Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Big Red One

I watched the reconstructed version of this film, which added about 40 extra minutes on to it, though unlike some director's cuts none of the new scenes felt particularly out of place. This movie is not your typical war movie, sure there's explosions and gunfire and it's too chaotic to follow (intentionally) but this movie actually has a happy ending and a humorous tone throughout. That's not to say it isn't a serious war movie, it is, but none of the main characters die off while in every other war movie known to man everyone dies except for one or two whom you try to guess as the film goes on. Additionally many of the quotes in the movie are pretty silly and campy, though they're mixed in with the more apt mocking of officers and typical war jargon.

There is also quite a lot of action in this film, if it didn't have those extra 40 minutes (which I can only imagine included mostly non-action scenes) it could be construed as an action movie ultimately. Lee Marvin stabs close to 15 guys throughout the movie and uncountable Germans are shot or blown up by the squad. The horrors of war are still depicted quite well but "War is about surviving" as Samuel Fuller says at the end of this picture. This, of course, is the major twist of the film as well, somehow 4 guys keep living while replacements for the rest of the squad keep dying horribly.

This film tracks the titular Army's First division through North Africa, Italy, France, and Belgium, occasionally splitting to a particular German soldier in the same area who seems to be a typical Nazi and several other American officers. This adds a lot of environmental detail, and while the photography isn't all that great compared to Saving Private Ryan this film is still quite visually impressive and the eerie sound of tanks rolling down a rubble blasted street is still present. One major complaint on this front is that for the entire movie everyone has an M1 Garand which has a distinctive "ping" noise every time you reload but it is only heard once or twice throughout, saddening me greatly. The explosions do look pretty good though and rest assured, many things will be blown up, shot, stabbed, and Lee Marvin'd.

Another complaint about the film is that the Italians speak Italian, the French speak French, but the Germans speak English (save for one obviously extraneous scene) which is baffling to me. If a film is going to have historical context I feel it should maintain the actual spoken languages from whichever regions it takes place in, there's nothing wrong with reading a few subtitles (and it's not like the Germans have a huge role in the film speaking-wise). The mandatory holocaust sequence seems a tad historically inaccurate as well, the vast majority of the Concentration camps were on the Eastern front so the chances of this one squad blundering into one is minimal to say the least. (I'm pretty sure only one or two were even contacted by Non-Soviets)

Overall though the film is entertaining and unlike most other movies I did not see the end of this movie coming. Of course I sort of expected most of the squad to die by the end but apart from that the actual scene at the end ties into the film very well and is probably one of the best endings to a war film around. I would spoil it but I actually know of someone who intends to watch this 80's film at some point so I'll keep it quiet and just say it ends the same way it starts. Lee Marvin's performance eclipses Tom Hanks' role in Saving Private Ryan by a shitload.

Final Score: 8.5/10

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