A Movie A Day: Quint joins the BATTLE OF THE BULGE (1965) Maps. Clocks. Toys. But with what will I fight?
Published at: Sept. 29, 2008, 5:31 a.m. CST by quint
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.