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Overall Rating
3.75

Awesome40%
Worth A Look: 22.5%
Average: 15%
Pretty Bad: 17.5%
Total Crap: 5%

3 reviews, 22 user ratings


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Big Red One, The
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by Chris Parry

"A 60's war film born two decades too late."
2 stars

Samuel Fuller was the damn man. A cigar-chomping wise ass who started out as the youngest crime reporter in New York City at age 17, then went on to write pulp fiction novels, serve in the US Army during WWII, ride the rails as a hobo, and then write, direct and produce dozens of inexpensive, largely independent movies over five decades. He was gruff, took no crap and had a million stories from his well-lived life that he was happy to share with anyone who'd listen. Heck, they even named a street after him in Finland. All of which is why I find it so difficult to tell you that this film stinks up the joint.

Less a story and more a collection of anecdotes, The Big Red One follows four soldiers (Mark Hamill, Robert Carradine, Bobby Di Cicco and Kelly Ward) and their hard-as-nails Sergeant (Lee Marvin) as they traipse around Europe and North Africa, offing Germans and trying not to get greased as their replacement soldiers eat it, one after another. And that's basically it.

Fuller's talent for gritty macho dialogue served him well in the 50's and 60's as he brought such films as The Steel Helmet and Park Row to the world, but when the 80's rolled around we'd all moved away from the John Wayne era of balls-out bravado. The Big Red One, Fuller's Hollywood comeback flick after having spent the 70's in European exile, is practically devoid of modern day filmmaking technique. With a Corman brother producing and Lorimar TV financing the project, Fuller's penchant for shortcuts is abundantly apparent. Stock footage abounds, and so too do poorly staged battle and fight scenes. Every gunshot is the same sound effect as the last, and every German tank can never be shown up close because... well... they're actually American tanks with German paintjobs.

Adding to the eye-rolling is Robert Carradine's character of Private Zab. An almost caricatured likeness of Fuller himself, it's not hard to see why this guy became famous as a 'nerd' within a few years of the production. If the cigar-chomping doesn't have you hitting fast forward, the silly dialogue most definitely will, and Lee Marvin's anonymous Sergeant takes these traits to a whole other level. When he shows an injured soldier his just severed testicle, throws it over his soldier and says "you won't miss it, that's why they give you two," you'll possibly wonder if you rented a Friday the 13th sequel by mistake.

There definitely are moments of importance and depth in The Big Red One, but it takes a little work to find them amongst all the whining of Mark Hamill (who knew he was the reason that Luke Sywalker was such a drag?), the ultra-cajones of Carradine and the rank silliness of Marvin. When looked at with the knowledge that Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter and A Bridge Too Far were already in the can when this was produced, its deficiencies become even more apparent. Why Fuller felt the urge to place every off-putting scene he could think of in the film (even a woman giving birth as soldiers use strings of bullets as stirrups and condoms as rubber gloves), one can only imagine.

I'm a big fan of Fuller's earlier work, but there's a reason he found it hard to get gigs in the US through the 70's; his pulp fiction style just didn't play anymore. Like the later work of Ray Harryhausen and Sam Peckinpah, Fuller's latter day writing and directing just doesn't stand up in the cold harsh light of modern times. Like the other two, he should be remembered as a true innovator, a man of distinction, and a soldier who marched to the beat of his own drum, but taking The Big Red One as an example of his importance to world cinema will most certainly not show you why.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=3793&reviewer=1
originally posted: 05/02/03 19:37:02
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Starz Denver Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Starz Denver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 New York Film Festival. For more in the 2004 New York Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Mill Valley Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Mill Valley Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Philadelphia Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

6/24/11 sinisa maricic stunned 5 stars
2/03/10 PAUL SHORTT BRILLIANTLY MADE, POWERFUL AND MOVING 5 stars
11/25/09 josie Cotton is a goddess Raw, gritty and real. 5 stars
3/30/08 Pamela White somber intimate war movie 5 stars
10/05/07 JT Lindroos Terrific, groundbreaking, with a wonderful performance by Lee Marvin. 5 stars
9/27/06 MP Bartley Cheap, but sprawling, diary-like war movie is impactful. Fuller lived it and it shows. 4 stars
12/12/05 gray How many (semi) ant-war movies are made by decorated vets? just this 1 + stones' work 5 stars
10/01/05 RK a different kind of war movie; nice to see Hamill playing another role 4 stars
8/30/05 Sid TV movie, low cost fantasy, riddled with inaccuracies. War movie for 10 year old boys. 1 stars
8/21/05 Steven Hacker This is a fantastice reconstruction that brings a disjointed movie together. 5 stars
7/25/05 R.W. Welch Semi classic WWII pic heavily influenced nearly all subsequent treatments. Required viewing 4 stars
3/26/05 JC Pierce Good movie 4 stars
2/17/05 Daveman There is a visceral immediacy here missing from more sentimental war films. 4 stars
5/14/04 Mikey P For it's time, a decent depiction of WWII combat 4 stars
4/10/04 IP Freeley Jask Somersby only like movies with gay anal action 4 stars
1/14/04 Barbara Sealy G R E A T!!!!! 5 stars
8/29/03 Bob Smith A great war movie underneath the creaky style. 5 stars
7/22/03 mastacow Wooden dialogue, cheap production values, predictable at every turn. 1 stars
5/03/03 y2mckay Cheap, dated, mostly tedious. Seemed a lot better when I was 14 than it does now. 2 stars
4/06/03 Jack Sommersby Far suprior WWII drama than the overrated "Saving Private Ryan". 4 stars
10/24/02 Charles Tatum Fantastic WWII drama 5 stars
1/21/00 James "Brew" McCauley Its not as fucked up as Private Ryan, but still a great movie. 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  18-Jul-1980 (PG)
  DVD: 03-May-2005

UK
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Australia
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