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Overall Rating

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 dionwr

"Some deleted scenes should remain on the cutting room floor"
3 stars

Fifty minutes longer but not one bit better for it, the "Restored" cut of Sam Fuller's "The Big Red One" is currently playing at various repertory cinemas. If you like the film, you should buy the unrestored cut of the film, quickly, before it is superseded by the special edition DVD that is sure to come. In this case, shorter is better.

"The Big Red One" (in its unrestored, briefer version) was an okay meditation on Fuller's own experiences in WWII, with a particularly ruthless attitude to battle and bloodshed that was a pretty obvious influence on Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan." It was anecdotal and low-key, so it didn't make a big impression when it was initially released, and it doesn't make a big impression now.

It was the swan song of B-movie writer/director Sam Fuller, who had been renowned for efficient, tightly wound thrillers and war movies. His films could be preposterous, but they were usually vigorous and vital as well. For some reason, he decided to make a war movie of his reminiscences that has almost no narrative momentum at all, as if the lack of any real story would somehow make his movie more pure, more real. Instead, it just made it, mostly, forgettable.

Some critics argue that this is more honest than more dramatic war films, as war itself is a pointless progression of incident, one damn thing following another with no real point. That may be so, but it does diminish the emotional impact considerably. And isn't the point of art to try and show the underpinnings of meaning that we don't notice while we are living our lives?

And yet many of the scenes here stick with you, because of vivid details that were obviously taken from life. Much has been made of these details, like cutting back to the wristwatch on a severed arm rolling in the surf off of Omaha Beach, to show the passing of time as the surf turns red with blood, and the soldier who steps on a bouncing landmine designed to castrate him, with the Sergeant's matter-of-fact reaction at finding one of his testicles, "Don't worry, Smitty, that's why they gave you two."

Lee Marvin superbly non-acts as the Sergeant, in a way appropriate to the film. He doesn't play the part, he just reacts to events and lets the camera observe. His sheer presence and lined face give you a sense of the Sergeant that undercuts any amount of dramatic emoting he might have done. One of the things you remember from the film is his weary, seen-it-all detachment.

Of the four continually surviving privates of the squad, only Mark Hamill and Robert Carradine make any impression. Carradine plays his role flamboyantly, as a caricature portrait of Fuller himself, and Hamill is quite good as a soldier who is worried he's a coward because he's uneasy about killing the enemy. Another memorable moment comes near the end, when Hamill cracks up, and overcomes his former squeamishness.

As to the restored footage, it was long a dream of Fuller that he might get a chance to bring the film out closer to his original cut, which was 270 minutes long. When originally released, it was cut to 113 minutes. The critic, Richard Schickel, was able to find a lot of the cut footage, and, working with Fuller's shooting script, has brought it up to 158 minutes. Unfortunately, there is only a single extension of a scene that is worth the time spent watching it.

The stuff that's been brought back are in three basic categories.

The biggest inclusions are a series of scenes of a sergeant in the German army, Schroeder, played by Siegfried Rauch. Schroeder is seen fighting in the same battles as Marvin's characters, getting wounded at the same time, relaxing at the same time. However, the device seems transparent and never really pays off. If Fuller meant to show that the German sergeant is just like the American one, it is drastically undercut by having the German be a cold-blooded Nazi who kills his own subordinates when they aren't sufficiently committed to the cause. The evilness of the Nazis is established much better by the squad's discovery of a concentration camp near the end of the film. In contrast, Schroeder comes off as a cliched movie villain, boring and unmoving.

The second category of restored footage are scenes which had been completely excised, none of which matter. In one of them, the private played by Mark Hamill gets laid with a French resistance fighter. In another, a sniper that is captured turns out to be a very young Hitler Youth, and the Sergeant ends up giving him a spanking. That last sounds like a good idea for a scene, but it was cut for a good reason: it doesn't play. You see where it's going way before it gets there, and it seems fake.

Finally, the third category of restored footage represents incidents and scenes that went too far for the standards of 1980, when the film was made. For example, there's a scene in a hospital in Tunis where a homosexual orderly hits on and feels up Lee Marvin which would have been shocking for the time. Now it plays like the scene where the kid sniper gets spanked, a good idea with no payoff.

But there was one extension that was worthwhile. The famous Smitty scene, with the kid castrated by the landmine, was played entirely for humor in the earlier cut. It was only a third the length of the restored version, and cut from Smitty's horror at the Sergeant's offhand comment, "Don't worry. They're not meant to kill you--only castrate you," to more horror at the Sergeant genially pointing out the testicle that's been blown off, "Hey! There it is!" and the punchline, "Don't worry, Smitty, that's why they gave you two." It's quick and brutal and funny.

But in the restored version, the point of the scene is the boy's horror. The camera concentrates on Smitty's face, and an otherwise unknown actor, Howard Delman, (this is his sole credit in the IMDB) makes you feel for him as he slowly, very slowly, forces his hand down to find out what he has left. The scene works all the better at going from the humor to the serious undercurrent.

"The Big Red One" is definitely worth seeing, if only for its first-person view of World War II. But it remains an oddly, and uncharacteristically, restrained work from a famously flamboyant filmmaker.

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originally posted: 12/28/04 17:23:07
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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
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
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  18-Jul-1980 (PG)
  DVD: 03-May-2005



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