Battle of the Bulge (1965) – A Movie Review

This movie purports to be a dramatic portrayal of the pivotal WW II battle of the same name.  But the liberties that have been taken with respect to plot and characters make it almost unrecognizable when compared with the historical event.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

The beginning of the movie interweaves scenes from the American perspective and the German view.  We start out meeting Lt. Col. Daniel Kiley, played by Henry Fonda.  He is an American Army intelligence officer stationed on the supposedly quiet section of the front line near the Ardennes Forest.  But he suspects that the Germans are planning an offensive in the area.  He makes a surveillance flight in a small aircraft over the forest and manages to get photos of hidden German tanks and also a high-ranking German officer arriving at the German headquarters in the area.  He passes this intelligence to his superiors, Gen. Grey, played by Robert Ryan and Col. Pritchard, played by Dana Andrews at their headquarters in the town of Ambleve.  Pritchard rejects Kiley’s suspicions about a German offensive while General Grey demands more proof.

Next, we meet the German officer that Kiley photographed.  It is Col. Martin Hessler, played by Robert Shaw with an outrageously over the top German accent, who is being given command of a large force of Tiger II tanks with the goal of breaking through the American lines and capturing Antwerp thus crippling the Allied offensive in Europe.  The Germans are sending out a party of their soldiers who have lived in the United States dressed as American GI’s. They will sabotage communication lines and road signs and try to hold the bridge over the Our river to allow the Tiger Tanks to advance.

Kiley manages to get some intelligence on the tank attack back to HQ just as the attack begins.  We see the Tiger tanks destroy the American tanks while sustaining almost no damage from direct hits.  And we are shown the Germans machine gunning large numbers of American prisoners.  But one other thing that Kiley learns during his surveillance of the German advance is that they are gravely short of fuel for their tanks.  They have only enough fuel to reach a large American fuel depot that is along the route to Antwerp.  Even taking a few extra hours to destroy the town of Ambleve where the American HQ is located is sorely argued against by Hessler’s commanding officer General Kohler.

When General Grey receives this intelligence about the fuel, he decides on a plan to attack the tank force with his tanks before the Germans can reach the fuel depot.  He wants to use the attack to delay the tanks long enough for them to run out of fuel.  When Hessler realizes the delay tactic he heads for the depot with a force of his tanks to obtain the fuel.  But the Americans at the depot spill thousands of gallons of fuel and set fire to it just as Hessler’s tanks arrive.  Hessler’s tanks are engulfed in flames and he dies when his tank explodes.  Without fuel the rest of Hessler’s force have to abandon their tanks and the last scene shows a long line of men walking back to Germany.

I’ve left out a lot of details.  This movie is three hours long!  Charles Bronson plays an American major who fights a rearguard action against the Germans until he is captured at Ambleve.  Telly Savalas is an American sergeant tank crewman who also runs a black-market store in booze, stockings and chicken eggs out of his girl friend’s apartment.  Savalas ends up finally saving the day when he machine-guns the disguised Germans who have taken control of the fuel depot at the end of the movie.

My thoughts on this movie are mixed.  Some of the action is interesting to watch.  Shaw as Hessler gives a compelling performance.  I enjoy his style.  Other than Shaw a lot of the acting is competent but not memorable.  The tank footage looks pretty good.  But the thing that I hold against this movie is that it misrepresents the events of a very important battle for which the details are very well known.  There was no race to get to a fuel depot in the actual battle.  The movie doesn’t show the fact that the battle took place during an horrendous frigid snow storm where the weather was as awful as the fighting.  The real battle was fought hand to hand in towns, forests and trenches.  If you are interested in what it really was like watch the episodes in “Band of Brothers” that chronicles the Battle of Bastogne.  So, my recommendation is unless you really like war movies and don’t care about accuracy don’t watch this movie.

The Dirty Dozen (1967) – A Movie Review

The Dirty Dozen is a fictional story about a clandestine American military mission during WW II.  Disgraced Army Major John Reisman, played by Lee Marvin, is ordered by Gen. Sam Worden (Ernest Borgnine) to select twelve court martialed Americans whose sentences vary from 20 years at hard labor up to hanging and train them up for a mission behind enemy lines in Nazi occupied France.  If they survive and complete the mission honorably their sentences may be commuted.  If not, they will be returned to serve their sentences.

The beginning of the movie is our introduction to the prisoners.  Each man has an aversion to authority, several are hardened killers and one man (Archer Maggott played by Telly Savalas) is a delusional psychotic.  The most sympathetic characters are played by Charles Bronson, Jim Brown and Clint Walker.  Each has been convicted of murder but in each case, extenuating circumstances have been ignored by the military court that decided the case.  Probably the least sympathetic convict (other than Maggott) is V. R. Franko played by John Cassavetes.  He is a Chicago gangster who murdered a British civilian for less than ten dollars-worth of money.  But he is also the everyman of the outfit whose defiance of authority becomes the rallying point for the prisoners to gel into a functional team.

The movie progresses from the team being trained by Reisman, then to a confrontation with a hostile base commander, Col. Everett Dasher Breed, played by Robert Ryan, then to a test of their competence in a War Game against Breed’s elite troop and finally to their mission.

This mission is a night time parachute drop into occupied France where the team will infiltrate a château where the German High Command are assembled and kill as many of the high-ranking officers as possible in the hope that it will disrupt the command and control of the Nazi military response to D-Day which is scheduled the morning after the raid.

The action goes according to their very detailed plan until Maggott finds himself in a room with a young German woman and proceeds to sadistically murder her before running amok with his machine gun thus prematurely alerting the Germans to their peril.  The climax of the attack is James Brown tossing a series of grenades into the gasoline soaked and explosives filled ventilation lines for the bomb shelter where the Germans have taken cover.  The whole château goes up in pyrotechnic splendor and only Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson and one supporting cast member live to return home from the mission.

The full list of the actors who played the twelve prisoners is John Cassavetes, Tom Busby, Jim Brown, Donald Sutherland, Ben Carruthers, Clint Walker, Charles Bronson, Colin Maitland, Stuart Cooper, Al Mancini, Trini Lopez and Telly Savalas.

As absurd as this whole mission sounds, and it is absurd, the movie, especially the mission in France, is exciting, interesting and very well done.  Telly Savalas is a little over the top in his psycho characterization but he sells it well and it isn’t hard to see it coming.

Bronson and Marvin impersonating German officers in the château is fun to watch and the amount of gun play and other diverting activities is sure to keep a male audience’s attention.  I highly recommend this movie for its entertainment value.  It isn’t an actual war movie.  It’s more of a caper movie but a very exciting one.

The Professionals – A Movie Review

Here’s a western made in 1966 that reflected the later anti-hero story line that Clint Eastwood mined so successfully in his spaghetti westerns.  The big names are Burt Lancaster and Lee Marvin.  They are former mercenaries who have ridden with Pancho Villa but now are selling their services to a Texan (played by Ralph Bellamy) whose wife has been kidnapped by an old bandit ally of theirs.  This bandit, Jesus Raza, played by Jack Palance is over the border in Mexico with a small army of followers in a heavily defended camp.  Marvin adds two more men to his crew with Robert Ryan and Woody Strode.  Together they devise a scheme to disrupt the camp, rescue the woman and outwit and outfight Raza’s army.  Claudia Cardinale plays the kidnapped wife and in addition to being a capable actress she shows why she is remembered as one of the most attractive actresses of her time.  She is a fine-looking babe.

The script is tight and the dialog is apt with each of the main characters given the words that fit the part.  Marvin is the cool efficient tactician and leader.  Lancaster is the fearless daredevil who lightheartedly plunks dynamite at his enemies while firing off jokes and insults at everyone around him.  Ryan and Strode ably fulfill their parts but with less dialog.  And at the end of the main action Lancaster and Palance get to discuss life and love as they prepare for their strange duel.

The plot has a surprising twist and plenty of action and is in my opinion, one of the better westerns from its era.  Marvin and Lancaster have good chemistry and have been placed in a production that uses their particular talents to excellent effect.  If you’re a fan of the western genre this movie delivers the goods.  Highly recommended.