johnlink ranks CROSS OF IRON (1977)

Any frequenters of Johnston’s Rhode Island Alehouse (or any number of bars in the Rhode Island) knows Oilman Jim. Well, I can honestly say that I would never be reviewing this film if it weren’t for him. I would say that Jim is they guy I talk the most movies with, besides my wife, John R., and my projectionist Brad. Jim insisted I watched this thing, saying it was among his favorite war flicks. He even brought the DVD in for me to borrow. Who was I to say no to that? I was pleased to discover it was a Sam Peckinpah film. Peckinpah is a director I am not familiar enough with, so I was curious to see what this had in store.

I watched CROSS IF IRON (1977) on 5.9.11. It was my first viewing of the film. TRAILER HERE

This is a WWII flick. A British made film which puts German soldiers as our heroes, and Soviet Russia as the faceless enemy. The conflict, however, is less between the Germans and the Russians (who we barely see unless they are women or children), and more between the Germans and themselves. James Coburn gives an amazing performance as Steiner, a Sergent who does things his way. A Prussian Captain (another great performance, this one by Maximilian Schell) enters the fray wanting only to earn (or cheat to earn) an Iron Cross to bring back to his aristocratic family. The thrust of the second half of the film comes from Coburn refusing to lie to get Schell his Iron Cross and the fallout which ensues.

Shot by Peckinpah, this is truly an anti-war movie. Violence is random and unnecessary. Soldiers don’t know why they fight, or who they fight for. They fight each other, they fight enemies, they fight women and children. A German Colonel  (James Mason… another strong role) tells his charge that he is sending him off the front lines because Germany, if it allowed to exist, will need good people. Artists, builders, scientists. And this German Captain he is sending back (played by TRON’s Master Control Program, David Warner), must be the one to unite these great men. This conversation is intercut with soldiers being shot in slow motion, and falling to their death with ballet-like grace.

This film isn’t afraid to show Freudian dream like sequences, using a concussion suffered by Coburn as a device to allow this film to look like a French New Wave flick for ten minutes. And that is no insult. This is a war film shot unlike any war film I have ever seen. The blood is there, the violence and terror are there. But there is, at times, a delicacy which runs in direct contradiction to the brutality.

The role of sexuality in film was never a focus of my film studies, but if I were teaching a class on it, this film would be earn a week. Homosexuality seems to be seen as an evil, until you realize that the only one who regards it as such is the villain. Yet the villain’s underling allows himself to be manipulated, to do the villain’s dirty work, because he doesn’t have strong enough character to stand up to what is right. A man kisses another who is going crazy to calm him, and the mood of the scene changes, but not necessarily for the worst. Later, the platoon stumbles across a group of armed Russian women, in full uniform. Coburn tries to calm the men, but a rape occurs. However, this doesn’t occur until one of the women attempts to seduce one of the men, to distract him. This is not simple cause-and-effect or good-and-evil stuff here, this is real thematic complexity. And frankly, it’s refreshing to watch something which makes you really think after a month of ZORRO and 17 AGAIN and SCREAM 4. Not that, as has been chronicled in these pages plenty, I have anything wrong with entertainment for its own sake. But CROSS OF IRON is a return to  he type of film which made me want to learn about film.

Is it dazzling and fun? No. There is certainly some humor, but this isn’t on par with SAVING PRIVATE RYAN in terms of its slam-bang pace. But I highly recommend this flick. Very well done. When we used to do movie night, back when it started, this was the sort of film Paul would bring. We were watching old classics which many of us had not seen. I think next time we get the crew together, I am going to have to bring this one out!





~ by johnlink00 on May 9, 2011.

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