The Big Red One (1980)
"The real glory of war is surviving. "The story of a sergeant and the inner core members of his unit as they try to serve in and survive World War II.
Groundbreaking war film, as misunderstood as the title.
Less than 5 years after the Vietnam War officially ended, Director and
acclaimed (but aged) film writer Sam Fuller attempted to recount the
experiences he encountered while serving as an infantry soldier in the
European Theatre of WW2. He had written many war scripts in his day, but
fully realized that the world would not be ready for the true story of
(He is quoted infamously as saying that a truly realistic war picture
involve live grenades and machine guns in the theatre). As his career
and the world changed, he decided to make a go of his life long pet
project... to make a film about the REAL story of WW2, about his own
experiences in the Big Red One, or The First Infantry Division.
Too ahead of it's time to be appreciated during it's birth, and too dated
to be appreciated in hindsight.
Some of the other user comments suggest this film is inferior to modern
films. Of course this film is not at the caliber of Saving Private Ryan or
Band of Brothers in it's war scenes. How could it? When it is of a time
closer to The Green Berets (John Wayne wins The Vietnam War) then to
anything that came after it. Infact I would go as far as to say that this
film broke the first ground, and made films like Platoon, Hamburger Hill,
and Full Metal Jacket socially acceptable, and paved the way for films
Saving Private Ryan. Sure, Apocalypse Now has better War scenes, but is so
fictional in it's scripting and "epic" war moments that it missed the
of the soldier on the front (and is widely regarded as being unrealistic
Vietnam Vets). The Big Red One tells the story from a WW2 Vet's point of
view, Sam Fuller, and is wonderfully acted by a WW2 vet, Lee Marvin.
the last film to have such credits.
Sure, The Big Red One is cheesy, and harkens to a time when war films were
more about the characters, then the violence. Still, there is something
charming about the scripting, and Lee Marvin holds the movie together,
being surrounded by actors who were trendy on the cheap for 1979. The film
also has technical inaccuracy, as in the Sherman tanks used as Panzers.
However, the real strength of the film is in the script, and not in the
battles. It breaks ground in it's defiance of films like the Sands of Iwa
Jima. The soldier is not a clean sterile fighter for the holiest do
goodynest army of all time, he is a human being locked in a battle for
survival, and most importantly, he hasn't lost his sense of humor, or his
Regardless of it's dated, almost 70's TV movie feel, I must mention that
this film was first to show D-Day in a light other than that cast by The
Longest Day, and uses some very clever cinematography to illustrate the
violence. Sam Fuller consciously decided to make the battles less violent,
and choose to focus on the characters instead, depicted the main
as cynical and the fallen as humorous tragically short lived figures. This
film also was first to introduce words like "replacement", "non-Coms" and
"Krouts" to the war movie dictionary. It has the entire bangalore scene
Saving Private Ryan (although merely a concept compared to SPR) and shows
North Africa, Italy, France, Germany, and a concentration camp. Before
film, WW2 was only depicted in such an epic manor that Bible films are
THE BOTTOM LINE: This film was one of the last war pictures to emerge from
the dying studio system, and is comparable in the way of battles to The
Green Berets, Longest Day, etc. However it shines in the script category.
and was first to show soldiers as young clumsy men, and not heroes. It
attempts almost too much and that is it's strongest limitation. Still, a
must see for war movie fans who can appreciate the older films.