BATTLEGROUND (1949)


A 1949 film about the Battle of the Bulge. The first half is a real slog to get through with too cute characterizations, on the nose and up your nostrils direction and bland dialog. To give you an idea of the ambitions of the movie, it’s filled with either future TV stars (Jim Arness, Leon Ames and Herbert Anderson—Dennis the Menace’s pop) or second tier stars of studio films, the sort of actors you use only if you got stuck with them (Van Heflin, John Hodiak and Ricardo Montalban). At first I wondered how this movie got the reputation it did (or any reputation when it comes to that), much less the six Oscar nominations including best picture. However, about half way through, our intrepid heroes are trapped at some railroad tracks by the encroaching Germans. It’s snowing up a blizzard; they are completely cut off from reinforcements; and there’s a fog preventing supplies and planes from getting through. They’re starving; freezing to death; running out of ammunition; and their guns are freezing up. It’s at this point that everything comes together and you begin to realize what these soldiers went through and just how difficult this conflict was. Next comes a very striking scene where Heflin runs off intending to flee the battle, but through circumstance has to make a choice and instead becomes a hero. In fact, there’s a lot of this sort of thing, soldiers considering taking off or finding questionable ways to get sent back home. It’s a bit cynical for the period and one wonders if any of this could have been included if the film had been made four years earlier. When their commander James Whitmore (who got an Oscar nom for chewing a lot of tobacco) sees shadows and realizes this means that the fog has lifted, one feels the same elation the soldiers do, now that they know that backup is on its way and the victory could very well be theirs. The final scene of the remaining fighters, the few who made it through alive, proudly marching back to base camp, is truly moving. Both William A. Wellman who directed and write Robert Pirosh have both done better work, but it’s not a total loss.

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