Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Battle of the Bulge

Continuing with my war movie mini-marathon, I watched BATTLE OF THE BULGE, another star-studded extravaganza from 1965 that must have been inspired by the success of THE LONGEST DAY two years earlier. BATTLE OF THE BULGE is a much different sort of film in most ways, though.

One person who commented on my post about THE LONGEST DAY mentioned that BATTLE OF THE BULGE has a lot more fiction in it. That's certainly true. Other than following the barest outlines of history, almost everything about BATTLE OF THE BULGE is fictional, including all the characters. Most of the action follows the parallel stories of two men, an American intelligence officer played by Henry Fonda (who seems to be having a great time) and a German tank commander played by Robert Shaw, who also turns in a top-notch performance. Charles Bronson is on hand as an American major and is fun to watch, as always. James MacArthur, the original "Danno" from HAWAII FIVE-O, is a GI who escapes the Malmedy Massacre, which is one of the few historical events in the film that seems to be portrayed pretty accurately. Telly Savalas is an American tank commander who's also a scrounger, con-man, and black marketeer.

To get the rest of my complaints out of the way, the worst thing about this movie is that it looks completely wrong. It was filmed in Spain, which would have worked fine if it were standing in for North Africa, say, but looks nothing like the Ardennes, the real setting of the battle. That was really distracting. Also, the plotting stretches believability on a number of occasions, as the same half-dozen guys on both sides keep showing up every time something important happens. The special effects look okay at times but are surprisingly crude at others.

All that said, the acting is pretty good all around, and even though the story deviated wildly from history, I sort of got caught up in it anyway. The big climax, where a handful of GIs are trying to protect a vital fuel dump from the advancing German tanks, is actually pretty suspenseful. The filmmakers have already made up so much stuff, you can't really be sure what they're going to do next.

If there had just been some scantily-clad resistance babes involved, BATTLE OF THE BULGE would have reminded me of those over-the-top, "true" World War II yarns that were common in the men's adventure magazines during the Fifties and Sixties. As it is, I enjoyed it for what it was. If you're a war movie fan and haven't seen it, I think it's probably worth watching, just don't go into it expecting anything remotely accurate.


pattinase (abbott) said...

My Dad was there. Don't think I ever saw this one though.

Walker Martin said...

You are right about the lack of accuracy. This version is the Fantasy edition of battle of the Bulge. But Robert Shaw is great is a the Nazi tank commander. I love the scene where a teenage boy is captured after firing a shot at Shaw. The boy's father appears and begs for the kids life. Shaw thinks it over and says "Free the boy and shoot the father".

Spoken like a true Nazi villain!

Yvette said...

Again, my memory fails me. WWII movies were very popular while I was growing up.
I probably saw this one, but your review doesn't ring any bells.

I do find that lots of these 'star' studded war movies are almost impossible to take seriously today. Though this one doesn't appear to have as many 'stars' as THE LONGEST DAY and other war films of that era.

Charles Gramlich said...

I thought it was fun. Been a long time since I've seen it though.

Cap'n Bob said...

I remember seeing it the first time and griping that it had almost nothing to do with the real battle. If they'd called it The Battle of the Tanks it would have resonated better with me. Still, it had a good cast and some fine fight scenes, and that's about all I need from a war movie.

Unknown said...

No, for accuracy see the Tom Hanks-Steven Spielberg "Band of Brothers." It's one of those YouGottaSeeThisOnes.
Jay Rogers