Apart from a single showing on ITV (with usual cuts)this film has been hidden away for far far too long. It focuses on the experiences of a platoon of the US 101st division during the winter siege of Bastogne in 1944. The film vividly brings to life the confusion, boredom and discomfort interspersed with moments of sheer terror and tragedy which characterised the siege. Unlike many of the US war films of this period, there are no heroics, no villains and the ending is down beat and enigmatic.
The film opens with two new arrivals joining a group of cheerful veterans planning their next leave in Paris. It's Christmas Eve, the war is almost over and the worst behind them. Suddenly orders come and they are moved abruptly to an unknown destination for reasons that they are never given. Finally they are trapped in a situation that becomes more desperate as the weather worsens, supplies run low and the besieger's grip on the city tightens. What the wider strategic context is, they and the viewers only come to understand bit by bit as the film progresses and their world narrows down to become the platoon and whatever part of the shattered city and countryside they find to shelter in. Moved like pieces on a chess board which they barely comprehend, they don't even know in what country they are fighting until the end. The final scene shows the small group of ragged, dirty and wounded survivors marching painfully in step along the road which will take them out of the ruins of Bastogne and on, to where and to what the fim doesn't say.
I don't know how well the film did when it was first released, but I suspect that it fared badly alongside the more gung-ho examples of the genre that were being produced at the same time (Sands of Iwo Jima for example). Paradoxically,it is more in tune with todays attitudes - which may be why Warner has chosen to re-release it on DVD.