In Cross of Iron
Sam Peckinpah weighs in on World War II from the German point of view. The result is as bleak, if not quite as bloody, as one expects from the director of The Wild Bunch
, in part because this 1977 film was cut to ribbons by nervous studio executives. The assorted excerpts that remain don't constitute an exhilarating or even an especially thrilling battle epic. The war is grinding to a close, and veterans like James Coburn's Steiner are grimly aware that it's a lost cause. The battlefield is a death trap of sucking mud and barbed wire, and the German generals (viz., the martinet played by James Mason) seem to pose a bigger threat to the life and limbs of Steiner's men than the inexorable enemy. Not even Peckinpah's famous sensuous exuberance when shooting violence is much in evidence; the picture is a depressive, claustrophobically overcast experience. The bloody high (or low) point isn't a shooting; it's a wince-inducing de-penis-tration during oral sex. For a fun time with the men in (Nazi) uniform, try Das Boot
instead. --David Chute, Amazon.com
United Kingdom released, PAL/Region 2 DVD: LANGUAGES: English ( Mono ), WIDESCREEN (1.78:1), SPECIAL FEATURES: Interactive Menu, Scene Access, SYNOPSIS: Cross of Iron (1976) proves the extent to which human beings will go in order to destroy themselves. Set in 1943, with the German army facing destruction by the Russians, it focuses on a doomed platoon. And without sentiment, it shows us a set of complex relationships between officers and other ranks in which the instinct for war proves greater that the instinct for survival. Sam Peekinpah is a director who doesn't wrap the comforter of a liberal message round many of his films he made The Wild Bunch an in this battle-piece, photographed as a thunderous map of hell by John Coquillon, Peekinpah is in his element, 'In war, anything goes', is the message to the troops a message relayed in every sour grimace and belligerent gesture by the platoon's problem hero, played by James Coburn, who has a long list of medals and a longer record of insubordination and 'dumb insolence'. The colonel, played by James Mason, recognises his sort and the danger he represents for since he is good at war to satisfy, his enjoyment of it fuels the conflict. Also in the fox-hole is a Prussian officer, played by Maximilian Schell, who needs war to satisfy not so much his bent for destructiveness, but his lust for personal glory. While the enemy are raining down shells, these two are locked in a struggle of personal vindictiveness conduct that would be absurd, if they themselves were not part of a greater absurdity called war. As always with a director who seems hell-bent on having his characters' guts for raw film stock, Peekinpah, using his celebrated technique of slow-motion mayhem, delivers his gory-covered message with brutal effectiveness. If such men are necessary to fight wars, that's one more reason for not having wars.
...Cross of Iron (UK)