on 4 December 2003
Right from the start, this film grabs you by the lapels and forces you to watch - the titles appear over stills of Hitler Youth errecting a Swastika flag, German soldiers suffering in the Russian winter, partisans being executed... all to the tune of a children's rhyme, interspersed with a military marching tune. An unrelenting artillary bombardment ensues, amidst the mud of Russia, where the Wehrmacht are being forced back. Steiner (Coburn) is the battle-weary veteran corporal, trying to keep himself and his squad of men alive, and at odds with his superior officers, particularly the newly-arrived Prussian aristocrat, Captain Stransky (Schell). The attention to detail will delight afficianados of the war - real T34 tanks, Germans preferring captured Russian weapons rather than their own - and the impending sense of doom as the story approaches it's bloody climax - well, this IS a Peckinpah film, after all!
on 28 June 2005
Sam Peckinpah's only war movie, and his interpretation of war itself. The body count in his movies were so high he hardly needed the excuse to commence death in a WWII epic. But we're all glad he did, praised by Orson Welles as "Greatest war film I ever saw". Coburn (who plays the part of Corporal Steiner) is a seasoned combat veteran, and is sick of war in the eastern front and of the arrogance of his commanding officer (played by Maximilian Schell) who can't see past his own need to win the coveted Iron Cross. A bittersweet drama portraying the true gritty realism of war along the eastern front (not unlike Das Boot). This is a typical Peckinpah movie: slow motion death sequences of enemies/allies being shot or blown to hell and scenes of sexual violence. Although I thought the ending was a little abrupt - Coburn and Schell taking on the might of the advancing Russian troops just as the movie comes to a close. All-in-all a fantastic war movie not just for Peckinpah fans but all movie lovers alike.
on 9 February 2013
Firstly ignore the Amazon.co.uk reviewer who appears to have been watching something else (Max Schell not James Mason played the Iron Cross seeking officer) and ends by telling us to go and watch something else,this film as already stated by others is one of the best. A classic right up there with the finest.
Cross of Iron is still, nearly 30 years later one of the great (anti) war movies. Its 1943 and the Germans are being overrun on the Russian front. Peckingpah's trademark slow motion is used to good effect in the battle scenes. Yes this being Peckinpah the battle scenes are very well done.
The cast give marvellous performances:
Maximilian Schell as Captain Stranszky perhaps steals the acting honours as a cowardly Prussian seeking the Iron Cross.
Coburn pushes him close as the officer hating Steiner.
In a supporting role an ageing James Mason gives a seemingly effortless demonstration of how doing very little can amount to a superb performance.
There are occasional lighter moments, but mostly this film is relentlessly grim. Even if you don't see their deaths, you know that all the characters will die.
Strangly though this is a film I want to watch again (and look forward to watching). This is because the main characters are so well drawn (and acted) and as I said above you don't see them all die.
In a typically perverse move Peckinpah ends the film on a moment of black comedy relating to Stranszky's incompetence; Steiner can't stop laughing. A great film.
on 18 December 2002
Given the scale and actual chain of events in World War 2 on the Eastern Front, it was fresh to finally see a movie shot from the German army's point of view. Peckinpah's bleak vision of a doomed army awaiting defeat and retribution at the hands of a wronged and now furiously powerful enemy come late 1943 has to be one of the finest (anti) war movies I have ever seen. It is interesting to see how cleverly Peckinpah uses in the opening sequence the rousing, patriotic but chilling montage of german nursery rhyme, Nazi propaganda, ( capturing the prevalent mood of the german nation at the time, that their army was invincible ) followed by combat newsreel showing the disaster for the sixth army at Stalingrad and then the hint of the onset of likely defeat for the Thousand Year Reich that at this stage is only ten years old. Peckinpah has clearly researched his subject well, and gives us a bitter taste of the horror, widespread brutality, and downright insanity that thoroughly characterized the nature of Germany's final blitzkrieg in Europe in the greatest racial conflict in all military history.
Central to the plot are the two main characters, the well-bred but combat inexperienced Prussian military aristocrat Stransky ( played well by Max Schell ) a fellow with an invincibilty complex still believing in the unassailable superioty of the german soldier. He represents what would have been a high percentage of the officer corp in the Wehrmacht throughout World War 2. He feels he cannot return to Germany without the Iron Cross, which he intends to get by fair means or foul.
Opposite him is the battle hardened anti-authority NCO Corporal Steiner ( played by James Coburn ) who has come to realise long ago that the campaign that decides the outcome of World War 2 for the axis powers is now doomed, and is resigned to final defeat, if not now, then in the future. His only remaining concern throughout the movie is to ensure that both he and all the remaining members of his platoon survive the war. His anger at the stupidity of continuing to fight for a doomed, flawed cause is directed primarily at the officer corp, for which Stransky makes a particularly good outlet, although as the film progresses, Steiner falls out with the one officer ( played by a thoroughly defeated and disinterested James Mason ) who quietly has similar views to him and has granted him unusual freedoms in the past.
In an interesting and probably coincidental reflection of german fortunes on the eastern front, the conflict between Steiner and Stransky closely mirrors the historical political wrangling between the Nazi party, German Army and their war production efforts that in many ways may have cost Germany the war.
The films' central themes of brutality, horror and the low price of human lives are supported by a plot revealing betrayal, cowardice, some humanity, but then revenge, murder and a determination to live in a film which reaches a nasty climax in which a fair majority of the characters in Steiner's platoon meet a grisly end when it seems they might just escape. The film, probably rightly, leaves you with a sense of regret, the bitter taste of defeat, but most importantly the notion that war is a senseless, amoral waste of young mens lives that nothing can justify.
Overall, the films set pieces are staged excellently with Peckinpah's trademark slow motion deaths littered throughout the movie, and with a combined German / English team behind the production, technical accuracy is generally superb throughout ( with one exception - although it is true to say that only a few hundred of the T34-85s had been delivered to the Red Army in late 1943, there is a scene where the Red Army commit an entire company of these new vehicles to overrun Steiner's battalion and force a rout from their entrenched positions, when in fact these were all employed to keep Germany's exhausted Panzer divisions on the back foot right up till the war's end. )
The film gets a 5/5, and is a must-see movie for anyone interested in World War 2 films with real grit.
on 9 October 2002
The Russian Front 1943. The German invasion of Russia has ground to a halt amidst a sea of mud and dead bodies. For the soldiers on the front line it's no longer a matter of winning or losing, it's a matter of survival. Enter Captain Stransky, a Prussian aristocrat, determined to find glory at any price. This puts him at odds with his platoon leader Steiner, a seasoned and disillusioned vereran, who only cares about keeping his men alive. But Stransky wants an Iron Cross and he doesn't care how he gets it.
Sam Peckinpah's only foray into the world of the war movie was at the helm of this Anglo-German production and marked a change in direction for the genre. Gone were the days of John Wayne singlehandedly beating the enemy in jingoistic, flag waving, bloodless films that no more represented the wars they claimed to portray than Peckinpah himself represented the Hollywood studio system. With Cross of Iron he painted a picture of the grim reality of war, the downbeat brutality, the bloody reality of men fighting face to face in a battle they can't possibly win. He uses age old themes of honour, betrayal and revenge and proves once and for all that he was the master of slow motion gory violence. In Peckinpah's war you died a long, drawn out, painful death. You died for nothing. In 1977 this must have been shocking for audiences to watch. Not only were they expected to sympathise with their traditional enemy, but the characters they had grown to know through the 2 hour running time were then blown to pieces in front of them in gloriously timestretched twisting agony. There's no single shot and you're dead in Peckinpah's vision of war.
Cross of Iron is a film that sets out it's agenda from the first frame and sticks to it relentlessly. It's filled with brutal imagery such as a rotten German corpse being ground into the mud by a constant procession of trucks driven by his former comrades, but there's also a tenderness as Sgt Steiner, world weary and philosophical, tries to cling to his own humanity whilst surrounded by the absurdity of the carnage of the front line.
Some would say that The Wild Bunch, or maybe Straw Dogs, are Peckinpah's best films, but for me it's always been Cross of Iron. His trademark theme of men at odds with the world they find themselves in was never shown as eloquently as it is here. It's an intelligently written, bloodsoaked tale that deserves to be more widely seen than it is. It's also a cypher for Peckinpah's own career, his 'war' with the Hollywood studios. Peckinpah is Steiner, older and unwilling to follow the rules laid down by his commanders, the studio execs, played by James Mason and David Warner, but because of the success he brings on the battlefield he's left to run things his own way. With the arrival of Stransky, a man who makes Steiner resent him from the outset by laying down a new set of rules - I'm in charge you do what I say - we can see a clear parallel with the latter days of Peckinpah's own career. The studios were trying to shorten his leash, to force him to make films their way, but like the conflict between Steiner and Stransky, Peckinpah wouldn't play ball. He couldn't play ball. He was too old and pigheaded to change even if he wanted to, and his films were all the better for it.
on 10 October 2015
THE BLU RAY.
Very good HD transfer, maintaining the original and fascinating dirt and grain, with a pretty good audio quailty and interesting extra, including a long abstract of Passion and Poetry, a german documentary on Peckimpah.
One of his best and least known. A brave and bitter tale of misery, courage and desperation from the "wrong" point of view: that of the german side.
You find his main topics like honor, rebellion toward authority, pervert fascination for violence and war and an even bigger sense of nihilism and lack of hope.
With a gigantic James Coburn (maybe at the levels of Leone's Duck you sucker!") and James Mason, subtle, mean and however fragile and passive/aggressive like he could only do like that.
Sam Peckinpah's only war movie, maybe a bit less bloody than one would expect, but kinetic and engaging all the same. It's an anti-war movie really, and its focus is what modern combat does to people, quite apart from issues of the politics that lead to wars in the first place. The soldiers here are German, retreating in 1943 from the ill-fated Russian campaign, and even at the level of the regimental command (Colonel Brandt [James Mason], in this case, and his disillusioned aide Kiesel, played by David Warner), survival with as few losses as possible is what's on their mind. This is very different from the situation in a movie like Stanley Kubrick's "Paths of Glory," set during World War 1, where the General Staff of the French forces, even though quite close to the front line trenches, act as though the civilized amenities of life still can be carried on. The dramatic conflict in "Cross of Iron" focuses more on the conflict between Captain Stransky (Maximilian Schell), a Prussian aristocrat whose sole reason for requesting a transfer to the Russian front is to get himself awarded an Iron Cross, and the highly competent Lance-Corporal Steiner (James Coburn), who immediately understands that Stransky is useless in active duty, even though he, Stransky, outranks him. Stransky needs Steiner's letter of recommendation for the honor, and Steiner isn't about to give it. (Stransky has managed to elicit one letter from another subordinate officer by blackmailing him with knowledge of his homosexuality). The animosity between Steiner and Stransky is quite complicated: it's partly a matter of social class, and partly a matter of professional judgement on Steiner's part, and it's partly moral disgust, for Stransky shows himself to be arbitrarily cruel for cruelty's sake, even though he's obviously scared stiff when the shells start falling. The texture of human interaction among Brandt, Kiesel, Stransky, and Steiner is consistently interesting, even if, finally, it isn't what the movie is about.
The movie is about what men are driven to in combat -- and the question of the extent to which their humanity or moral compass is compromised inevitably in such situations. Steiner and his troop are the men who are actually doing the fighting, and Steiner's main aim is to protect them as best he can in a retreat. That's a humane aim, but in order to succeed with it, even Steiner takes action that by any standards is ugly and morally compromised. But the movie doesn't make the characters talk about this -- it puts them in situations where they have to talk of what they're going to do in the next five or ten minutes, and it's up to us to react to the moral issues that their actions raise. The extended scene in which Steiner's troop gains control of a bridge guarded by Russian women soldiers manifests more moral complexity than most movies can manage (avoiding spoilers here!), and again, at the end, where Steiner comes to realize the full extent of Stransky's animosity, the audience has to wonder whether Steiner's own judgement has been warped by the stress of his experiences and whether he is or isn't really sane by that point.
There's no overt message, but the idea that war and something like insanity go together is as clear here as in, say, "Catch-22," where the connection is more explicitly developed. For this to be communicated without the discursive dimension of "Catch-22," the combat scenes have to somehow convey the insanity and confusion in visual terms, and I think Peckinpah succeeds brilliantly in doing this. The Russians advancing out of the mists, the difficulty, for the audience, in always being able to tell German from Russian, the great scene in which a Russian tank seems to be remorselessly pursuing Steiner's troop through the ruins of a factory, and even the details of the effects of shelling on the HQ posts where Brandt and Kiesel are trying to hold things together -- it's all superbly realized, with lots of local suspense to keep us engaged, even as we're horrified. This is late Peckinpah -- 1977 -- and apparently he was in a downward spiral in his life then, but he pulled this movie off brilliantly. I'm not sure I want to see it again, but I'll remember it!
on 13 October 2015
Version I saw: UK bluray release
Photography/visual style: 6/10
Sam Peckinpah was one of the most respected directors was one of the most respected American directors of his generation. He specialized in westerns such as The Wild Bunch (especially), and more generally went for adventure stories with a shade more subtlety than straight-up boys'-own swashbucklers.
Late on in his career, he took on an interesting task in Cross of Iron: a Second World War film told from the perspective of the German soldiers. In any such film, there are a couple of elephants in the room: Nazism and defeat. While Nazism can be covered, and indeed has been covered in the past, from other perspectives such as the Allied soldiers, or German civilians, this point of view has the unique colouring that we know they are destined to lose. If any happy ending is to happen for the main characters (and it may well not), it will be contrasted with the fate of their fellow soldiers.
In Cross of Iron, this is partly dealt with by isolating Sgt Steiner (James Coburn) and his squad behind enemy lines, and forcing them to make a daring trek through enemy territory. This cuts them off from the main pressures of the background, and allows the writers to bring them in on a controlled basis.
The main conflict, apart from against the Soviet army, is between Steiner and Capt. Stransky (Maximilian Schell), a political commissar of sorts who, while he claims not to be a Nazi party member, enforces their ideology over Steiner's seemingly more noble practical approach. The main underlying thrust of the film is an anti-war message, that those at the top do not understand the brutality of the front line, and so resort to armed conflict entirely too frivolously.
When it comes down to it, though, the film is mainly a straight adventure, with very limited subtlety. The 'subtext' is even transformed into a supertext when it is spoken directly by Steiner: "I hate officers." It seems that, by his third-to-last film, Peckinpah had perfected his formula, enabling him to produce a strong, exciting adventure film with a bit of depth, without straying far from his comfort zone. However, he had also become somewhat set in his ways. There is a great deal of narrative and thematic potential in the central idea, I think, but Peckinpah had lost some of the flexibility to explore it.
For my full review, see my independent film blog on Blogspot, Cinema Inferno: http://cinemainferno-blog.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/cross-of-iron-1977.html
on 19 November 2002
An utterly astoundng film with a first-class cast. The recently deceased James Coburn plays Steiner, an ambitious corporal/sergeant who cares more about his men than the pointless job in hand. However, he also has to deal with his lazy superiors headed by Captain Stransky (a perfect performance by Maximilian Schell) and Colonel Brandt (James Mason in an equally perfect role).
Stransky desperately coverts the Iron Cross medal of the title and will stop at nothing to achieve it, no matter how many of his men are killed. This film takes you deep into the minds of the German soldiers and explores their emotions in depth. From the love Steiner has for his men, to the intense bitterness of Stransky, this is a never-to-be-forgotten classic.
No war film would be complete without some action scenes, and Cross of Iron certainly isn't short of those. The first big battle is painfully reminiscent of trench warfare and the other battles are top-notch as well.
It would be great if this film was re-released, as a tribute to Coburn, who I'm really going to miss.
All in all, as I was searching for this movie for ages and I finally found it, I am ecstatic to add this to my ever-growing video collection. It should definetley be in yours as well.