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Fullers masterpiece restored to it,s full gory glory
on 8 June 2005
This film originally premiered at Cannes in 1980. Unfortunately the producers, fearful it would seem of bringing down another "Heavens Gate" on the film industry, had eviscerated director Sam Fuller's original lengthy cut to less than two hours. This rendered the film so incomprehensible that it needed a voice over, a la "Bladerunner", to bridge the gaps where the original footage was missing so it made some sort of vague sense to the audience. The producers had deemed also that Fullers film was too violent. Imagine a war film too violent. It's a bit like complaining about a comedy because it's too funny.
Last year Cannes was treated to this restored version of Fullers bloody visceral masterpiece and it went down a storm. At last this film was seen as Fuller originally intended it, eight years after his death? Restored with original material by a team headed by film critic Richard Schikel, who provides a typically dry but informative commentary, this is a film with the resolute stamp of empirical authority. Fuller had fought inWW2, taking part in the Omaha beach landings and his minds eye view of proceedings lends the film a veracity few films can match.
The main characters are all part of the First Infantry, the "Big Red One", so called because of the red ribbons they wore on their shoulders. Ex Marine Lee Marvin in his last great role plays the gruff Sergeant along with Privates Griff, Zab, Vinci and Johnson. Griff is played by Mark Hamill at the peak of his "Star Wars" fame, and we see him morph from a reticent soldier to a diffident pitiless killer. We follow them from the Omaha beach landing right through to the liberation of a Nazi death camp and the film is essentially a series of intense brutal action sequences interspersed with periods of quiet refection, ennui and the cold dread of impending death. There is a grim humour in the script- you'll probably laugh as one unfortunate soldier gets a testicle shot off- but there are also flashes of poetry and one or twice it is quite moving though not in the sly knowing way that a Spielberg or Stone can be.
Films about war are now being made by people who have either learnt about them second hand or are referencing other war movies and while The Big red one doesn't have anything quite as viscerally shocking as that famous opening sequence from "Saving Private Ryan" but unlike that slightly preposterous bravura jingoistic film it has genuine stamp of authority and a sense of almost documentary realism. As the slogan at the films beginning says: "This is factual life based on actual death"