World War II films are a dime a dozen, including on the list. So I began to wonder what made Samuel Fuller’s The Big Red One so special, special enough to be lauded to high heaven wherever I could find any info on it. Frankly, now that I’ve seen it, I’m a little amazed at all the praise that it’s gotten; not because it’s a bad film, but because there seem to be nothing all that special about it. Samuel Fuller made a career out of being a B movie director, and this film has all the signs and hallmarks that generally make up a B movie, only with an apparent A movie budget and production value.
The film has no real overarching plot or narrative line; it’s basically an episodic experience following the 1st Infantry Divison, nicknamed ‘The Big Red One’ after their shoulder insignia, as they fight various battles, both within and without, in WWII. It’s not really about the plot; it’s supposed to be about the characters which include a hard-boiled sergeant played with gusto by Lee Marvin and a sharpshooter afraid to actually kill another man played by a post-Star-Wars Mark Hamill (and I was surprised how easy it was to not see him as Luke Skywalker in this film). Well, I say “supposed to be”, because the characterization of the film, while still there in small doses, seems to take a backseat to… what, exactly? That might’ve been my main issue with The Big Red One; it seemed to have no focus, no reason for being, for existing, for being watched. It just was, and now that I’m in the final leg of my odyssey, having seen plenty of other war films before it, this needed to have something to make it worth seeing, and while it was an enjoyable picture, that is really all I can positively say about it.
This was apparently cut drastically upon its initial theatrical release; Fuller provided the producers with several cuts of the film, including a four-hour one, but all were rejected and the film was edited by the studio into the 113-minute theatrical cut that still managed to make it into the Book. From what I was able to gather, the longer cuts of the film, including a partial reconstruction of the longer version that was released in 2004, are mostly the same, but just more episodic. based on that assumption, for once I don’t think I’ll be seeking a more “definitive” cut of the film to see it proper. Unless the theatrical release went in a completely different direction from Fuller’s four-hour long intentions (which may very well be the case, seeing what I know about studios and their butchering of films in an attempt to make them more accessible), I think I’ve gotten what the film was trying to get across, and for me, what it got across was a whole big fat amount of nothing. Good casting, as well as acting, and you probably won’t be disappointed you spent a couple hours on this one, but neither should you really need to; there are better war films out there that accomplish more than what The Big Red One does, I’m sorry to say.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10