Big Red One, The (1980)

Big Red One, The (1980)

“We don’t murder; we kill.”

A veteran sergeant (Lee Marvin) leads four soldiers (Robert Carradine, Mark Hamill, Bobbi Di Ciccio, and Kelly Ward) through the European theatre of World War Two, while death and chaos surround them.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Lee Marvin Films
  • Sam Fuller Films
  • Soldiers
  • Survival
  • World War II

Response to Peary’s Review:
As noted by Peary and many other reviewers, the salient theme of Sam Fuller’s dream film — a “hard-hitting yet extremely poetic, impressionistic recollection of his WWII experiences” — seems to be that “surviving is the only glory in war”. More a series of nightmarish moments than a coherent story, “Fuller’s most expensive and ambitious film has epic proportions, taking place in countless locations… and covering many battles” while downplaying “spectacle and battlefield heroics”. The movie’s many “memorable, moving scenes” include a Belgian woman giving birth on the floor of a tank:

… and “Marvin with the little boy from the concentration camp.”

Fuller emphasizes the “surreal aspects of war, from bizarre images and nightmarish situations to soldiers carrying on everyday conversations although their friends have just died in battle or they themselves may die a moment later.” He argues that “if you were disappointed when you first saw” this flick, “give it another try — it really improves the second time around.”

Redeeming Qualities:

  • Lee Marvin as The Sergeant
  • An intimate look at infantry survival and camaraderie during wartime
  • Beautiful cinematography
  • Fine location shooting

Must See?
Yes. While not quite the masterpiece Fuller intended, this is still indispensable viewing for any film fanatic.


  • Important Director

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)


2 thoughts on “Big Red One, The (1980)

  1. First viewing (of the reconstructed version). A once-must – it’s among Fuller’s best work and it’s a damn fine war picture.

    I’d seen the cut version many years ago – and I recall liking it…and feeling it lacked something. Turns out it lacked another 40 minutes. Seeing it all-of-a-piece really makes a difference.

    What I like most is the look and feel in terms of authenticity. Nothing here seems much like a Hollywood take on a war story – it just feels natural. There’s an air of urgency, even in what might be seen as some of the more mundane sequences. It’s all episodic but nothing feels out-of-place or tacked-on.

    Throughout, the film is bolstered considerably by way of the score by Dana Kaproff and the remarkable work by DP Adam Greenberg and editors Bryan McKenzie and Morton Tubor.

    Lee Marvin turns in a very solid performance as the sergeant. His supporting cast may not be the very best of young male actors but Fuller gets what he needed from them; they generally have the believable quality that’s called for, if nothing else.

  2. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

    An excellent WWII combat picture that balances characterisation and action well. the more recent director’s cut is also an improvement.

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