“Everything in the army is simple: you live or you die.”
During an Allied invasion of Italy during World War II, a sergeant (Dana Andrews) takes charge of his platoon when his original commander is severely wounded, and the next sergeant in command (Herbert Rudley) cracks up from the pressure. Will Andrews and his crew — including an outspoken New Yorker (Richard Conte), a bold sergeant (Lloyd Bridges), and an introspective private (John Ireland) — be able to limit their own fatalities while storming a German-occupied farmhouse and blowing up a nearby bridge?
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Dana Andrews Films
- John Ireland Films
- Lewis Milestone Films
- Lloyd Bridges Films
- Richard Conte Films
- World War II
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “solid war film” — “directed by Lewis Milestone, 15 years after his anti-war classic All Quiet on the Western Front” — is “a rare WWII film in which our men have second thoughts about being soldiers”; he points out that “the terrifying finale” (we really don’t know what will happen) “confirms that fighting isn’t fun for Americans in WWII, just necessary.” Indeed, the thematic connections between this and All Quiet… are relatively strong, given that we’re once again relentlessly shown the horrors of war, albeit interwoven with entertaining dialogue between the men (much was taken from the source novel by Harry Brown). It’s refreshing to see how the soldiers may give each other plenty of grief, but are there for one another in the most important ways: volunteering for dangerous tasks; accepting the mental breakdown of their leader without judgment; and sticking with their platoon throughout the horrors they endure. Peary notes that the film — featuring fine cinematography by Russell Harlan — is “visually interesting because the men” (there are no women in the cast) “are shown in relationship to the flat landscape and wide sky, which at times is blocked out by smoke from exploded bombs and gunfire”, and “Milestone often pans effectively over the hostile terrain” (enemies’ faces are never shown). The performances across the board are solid, with Andrews and Conte stand-out leads, Ireland memorable in his debut role, and Bridges instantly earning our respect during a critical scene. This one remains must-see viewing.
Note: Andrews and Conte co-starred in Milestone’s controversial WWII film from the previous year, The Purple Heart (1944), which is worth a look but with caution (as outlined in my review).
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Fine performances by the all-male cast
- Russell Harlan’s cinematography
- Robert Rossen’s script (based on Harry Brown’s novel)
Yes, as a still-powerful film about WWII. Selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2016.