Battle of the Bulge Reviews
Even in concept, this film's intrigue is limited, because, even more so than such films of its type as, say, the particularly weighty "A Bridge Too Far", the dramatic value of this warfare is underplayed for the sake of, of all things, extensive military talk and strategizing, thus, when the action comes into play, its sense of momentum and consequence is shaken from the get-go, let alone after a while. Natural shortcomings are certainly there in war "epics" of this type, but there's always been that common misstep of dragging plotting's feet, and sure enough, running but a hair over two hours and three quarters, this film runs into that exact same issue, dragging repetitious ramblings and action in order to achieve a sprawling runtime with an aimlessness that is exacerbated by some somber dull spells in atmospheric storytelling. If the bloating doesn't merely bore, then it at least convolutes storytelling something fierce, as this narrative, despite being so draggy, still features branch, upon branch, upon branch as an ensemble piece which fails to keep consistent with its layered focus, partly because it barely puts all that much effort in fleshing out the characters and their side of the story as distinguished. Yes, as if the underplaying of dramatic resonance isn't distancing enough in concept, this film's storytelling doesn't have much in the way of heart, and although it compensates about as much as it can with charismatic performances and often pretty solid entertainment value, if not the occasional dramatic highlight, the retardation of dramatic momentum secures the final product's blandness. Considering that the strengths are all but substantial, I'd be a little more willing to look through the natural shortcomings, dragging, unevenness and dramatic underdevelopment if the film didn't commit the great lazy sin of falling into conventions, doing little to change up its formula, and making matter all the worse with clichés to dialogue, if not what characterization there is. I find that there is plenty to praise here, and it's almost as though the film gets a little better the more you get used to it, but you have a lot to get used to here, perhaps too much, to where the final product unfortunately falls as yet another extensive realist war drama that could have gone far, but doesn't even reward. With that said, the film comes close enough to endear plenty and often genuinely compel, just not as much as it perhaps could have.
Aiming to take a great deal of historical liberties, this film's story concept has the potential to manufacture a meaty dramatic narrative that is ultimately toned down for the sake of military mumbo-jumbo and action of limited resonance, but as an extensive study on the plotting and execution of a major battle, from many various angles, this idea is still thoroughly intriguing and promising, with an interpretation that is itself both sloppy and intriguing. To be so immense, a scripting team consisting of Bernard Gordon, John Melson, Milton Sperling and Philip Yordan doesn't do much to flesh out its narrative, - despite much fat around the edges - or avoid conventions, but it has its colorful highlights, whether it be in snappy, if cliched dialogue, or in some subtly memorable set pieces, neither of which quite as consistently colorful as certain other aspects, aesthetic ones. Benjamin Frankel's score is also conventional, and it's not even played with all that frequently in this often subdued pseudo-epic, but when it is utilized, its grand sweep compliments a sense of scope that is truly captured by art direction by Eugene Lourie that designs military property and scorching warzones surprisingly convincingly, and unsurprisingly grandly. Artistic and technical value stand pretty firm as important factors in the final product's entertainment value, which is truly defined by how director Ken Annakin orchestrates this style in the context of substance, so, despite being either too stylized or too dry, Annakin hits more than a few realized moments in immersive storytelling which entertain adequately, sometimes even grip thoroughly, especially during the heat of battle. With technical proficiency, a biting atmosphere and often remarkably immersive cinematography by Jack Hildyard, all behind staging that is both tensely tight and near-awe-inspiringly sweeping, the film's action is nothing short of outstanding, and while it's lacking in a sense of dramatic consequences, its flash makes up for a lot of narrative limitations. Of course, when the smoke clears and we turn back to ramblings, it's not as though engagement value is entirely lost, because if nothing else anchors a sense of humanity to this film, it's the performances, which are charismatic across the board, with Robert Shaw standing out in my opinion with an effortlessly impeccable presence of authority and corruption as a brutal German colonel. Of course, everyone plays a part in carrying the film until it hits its highlights, which are kind of frustrating, because so many of them are so good in a film that, on the whole, can't even keep a firm grip on a rewarding status, yet still cannot be taken away from the final product as heights in a consistent degree of entertainment value, challenged though it may too often be.
When the battle is done, the final product collapses just shy of rewarding under the overwhelming weight of an already dramatically thin narrative's being interpreted with exhausting dragging, a convoluted focus, and conventions, which is still well-challenged enough by colorful scripting highlights, solid technical value, flashy direction, outstanding action and charismatic performances - particularly by Robert Shaw - for Ken Annakin's "Battle of the Bulge" to stand, maybe not as particularly gripping, but as reasonably entertaining and sometimes effective as a dramatization of a major WWII clash between the Allies and Germans.
2.75/5 - Decent
From the extremely realistic (as much as Hollywood will allow) such as THE LONGEST DAY, BATTLE OF BRITAIN and (to a lesser extent) THE GREAT ESCAPE to the more Hollywood-ized versions of the war represented by THE GUNS OF NAVARONE and THE DIRTY DOZEN the quality of the movies was unquestionably epic in nature with varying degrees of historical accuracy.
Somewhere in-between the examples above falls BATTLE OF THE BULGE (1965) which purports to illustrate the events of the winter of 1944 in which the Nazi powers sought to separate the American frontlines from their supplies and reinforcements. The movie works well as far as mindless action entertainment and we have some truly great performances by Henry Fonda, Robert Shaw, Telly Savalas and Charles Bronsan, but it seems as though the script writers threw the history books in the trash and decided to write the battle as they would have liked it to have played out.
The result is some truly shocking historical inaccuracies. Firstly, the movie suggests that the Germans were running low on fuel and were desperate to capture Allied fuel depots. In fact the Nazi's had enough fuel for the offensive but suffered due to supply lines that were constantly being bombed by Alied aircraft.
The Malmedy Massacre is portrayed here as an organized slaughter of American GI's. In fact, this was not the case. The massacre certainly happened, but it was more of a spontaneous affair.
Another historical inaccuracy is in the portrayal of the German armor. The movie gives the impression that the assault was carried out exclusively with King Tiger tanks when in fact many more Panzer tanks were utilized in the offensive. Germany it appears did not have an overabundance of King Tigers.
Compounding the movies historical difficulties is the creation by the movie makers of characters to lead the German and American divisions. Most blatently obvious is the character of Col. Hessler (played by Robert Shaw). In fact the officer in charge was a Col. Joachim Peiper. The movie makers also created a fictional character - Lt. Col. Kiley - for Henry Fonda and a Gen. Grey for Robert Ryan and totally ignores the role of Gen. Patton in the struggle.
Where the movie gets it right is in the Battle of Bastogne, the use of English-speaking German special forces behind Alied lines to mess up logistics and the fact that the American forces were hopelessly overextended.
However, if you are not looking for a history lesson and instead would just like a comic-strip style action movie, then you can do a lot worse. Growing up and seeing this movie on television I found it exciting and exhirating. Taking top honors in the acting department is Robert Shaw as the cold and grittily determined Hessler. The scenes between him and his subordinate Cpl. Conrad (played by Hans Christian Blech) show the deep conflict in 1940s-era Germany between the fanatical Nazi's determined to carry on the fight and the regular citizenry who, although patriotic, wished only for an end to the conflict. The scenes are poignant and revealing and represent some of the best scenes in the movie.
Overall this movie is flawed, but its still enjoyable and thought provoking.
There are a lot of tank scenes and they even include the famous "Nuts" reply to surrender to the Germans, by Gen.McAuliffe.
1st Cook: To the shelter.
Maj. Wolenski: Grab your rifles and come with me.
1st Cook: But we're cooks!
Maj. Wolenski: Lunch is over! Grab your rifles!