Monday, June 15, 2020


It all started when Ben, knowing my interest in WWII history, sent me this movie with the header “Some of the grittiest WW2 footage you’ll watch today!”

And it was! The Tiger tanks looked like Tigers, the Shermans looked like Shermans, even the 57-mm anti-tank gun looked good. I can let it slide that the bazooka looked like an M20 3.5-inch rather than an M9 2.36-inch weapon.
I commented, “It’s actually more historically accurate and has a better script than that Bulge movie with Henry Fonda and Telly Savalas.”
Ben said, “Didn’t Eisenhower come out of retirement just to denounce that film? Seems like I remember hearing that.”
Well, that was a new one to me, so I Googled it and damned if it wasn’t true. Ike did indeed put down the latest Zan Gray novel to come out and hold a press conference in which he condemned the film for “gross historical inaccuracy.” He also commented that, personally, the film, “Left a bad taste in my mouth, like a dog-shit C-ration.”
Since Hollywood’s present offerings are such pathetic, predictable cookie-cutter displays of political correctness…I can’t even remember the last time my wife and I went out to a movie…it’s easy to forget that they still made some real stinkers even back in the “good old days”. It wasn’t all Patton or The Longest Day or A Bridge Too Far.

So I got to thinking, was Battle of the Bulge really as Godawful BAD as I remembered it?
To answer that question, I took the time and trouble to locate and watch one of the three existing copies of Battle of the Bulge, The Director’s Cut. The Director’s Cut is indeed historical, having set a record for war movies as being the only film about a battle that lasted longer than the actual battle itself. The Director’s Cut runs 14,324 minutes, but Warner Brothers thankfully cut it down to 167 minutes for the theatrical release. Considering that all the action happens in the first and last few minutes, even that version is about 145 minutes too long.
It’s truly amazing how completely this movie squanders and wastes so many assets and so much potential. It had huge big-name star power for 1965: Henry Fonda, Telly Savalas, Robert Shaw, Robert Ryan, Charles Bronson. The best part was that they apparently rented every single armored battalion in the entire Spanish Army to make this movie, so there’s plenty of real tanks to see in action.
That’s very refreshing in these days of CGI battle scenes. Awhile back, we attempted to watch a new war movie called The Last Drop but couldn’t slog all the way through it despite some kind of cool CGI Focke-Wulf 190 strafing runs. Then there’s the John Woo school of CGI which apparently teaches that NO plot or character development whatsoever is necessary in a movie if you just shovel in enough CGI battle scenes.
In a really good war movie like Patton, I can overlook the whole “slap some field gray paint and an iron cross on an old American M47 or M48 Patton tank and call it a Panzer” thing. But in a really bad war movie like this one, it somehow just makes it worse. The “Germans” run around in their invincible M47 Patton “King Tigers” while the Americans get slaughtered in their M24 Chaffee “Shermans.” (Truth being stranger than fiction, that is just about what happened in the early weeks of the Korean War when the US Army threw in its only available armor in theater…four companies of M24 Chaffees…in toe-to-toe slugfests with the Norks’ Soviet T-34-85s which ended in predictably tragic results.) In the Bulge, the end result is something that begs for a military historians’ edition of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
I can almost hear Tom Servo doing a Movietone newsreel narrator voice: “Today, the German Army launched a surprise winter attack across the sun-baked desert plains of Belgium…”

"Today, the German Army launched a surprise attack across the sun-baked desert plains of Belgium."

Star power is wasted even more pathetically than the cast of hundreds of real tanks.
Telly Savalas’ character, US Army tank commander Sergeant Guffy, is so utterly devoid of any redeeming qualities as a human being he makes “Maggott” from The Dirty Dozen look like Mr. Rogers. Not even the US Army in 1944 would have been hard-pressed enough to actually make such a cretin a non-commissioned officer. It’s hard to root for such an utterly detestable “good guy” in a movie. If he had been my TC in an actual war, I would have put a couple of .45s into his back the moment the ramp dropped on Omaha Beach. The Tasmanian Devil would be a better tank commander, not to mention being more sympatico and coherent as a character.
Henry Fonda seemed like he would be a genuinely likeable guy in person, someone you’d like the pal around with, and as an actor he had some great performances before and after this stinker. The Grapes of Wrath, Twelve Angry Men, On Golden Pond. But in this one, his character, Lieutenant Colonel Dan Kiley, is so bland and mild and unmotivated that not even Henry can make him all that interesting or likeable. The best scene to watch for is when Kiley attempts to pick of the German panzer commander at a bridge crossing but can’t because his M1 Garand rifle has no rear sight!

In the Director’s Cut version, you do at least get to see the moment when Robert Shaw realizes just how bad this movie really is. A look comes over his face that’s a mixture of shell shock and an urgent need to projectile vomit. At that point, he breaks off singing Panzerlied, loses his Prussian accent, and starts colorfully telling a slightly slurred tale of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis in an attempt to create at least one memorable screen moment in this film. Realizing that nothing can save this script, he gives up on that too and just chugs bottle after bottle of schnapps through the remainder of the movie.
Charles Bronson’s character Wolenski is so forgettable that I forgot Bronson was even in the movie.
The only remotely likeable character was Hans Christian Blech as Corporal Conrad, German Colonel Hessler’s old, disillusioned staff car driver. And he’s only likeable because he reminded me a little bit of Sergeant Schultz from Hogan’s Heroes.
In the end of this movie, the heroic resistance put up by General Anthony “Nuts” McAuliffe’s GIs and paratroopers in Bastogne did nothing to defeat the Wehrmacht. General George S. Patton Jr.’s 3rd Army apparently never got around to mounting a brilliantly successful counter-attack from the flank through snowstorms and over icy roads. The weather did not clear and allow General Elwood “Pete” Quesada’s feared Jabos to blow the shit out of round-bound German columns. In fact, you could get the impression that the US Army didn’t really do anything to defeat the Germans at all.
Nope. The panzers happened to simultaneously run out of gas, so every last German soldier in Army Group B just threw down his rifle and walked on home.
So, if you are fortunate enough to have never seen this movie, spare yourself and don’t lose 167 minutes of your life (it seems a great deal longer) that you’ll never get back. You'll get more out of four minutes of Lego action!

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