WHYYYYYYYYY did I watch BATTLE OF THE BULGE? OK, I’m swearing off wartime epics for the rest of the year.

Ken Annakin’s “vision” of Germany’s last big offensive of WWII is expensive-looking, even if the miniature work recalls designer Eugene Lourie’s work on GORGO. Since it’s a Cinerama/Super Panavision widescreen pageant, there are lots of views from the front of tanks and aircraft to give us a rollercoaster effect, and it did actually inflict mild motion sickness on me, even viewed on a DVD on my puny 27-inch Toshiba, so I have to give them that. It’s the only reason I can think of for George Lucas to have paid such prominent tribute to this minor director…Following Annakin’s THE LONGEST DAY, this De Laurentiis spectacle/ride shows the battle — it seemed like a whole lot more than one battle — from both the German and American sides. But the Germans are definitely the baddies.

There are a few moments of cinematic interest, mainly match cuts connecting scenes: nice to see Fritz Lang’s visual language in play. Robert Shaw with Aryan dye-job and ludicrous accent, pulls on a jackboot and stamps his foot to finish the job — CUT TO a whole line of soldiers stamping their little feet in salute in the next scene. That kind of thing.

Yeah, the characters have been generalized alright. And not just the generals.

The silly way the same eight or so characters keep turning up at every stage of the campaign makes the thing seem underpopulated, even with its cast of thousands. It has little imagination but nor is it realistic in any intelligent way. It wastes some good actors. It’s not entertaining. Why did they make these things? Why have I watched most of them?

“You’re obsessed,” explains Fiona, flatly.

BATTLE OF THE BULGE stars Tom Joad; Quint; Captain Nemo; Fred Derry; Philip Marlowe; Sacramento: Teresa; Harmonica; Donkeyman; Inspektor Vulpius; David Balfour; and the voices of Dudley Do-Right and Emilio Largo.“Exemplifies the error.” Yes. This.

Oh, then I watched MIDWAY — the original, Jack Smight version, from The Mirisch Company, who specialised in war pics when they weren’t doing Billy Wilders and PINK PANTHERS. It actually makes a boast about its use of stock footage in the opening crawl, so that we end up watching a great deal of real death in grainy long shot. A grisly piece of work. The only fun in it is Hal Holbrook’s wacky Mark Twain impression, and the line “These people are no more a threat to national security than your pet Airedale!” spoken by Charlton Heston with granite intensity.

The line concerns a Japanese family who have been arrested on suspicion. NOT, we note, interned, since movies, even the well-intentioned BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK, were not copping to the mass detention of Japanese-Americans. Not for decades yet.The tagline ought to have been “MIDWAY — makes BATTLE OF THE BULGE look like LA GRANDE ILLUSION.”

MIDWAY stars Judah Ben-Hur; Juror 8; Pat Garrett; Deep Throat; Sanjuro Kuwabatake; Max Cady; Joe Cantwell; Prince Valiant; Juror 12; President Harry S. Truman; Det. Joe Kojaku: Det. Bobby Crocker; Nelse McLeod; another Pat Garrett; Jeff Trent; Mr. Miyagi; Emperor Hirohito; Franklin Hart, Jr.; Officer Frank Poncherello; Magnum, PI; Professor Hikita; ‘Painless’ Kumagai: Capt. ‘Painless’ Waldowski; and the voice of Colossus.

If  war is a continuation of politics by other means, war movies seem to be just a continuation of themselves, of one another, of Henry Fonda’s retirement plan.

Jeez, the miniatures department are really lying down on the job.

16 Responses to “Bulging”

  1. Saw a trailer for the new Midway, which looks preposterous, though I daresay I shall watch it at some point as I too am a sucker for Big Battle Movies. Also looked to me (like Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbour) to be a cigarette-free zone, which is ALL WRONG for WW2. My dad (who rarely talked about the war) said that everyone smoked, all the time, if only to try and stay awake. If you nodded off at the wheel in a convoy of jeeps, for example, it would trigger a chain reaction pile-up.

  2. The original Midway also has something I doubt the new one will reproduce: constant cries of “Jap bastard!” during the dogfights. Now, I’m not keen on racial epithets. But this, too, must have been omnipresent at the time, and the answer to how a war movie can contain the complexity of heroes who constantly evince racism must surely be… Don’t make dumb entertainments out of war. If your film is respectful of the truth, you can show this. If it’s just a big super-Panavision pageant, you’re doing it wrong.

    I’m also really struck by how these movies manage to take really entertaining actors like Savalas or Mitchum or Coburn and render them completely without interest.

    So I don’t know if I AM a sucker for them, somehow I keep watching them though. And I still have 633 Squadron staring at me from the shelving. At least that one has an uplifting theme tune (John Williams on Midway has clearly not discovered his thing yet).

  3. Forgive me for asking (I’ve been lost in the huge amount of WWII films and even TV shows), but is this the film where it seems like the tank battles go on endlessly? I kept getting Harry Cohn Butt throughout those scenes.

    I took that intertitle you show as a sort of package warning.

  4. Yeah, the tank battles are on the long side. I don’t know if this is THE film where that’s the case, I suppose there could be another with even longer battles, but if so, they’re still shooting it.

  5. Yeah, it’s the one where I made the crack to you about the film being Annakin playing with tanks. I just had to Google some stills and it all came back to me.

  6. I also re-watched BOTB recently – well, within the last six months – and was surprised at how bad it was. Considering it’s supposed to be an ‘epic’, the focus on a handful of boring characters completely undermines the film’s ‘big picture’ aspirations.

  7. Boringness is not epic. And yet, so many attempted epics are deeply boring, to the point where it becomes their signature quality.

    They found a lot of tanks, I’ll give them that (although they probably mass-produced a lot of plastic tank costumes and put them on jeeps, too).

  8. I remember catching most of “Battle of the Bulge” while flattened by a cold. I remember the opening, when the Nazi officer is given his orders in what looks like the setup for a game show (“See that clock? See this table full of maps and stuff? It’s time to play WIN THE WAR!”). Also, the idea that rubber hoses revealed that the German tanks planned to siphon it out of parked cars and such.

  9. Yes, the hosepipe bit is OK, and the troop of Germans disguised as Americans. Compared to Midway, that stuff is moderately interesting.

  10. Randy Cook Says:

    Have not seen BATTLE OF THE BULGE, though I trust it’s funnier than Annakin’s THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES.

  11. Barely. And it critically lacks a jaunty theme tune.

  12. chris schneider Says:

    This is not, to put it mildly, a genre to which I’m drawn. Still, though, somebody should cite Terence Young’s INCHON. Where else does one finds a war film with Rex Reed in the cast?

    Btw, I like the way the appropriation of Japanese-American property shows up in DAISY KENYON.

  13. Daisy Kenyon is such a smart film in every way!

    I’ve never seen Inchon, but I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of Young’s (near?-)mythical Saddam Hussein hagiobiopic.

  14. “Those magnificent men in their Panzer machines!
    They blow up de de up
    They smash down de de down”

  15. Quick, get me Durante’s agent!

  16. Uh, Durante sang the title song to the sequel, “Those Magnificent Men in their Jaunty Jalopies”. TMMITFM had a manly male chorus.

    Recall reading articles where Annakin complained about the title of TMMITJJ. He wanted “Monte Carlo and All That Jazz”, insisting it was a whole different movie. Well, if you ignore the returning actors, Terry-Thomas playing the son of his TMMITFM character, the national stereotypes gimmick, the Ronald Searle drawings … Tony Curtis is the official star, doing a Harold Lloyd impersonation but inevitably blurring the line between this and “The Great Race”, the other slapstick dinosaur.

    I’ll admit I have a fondness for TMMITFM, even with its stereotypes and sewage farm. And for chunks of TGR, especially Lemmon & Falk byplay, Wood’s sex appeal, and the saloon fight (NOT the pie fight) where the excess is funny. But TMMITJJ just doesn’t cut it. Various sets of characters didn’t even cross paths until late in the proceedings, and when they do it’s to no great effect (Cook and Moore are reduced to being helpful). And somehow, the automotive slapstick is less convincing than the flying machines in the earlier film.

    It wasn’t just the film itself. The era of the Honking Big Roadshow Movie was ending. No more months-long engagements on first-run Cinerama screens, no more glossy souvenir programs on sale in the lobby, no more built-in overtures and intermissions.

    Got to give Annakin credit for “Swiss Family Robinson”, a Disney epic that holds up.

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