Van Johnson, Ricardo Montalban and George Murphy star in this remarkable war film, nominated for six Oscars(R) (including Best Picture) about courageous American G.I.s caught up in the battle at Bastogne. Year: 1949
This is one of the best, most underrated war films ever. It was filmed only a couple of years after the end of WWII, uses lots of (well-integrated) stock footage, and the credits even boast the the Screaming Eagles are played by "themselves". I'll admit, I approached this one with fairly low expectations--the budget is low, the "effects" are, as mentioned, stock footage...but the script and characterization is what makes this film. We follow a squad of Yankee GIs into the Battle of the Bulge, and at first they all seem to be your typical soldier stereotypes: the sarge, the wisecracker, the coward. But this movie manages to take the these characters further, change them, and meanwhile makes the audience feel as if they really know and care. For being one of the first WWII films ever made, this one still feels surprisingly fresh.
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The Original Band of Brothers
Kevin R. Austra | Delaware Valley, USA | 10/26/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Of the dozen or so films that use the Battle of the Bulge as a backdrop, BATTLEGROUND stands out as one of the best. Starring Van Johnson and John Hodiac, look for other young and upcoming stars of screen and television tube such as Marshall Thompson, Ricardo Montalban, James Arness and Richard Jaeckel.
The date is December 1944. The place is Bastogne, Belgium. The Germans have just unleashed their last major offensive in the west and the US 101st Airborne is rushed in to stem the tide. The film focuses on one platoon of airborne troopers and their actions outside of Bastogne.
If you thought the Bastogne sets for HBO'S BAND OF BROTHER'S were fantastic, get a glimpse of the equally fantastic sets for BATTLEGROUND. The story is presented from the GI point of view, so there are few opportunities to see the German soldiers up close.
In terms of historical accuracy, BATTLEGROUND was so well researched that even the weather conditions are matched with historical fact -- specifically that it did not start snowing until the 21st of December.
This film was a bit of gamble by MGM in 1949. In the post World War II and pre Korean War years, audiences were generally tired of war films. Additionally, BATTLEGROUND was not a showcase for clean-shaven football hero-type soldiers. The characters in this story are a collection of brave, tired, freezing cold, grimy and hungry soldiers just trying to survive. Apparently the formula worked because the film was nominated for six Oscars and won two (Best Screenplay and Best Cinematography). Captured on black and white film stock, the picture is occasionally intercut with real combat footage.
Alongside films like THE LONGEST DAY, this film is one of the best about GIs during World War Two. There are some old "colorized" versions floating around out there. Try to avoid those in preference for the original high-contrast black and white version."
Does Justice to the Bastards of Bastogne
Vincent Tesi | Brick, New Jersey | 06/02/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Although overly dramatic at times, Battleground warrants attention as a legitimate WWII film centering on the plight of a 101st Airborne platoon during the strategic battle at Bastogne. Nominated for six Oscars and winner of two (Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography), Battleground captures the physical and emotional hardships endured by combat footsoldiers facing extreme adverse conditions. The dialogue exchanges among the grunts draws the viewer into a soldier's world of fear, survival, and death. Van Johnson and John Hodiak are given top billing, but it is James Whitmore as the tobacco spitting platoon leader Kip who steals every scene he is in. Whitmore walks, talks, and looks like a seasoned veteran of numerous tours of duty. Director William Wellman intersperses actual WWII footage, but he could have improved some of the fabricated battle scenery. For instance the snow used in certain sets is unconvincing. To Wellman's credit the carbine shots, grenade explosions, and the mortar volleys are authenticated with gritty realism. Wellman should also be lauded for the emotionalism in which he draws from his characters. The platoon soldiers are not faceless battle weary men; instead each one is given the latitude to express his individuality. The scene where a soldier takes a drag from a cigarette and immediately experiences blurred vision hints at drug use on the front lines. Wellman had the courage to include this frame and surprisingly it slipped past the scrutiny of the Breen Commission. Remember this was 1946, Mr. Breen and the Motion Picture Production Code were extemely conscious of material that might be deemed Un-American to the movie going public. Other scenes where Holly (Van Johnson) desires sex with the French girl are sugar coated and poorly orchestrated. Battleground was definitely a forerunner for films such as Hamburger Hill and Saving Private Ryan which depict the comradeship among soldiers engaged in the horrors of battle."
Still the classic World War II movies about American G.I.s
Lawrance M. Bernabo | The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota | 02/02/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The first twenty minutes of "Saving Private Ryan" raised the bar on the realism of war film in terms of the portrayal of the violent hell of combat. But in terms of showing us in a movie what it was like to be combat troops in World War II, the standard still remains the 1949 film "Battleground," directed by William Wellman (and I say this having loved "Band of Brothers"). The film won Oscars in 1950 for Robert Pirosh's script and Paul Vogel's black & white cinematography, and was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (James Whitmore), and Best Editing (John D. Dunning). The setting for "Battleground" is the besieged city of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge and focuses on I Company of the 101st Airborne. Pirosh had based the story on his own experiences during the battle, which including the details like Private Kippton (Douglas Fowley) always losing his false teeth and Private Rodriguez (Ricardo Montalban), who came from L.A. and had never seen snow before he got to Belgium. The situation was pretty simple: the Germans have Bastogne surrounded and the 101st is short on food and ammunition. Sgt. Kinnie (Whitmore) and the men of I Company have there sector to control, so they sit in the freezing cold, waiting for the Germans to attack and praying for the cloud cover to lift so they can get air support and supplies.I am sure I am not the other kid from my generation who learned to do the cadence call of "Sound off," not knowing that it came from older kids who had seen this movie. This is a movie full of memorable scenes: Private Holley (Van Johnson) trying to make eggs, a checkpoint exchange that shows the importance of knowing baseball terminology like "Texas Leaguer," and a befuddled German officer trying to understand if General McAulliffe's infamous reply of "Nuts" to the demand for the 101st's surrender is a negative or an affirmative response.For me the key moment in the film comes when I Company finally receives supplies dropped from C-47s. These guys have been freezing and pretty much starving for a week, and when they open up crates of SPAM and K-Rations, they are clearly disappointed. It is not until they find ammunition that they finally get excited. The montage of defeating the Germans is superfluous at that point, because the look in the eyes of these guys captures the moment even better. In terms of realism I do have one slight knock on this film, in that I Company is atypical because they had winter coats (compare with the Bastogne episode of "Bad of Brothers"), but that is rather secondary to the point of this film, which is to celebrate the citizen soldier. As Holley explains to a major, "PFC" means "praying for civilian." Even when the Chaplain (Leon Ames) answers the big question, as to why these guys had to leave their families and jobs to fight in Europe, in has less to do with fascist ideology and more with the idea that the Germans were bullies throwing their weight around and killing a lot of people. Still, "Battleground" comes down to the guys in I Company, Jarvess (John Hodiak), "Pop" (George Murphy), Layton (Marshall Thompson), Spudler (Jerome Courtland), Standiferd (Don Taylor), Hansan (Herbert Anderson), Bettis (Richard Jaeckel), Doc (Thomas E. Breen), and Sgt. Walowizc (Bruce Cowling). There is a tendency to make fun of the idea of the melting pot nature of these units, but we are talking diversity in terms of ethnicity more than racial lines and is certainly in keeping with everything I have read about the 101st. The humor in the trenches is a lot grimmer than you hear in most of these movies, an advantage of being made several years after the war ended (compare it with Wellman's 1945 film "Story of G.I. Joe"). This film is more about the psychology of war, putting up with the weather, the lack of supplies, the Germans trying to get them to surrender and showing up dressed in American uniforms, and keeping up morale than it is about actual fighting. That makes it rather unique in terms of movies about World War II in general or the Battle of the Bulge in particular. "Battleground" remains one of the classic films about grunts in the army."
Best War Film From the G.I. Perspective.
Gregory Canellis | Tuckerton, NJ USA | 09/25/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Of all the films to emerge from World War II, "Battleground" best portrays basic survival from an infantryman's perspective. Even the battle scenes illustrate the closed-in battlefield and confusion experienced by the individual G.I. For example, the scene of the pre-dawn attack by German infantry when the American private takes the initiative to fire his M-1 rifle into the darkness at sounds rather than a visible target, thus spurring the other men in his squad to begin firing accurately portrays the confusion and fear oftentimes emminating from the foxhole. Several times in the film, the theme of officers and NCOs removing badges of rank in order to not expose themselves to enemy snipers is not often shown in other films of this genre. Even Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) in "Saving Private Ryan" boldly wore his Captain's bars on his helmet throughout the entire film (as did also his platoon Sergeant wear his stripes on the outside of his combat jacket). The ethnic and social make-up of the squad is another significant theme in the movie. The hillbilly from Appalacia, the Spanish-American from L.A., the intellectual journalist, the city boy, farm hand, or the all-star collegiate quarterback, all accurately displays the "citizen soldier" that traces its American military heritage back to colonial militia of the pre-revolutionary war era. All in all, this movie is not about the "Battered Bastards of Bastogne." Rather, it is about the common G.I. who fought in Europe in WWII. The themes throughout this film could represent any unit in any of the battles the encompassed the struggle in the ETO. It is for these reasons, this film has withstood the test of time and deserves to be called a classic."