Duane S. (superpoet) from FORT WORTH, TX Reviewed on 3/5/2008...
I loved this movie. "THE BIG RED ONE is named for the insignia of the First Infantry Division. It is the World War II saga of a handful of GIs battling their way from North Africa through Sicily, Omaha Beach and Belgium to the Nazi death camps. The writer/director is Samuel Fuller, one of the most influential filmmakers in Hollywood history. He served in the Fighting First. He knew war is about survival. That means THE BIG RED ONE may be the most intense and truest war movie you'll ever see.
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Jumps to the top of the heap.
Daniel Fineberg | Northridge, California USA | 02/24/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Whenever I would catch it on cable years and years ago, Sam Fuller's "The Big Red One" was a quirky war movie with strange pacing and a very uneven balance of comedy and tragedy, of high and low-- several great moments strung loosely together. Working on the upcoming DVD, I was not aware of the fact that Fuller had shot 4 hours or that he wished to his dying day that the film would be lengthened, and I was skeptical as I always am with extended versions (this one carries the subtitle "Reconstruction"). I got to look at it several times, once for business and twice more for pleasure, because the film is transformed and made great, and there are so many memorable scenes that one wants to go back to it again and again. 40-plus minutes have been added on, some full scenes, some simply extended bits to old scenes. The narrative structure of the movie is still very free and loose, very episodic, but the greater length is absolutely crucial to the plot, since we are meant to get at least some slight idea of the tedium and homesickness that goes along with being a soldier in an ongoing war. Fleshed out is the character and performance of Lee Marvin--everything that he is capable of as an actor, everything that that stone wall of a face can convey is on display here--tough as all hell but with a simultaneous sweetness that can be, when called upon, heartbreaking. Look at his expression when a gunfight breaks out after the Italian girl places flowers on his helmet--he jabs the rifle into position along his chin and begins firing rounds, his face jerking only slighty with each shot. We don't see anything of the gunfight, only close-up on his face and the expression says nothing and everything all at once--we're meant to meet him halfway and fill in the blanks ourselves. He makes it easy for us because by this point in the movie we know what kind of a man he is. And because this is Sam Fuller, the movie has a diabolical sense of humor, sometimes downright hilarious, as when some of the boys swap sexual fantasies, some of which have become warped and deranged after so much time in battle. Another sequence has the Sergeant and the boys of the One helping to deliver a baby inside the belly of a German tank--the mispronunciation of the French word for "push" setting the stage for some verbal slapstick. This juggling of moods doesn't seem quite so out of place in the longer version, and I get the impression that if they ever decide to cut together the 4-hour picture that Fuller had intended, we still wouldn't tire of the characters or their tours of duty. But as it stands now at 2 hours, 40 minutes, it has been rounded out for us and has jumped to the top of the heap alongside the small handful of truly important movies depicting war. The most common complaint I hear is that the German tanks are clearly American tanks dressed-up. This is true-- if you are searching for dead-on accuracy and detail in set design such as in Private Ryan, this is not for you. "The Big Red One" is a gritty personal little movie that is not burdened by the kind of strained sentimentality that sometimes hampers Spielberg. It can be at times surreal and absurd, but not the kind of surrealism that floats above and transcends the actual war as in "Apocalypse Now"-- it keeps its feet firmly on the ground. The tanks don't pass the test, but the characters more than make up for it... Lee Marvin's nameless Sergeant, stone-faced, intransigent, whose tragic prologue sets up a touching epilogue... Keith Carradine's cigar-chomping, novel-writing Private Zab-- a fill-in for Fuller, who lived all these experiences in his days with the Big Red One-- and Mark Hamill's Griff, the most fleshed-out character, whose unforgettable finale in the Falkenau concentration camp gives new meaning to Conrad's notion of "shelling the bush". The Falkenau scenes, by the way, were shot, like much of the movie, in Israel with Jews playing the Nazi wardens--a surrealistic slap in the face to anyone itching for strict realism in their war flicks. Inconsistencies be damned. This is a great one, and now, thanks to Richard Schickel and his gang, a fuller Fuller movie, a very generous update of a picture that never got a fair chance its first time around."
Longer and Better Movie
D. W. Mittelberg, Jr. | Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania United States | 02/18/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I remember the original movie when I was younger. I was too young to see it in the theater so I saw it often on HBO. When it came out on videotape and then DVD I purchased it. And then I saw the bigger & badder version. WOW! What a movie. Yes, its almost an hour longer than the original, but it makes it such a better movie. There are scenes added that add more storyline, character buildup and more action. Being this is now 3 hours long it borders on beating out Saving Private Ryan as the best WWII movie ever made. Lee Marvin is at his best, but then again he was always at top form. This movie follows a rifle squad thoughout the battlefields of World War II. It seems the Sargeant (Marvin) and his 4 soldiers seem to always leave battles unharmed while the new soldiers that arrive fall victim to bullets and landmines. In this film you follow the First Infantry through North Africa and Sicily and then to the beaches of Normandy and straight through Germany. If you like long epic war films, then my friend you'll love this one. It's 3 hours well spent."
Big acting by Marvin; Red Normandy beaches; One good ending
michaeleve | 03/11/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Sarge (Lee Marvin), first saw combat near the end of WWI. Now, years later, in North Africa in WWII he is a grizzled, war weary, seen it all veteran. Nevertheless, he's still resolute in his duty and a proud wearer of the Red #1 arm patch insignia of the US 1st Infantry Division. He is leader, father, mother, coach and whatever else he needs to be to get his rifle squad through the war. The four principal characters of interest are Griff (Mark Hamill), an expert riflemen but one who can't shoot the enemy if he sees his eyes; he calls it murder, Sarge says otherwise. There is Zab (Robert Carradine) who's main purpose is narrator, his musings provide background and setting; the other two are Johnson and Vinci. We follow this group throughout the movie and the war from North Africa, Sicily, Normandy, Belgium and finally to a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia for a series of emotionally powerful concluding scenes.There is no glorification of war here; indeed the message is very clear - the only glory in war is surviving. The movie is very creative in introducing characters whose sole purpose, with their demise, is to underline this message. The short careers of both Lemchek and Kaiser are cases in point. The battle scenes are weak and unrealistic but that's not the emphasis. The action scenes that are memorable are the ones with a subtle message; the camera focusing in on the dead soldiers wristwatch in the surf of Normandy, the water turning red with the passing of time; the scene at the asylum in France and the concentration camp scene where Griff overcomes his compunction about shooting while seeing the whites of his enemies eyes.It's a well crafted movie, with some strong acting from Lee Marvin and Mark Hamill and a movie which delivers it's message in a well thought out and strong ending."
Sam Fuller's Testament
Randal Gist | Kansas City, MO USA | 01/19/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Sam Fuller waited for years to make this film based on his experiences as a dogface with the famed First Division and he has left us with a minor masterpiece of film story-telling. Fuller did not have the budget of a Spielberg (in fact he had a rather limited budget) so the invasion of Normandy and other scenes are not sweepingly epic. (Just imagine if he had.) But that is not the point. It is a tale of rememberance & by nature episodic & anecdotal.The original cut was over 4 hours, Fuller eventually cut it to about 2 1/2 then the studio cut it to 113 minutes--one can only imagine what is missing. Even so the film builds an incredible power, not cathartic but a weary experience of survival, which as the film states is the only glory in war. Lee Marvin gives an amazingly nuanced performance as the "Sergeant", Robert Carridine does an amusing turn as Zap, Fuller's alter-ego and Mark Hamill is effective as conscious stricken Griff. If you have not seen Fuller's other war films ("The Steel Helmet", which looks like it was made for 1.98, but is quite amazing; "Fixed Bayonets" & "Merrill's Marauders") they are well worth seeking out, as are his other non-war films. Sam Fuller said that the only way for a movie audience to truly experience war was to have someone come out in front of the screen & start spraying the audience with gunfire and have the person sitting next to you shot to pieces. I think that I will stick with his films."
Nearly forgotten and underappreciated
Sonicboy | Greenwood, USA | 01/23/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"After finally seeing this wonderful movie,I am stunned anyone would not consider it one of the great films.The pacing is so casual and relaxed in places it reminds me of Fellini.Some reviews correctly mention that the battle scenes are brief and somewhat underproduced,but they are secondary to the subtle poetic images Sam Fuller is putting on the screen.If you have seen other Fuller films as I have,it is unbelievable he was able to reach this pinnacle of creativity.Lee Marvin is too old for his part but no other actor could have played it as well.There are many delights to see and hear.To me it is the best war movie ever made. Kubrick,Coppola and Speilberg all made terrific films about war,but Fuller faced enemy guns in battle. His real experiences translate an unmistakeable authenticity into every frame."