30 April 2004 | ubercommando
Best war movie made in the 2nd World War
I really can't understand some of the more negative comments from some reviewers from the USA about this movie. For me, it is far superior to equivalent American wartime propaganda movies (including enjoyable but hardly realistic efforts such as 7 Graves To Cairo and Sahara), and made and acted by a British cast who were serving servicemen as well (unlike a certain J. Wayne or H. Bogart). Carol Reed gives us on the surface a cliche ridden movie but his gritty visual style which would become his trademark plus a script that still gives depth to a by now familiar concept lift this way above other movies made at the time.
The soldiers don't look pristine and for most of the time, don't act heroically until the last 5 minutes. They're not an elite unit (as in Sands of Iwo Jima), they grumble, complain and stagger their way to the front lines but nor are they goofballs, pranksters or loveable rogues. They are ordinary men in difficult times, which was what the film makers wanted to show. They are not all broad stereotypes either; some, like the characters Davenport or Brewer, may on the surface seem like the upper class toff and the cheeky cockney but again, the way they interplay with the rest of the cast, they become more than just representatives of their class.
For an old war movie, I was impressed with the action. Early on, when the two old soldiers are talking about how much better it was in the army in their day, we get a juxtaposed montage of David Niven in training, showing how hard it is. A lot of the burning troop ship shots are done hand held, which adds to the tension. The Tunisia scenes look very authentic and see how Reed indulges in rapid cutting, disorienting explosions and run down and dirty art direction. The only film that comes close to achieving this kind of grittiness in the war years is "Guadalcanal Diary".