13 May 2010 | secondtake
A little sugar coating, but also the ugliness of war freshly seen, post WWII.
It's tough to appreciate the horrors of any war, but I think it gets especially rough to know the ugliness at times of even the best soldiers, the desperation to survive, the egoism of being a hero or of pretending to be one, the utter weariness. Very little of this appears in WWII films made during or shortly after the war. You get grittier aspects in later films like The Big Red One or even Saving Private Ryan, but this one, Battleground, is somewhere between idealizing and the truth. In 1949, people were still coming to terms with what they lost, in lives and sanity and normalcy, and Battleground was a huge (and popular) step toward giving more truth to the soldiers and their sometimes cowardice.
This is one of the better films of the period, no question, but you have to watch with a small amount of adjustment to the facts--even when the destruction, screaming, death, cold, and sadness is totally palpable. It starts a little lighthearted and corny, even, but as conditions decline, realism climbs. It's terrifying even when the soldiers come off a little bit innocent and sweet. That sweetness is too often squashed and killed, literally, to make light of it. In fact, it's partly the contrasts that make both sides of the story clear.
William Wellman is one of the best of his kind, a Hollywood top notcher with a handful of great films to his credit. He, like William Wyler (even more legendary), never developed a style or characteristic subject matter to make their films even slightly "theirs." Which is fine, especially in a movie like this, where it's the events that we care about. For those who know their war history, the battle for Bastogne is one of the heroic moments in the Belgian part of the fight. The sheer firepower of the planes, the gritty step by step persistence of the footsoldiers, the heavy snow and heavier fog, it all wears heavily whether winning or losing. The costs are made so clear all around. This is one small part of the famous Battle of the Bulge, and it was Patton who eventually came to the aid of the soldiers in Bastogne.
It won Oscars for writing and cinematography (easy to see why the camera-work won, for sure). It was shot on the west coast (coming in under budget), and helped MGM make good money.