Two men join the Welsh Guards early in the war, one a married Englishman (Underdown), the other an American (Clanton). The Guards are a varied lot -- Irish, Welsh, and other "colonials" as well as the British. It leads to a quietly amusing scene. The drill instructor demands that all the English in the ranks take two steps forward and all the colonials take two steps backward. The American is left standing alone between the two. When he explains, the drill sergeant says the Army is divided into two parts, English and non-English, so Clanton steps back and joins the Canadians and the rest. That's about as funny as it gets.
The first half of the film belongs to the "training camp" genre. "Button up that top button!" "SAH!" Underdown gets to spend time with his wife and both of them become close friends of Clanton, who falls in love with a British beauty he finds swimming in "the Witch's Pool." There's nothing much we haven't seen before.
The second half has the two men in tanks, landing at Normandy and rushing through what appears to be every battle of any significance in the European theater. There are a few combat scenes. One is unique. A British tank is hit (whether by mine or German shell we never know), skids off the road, and rolls onto its side.
But the combat is hurried and conveyed by montage -- tanks wheels spin, airplanes roar overhead, parachutists drop from the sky, explosions take place, men stop for tea and make easy jokes about one another. It seems to have been put together for people who have already been there or who remember the meaning of place names like Arnhem, Caen, the Ardennes, and Nijmegen. If you don't know, it's going to seem as if the Welsh Guards land their tanks and race through Europe, losing an occasional vehicle.
If you keep your eyes and ears open, you may learn why Montgomery was so slow taking Caen, while Patton zoomed South and around into mid-France. At the end, Clanton lies wounded, tended by Underdown, and both friends are destroyed by a German 88. The Irishman who buries them plants an American flag one on grave and an English flag on the other, but he can't remember which grave is which, so he leaves them at random. The wind whips the two tiny flags until they dip towards one another and finally touch. It's an excessively pathetic ending but I found it moving nevertheless.
There's nothing particularly innovative about the movie. It's mostly stuff we've seen before. And it seems more dated than most British war movies of the period, which tended to be quite good. The message is in boldface: "We Must All Pull Together," English and Americans, Irish, Welsh, and so forth. But by 1950 the war had been over for several years, so what was the point? An apologia for the American servicemen who were "overpaid, oversexed, and over here"? But they were mostly gone when this movie was made. That's what I mean by the word "dated." I found the courtship of the American and his British swimming mate kind of interesting. During the war, American men are supposed to have thought that British girls were "fast"; ie., easy. At the same time, British girls considered American men "fast"; ie., too eager to become engaged and married. Margaret Mead, the anthropologist who was there at the time, concluded that the misunderstanding was due to differences in courtship patterns. For Americans, kissing came early in the process. For Brits, it was a much later step, signaling serious commitment, just prior to marriage. Thus, culture clash according to the Venerable Mead.
As I say, I found the last scene to be poignant, though I knew I was being recklessly manipulated. Well, after all, we've just spent 92 minutes with two polite fellows who have never harbored a harsh thought towards each other or anyone else.