14 August 2006 | raysond
The Battle Of The Bulge
"THE BATTLE OF THE BULGE"-was without a doubt an archetypal studio war movie,since this one is really quite faithful to the broad outlines and details of a real campaign,and then fills out the running time with ridiciously unrealistic Hollywood heroics. The combination is somehow much more entertaining that it ought to be. Veteran director Ken Annakin knows how to keep this sort of sprawling material in line,and even if the two leads are doing a bit of slumming,they're as good as they used to be.
As the synopsis of the story goes it is December,1944 and American troops and officers advancing toward Germany think that the war is over. They're on cruise control waiting for orders to return home. But Colonel Kiley(Henry Fonda)who's a cop in civilian life,has a hunch that the enemy is up to something. On a reconaissance flight,he spots Colonel Hessler(Robert Shaw)in the back of a big black convertible. Kiley also spots some Tiger tanks and thinks that he has discovered the first evidence of the counteroffensive. His superiors,General Gray (Robert Ryan),and Colonel Pritchard(Dana Andrews) are skeptical. Meanwhile,right at the point of the German attack,Major Wolenski's(Charles Bronson)men are hunkered in a bunker and trying to stay warm. Sargent Duquesne(George Montgomery)keeps wet-behind-the-ears Lt. Weaver (James MacArthur)from getting himself killed,and Guffy(Telly Savalas)uses his Sherman tank to distribute black market wine,eggs,and nylons. The script by John Melson and producers Phillip Yordan and Milton Sperling neatly juggles those plot elements,bringing them all together only at a wonderfully preposterous conclusion.
The various battle scenes vary widely in quality. Some of the destruction seems shockingly real while the occasional shots of model tanks and trains are so jarring that they're unintentionally funny. Director Kenneth Annakin realizes how those deep,ratting,clanking sound effects are to cinematic tanks,and he uses every note in his repertoire. He understands the importance of setting,and gives the film an appropriately bleak,muddy,snow-covered feel. Since the film was released in Christmas of 1965,and was originally made for the ultra-widescreen process Cinerama(the first film presented in this format for Warner Bors. Pictures and was filmed in Ultra Panavision), much of the scope of the big scenes is lost in the conventional pan-and-scan transfer(it has been restored for its release on DVD). The best way to see this is in theatres that had the Cinerama process. The tank battles in particular have almost nothing to do with the realiities of war,but the filmmakers don't take as many liberties as they might have.
The Germans did time the attack to take advantage of poor weather-"night,fog and snow,"as Hitler put it-to keep Allied airplanes on the ground. They hoped that stopping the Allies would give them take to take more advantage of their secret-weapons programs and V-2 attacks. The attack was led by a young tank general,and his supplies of fuel were so critically low that his forces were expected to forage for it. The filmmakers made use of all these points,especially with the battle sequences and stunning photography throughout. When it was released in 1965,the film's original running time of 167 minutes long. The most widely available tape version of the film is at 141 minutes and was re-released back in theatres with given running times of 156,and 163 minutes long. When it was restored,the producers resurrected the original negatives to its standard running time of 167 minutes,which is now out on DVD.