4 November 2005 | vandino1
The only iron you'll run a-"cross" in this is Burton's performance
Another in the never ending supply of "War is Hell" films, this one is a time killer and nothing more. Thankfully Mitchum and Steiger are playing Americans, but no thanks to having Burton play a German Sergeant. Now, in my opinion, James Coburn was also miscast as Steiner in 'Cross of Iron,' but since most everything else was well done in that film, his Americanisms could be tolerated somewhat. Not so with the ageing and mostly immobile Burton, his growling Welsh baritone making no pretense of Germanic origin. Surrounded by an all-German supporting cast, Burton stands out badly. And, worse, he's a bore. He rattles his booze-ravaged physique through the motions while his craggy, scowling face makes occasional movements belying its near-comatose state... meanwhile his Great Actor's voice grumbles or barks its lines. Then there is the ever-lethargic Mitchum, phoning it in as an American Colonel. His character's obsession with discovering the German Army's anti-tank capabilities is ludicrous. Sure, it could've been a point to ponder, but having Mitchum prowling behind enemy lines and grabbing German soldiers just to find out what they might have handy to destroy Allied tanks is ignorant nonsense. Just as absurd is the final battle with Burton's character submerged into a muddle of conflicting emotions and actions, alternately killing Americans and trying to save them. Jurgens, as a German General, need not appear on set at all: his performance could have been spliced from footage in any one of a number of films where he plays the same part. And Steiger, as an American Brigadier General, does his surly over-emotional routine yet again... but at least we're spared his usual dissolve into tears.
Technically the film is mostly a bust. Unlike 'Cross of Iron' which benefited from its Yugoslavian location and availability of correct tanks from that period, this one was filmed in Austria and thus uses that country's available hardware which is the usual anachronistic post-war tanks that annoy war buffs. Only the opening footage of the film, which is lifted from 'Cross of Iron' shows the correct tanks of the period. In addition, the main thrust of the plot, concerning Jurgens' and Burton's attempt to obtain a cease fire after Hitler is ostensibly assassinated, is interesting, but badly handled. For instance, it features a forced meeting of our two stars: Mitchum absurdly searching behind the lines for info on those anti-tank guns he's obsessed with, and Burton a lowly sergeant looking for an American to make his cease fire pitch to. Steiger's character is absolutely correct to scoff at the notion that a mere sergeant would be the point man to offer surrender of an entire army AND be privy to a plot to kill Hitler. The only two things that feel right in this film are Parks as the laconic, drily humored sidekick of Mitchum's, and the few scenes of German soldiers razzing each other with the dark humor of soldiers near their doom. And the music score is terrible: a weird mixture of futuristic electronic noodling and medieval-like horn blare.