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220 of 231 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jumps to the top of the heap., February 24, 2005
This review is from: The Big Red One - The Reconstruction (Two-Disc Special Edition) (DVD)
Whenever I would catch it on cable years and years ago, Sam Fuller's "The Big Red One" was a quirky war movie with strange pacing and a very uneven balance of comedy and tragedy, of high and low-- several great moments strung loosely together. Working on the upcoming DVD, I was not aware of the fact that Fuller had shot 4 hours or that he wished to his dying day that the film would be lengthened, and I was skeptical as I always am with extended versions (this one carries the subtitle "Reconstruction"). I got to look at it several times, once for business and twice more for pleasure, because the film is transformed and made great, and there are so many memorable scenes that one wants to go back to it again and again. 40-plus minutes have been added on, some full scenes, some simply extended bits to old scenes. The narrative structure of the movie is still very free and loose, very episodic, but the greater length is absolutely crucial to the plot, since we are meant to get at least some slight idea of the tedium and homesickness that goes along with being a soldier in an ongoing war. Fleshed out is the character and performance of Lee Marvin--everything that he is capable of as an actor, everything that that stone wall of a face can convey is on display here--tough as all hell but with a simultaneous sweetness that can be, when called upon, heartbreaking. Look at his expression when a gunfight breaks out after the Italian girl places flowers on his helmet--he jabs the rifle into position along his chin and begins firing rounds, his face jerking only slighty with each shot. We don't see anything of the gunfight, only close-up on his face and the expression says nothing and everything all at once--we're meant to meet him halfway and fill in the blanks ourselves. He makes it easy for us because by this point in the movie we know what kind of a man he is. And because this is Sam Fuller, the movie has a diabolical sense of humor, sometimes downright hilarious, as when some of the boys swap sexual fantasies, some of which have become warped and deranged after so much time in battle. Another sequence has the Sergeant and the boys of the One helping to deliver a baby inside the belly of a German tank--the mispronunciation of the French word for "push" setting the stage for some verbal slapstick. This juggling of moods doesn't seem quite so out of place in the longer version, and I get the impression that if they ever decide to cut together the 4-hour picture that Fuller had intended, we still wouldn't tire of the characters or their tours of duty. But as it stands now at 2 hours, 40 minutes, it has been rounded out for us and has jumped to the top of the heap alongside the small handful of truly important movies depicting war. The most common complaint I hear is that the German tanks are clearly American tanks dressed-up. This is true-- if you are searching for dead-on accuracy and detail in set design such as in Private Ryan, this is not for you. "The Big Red One" is a gritty personal little movie that is not burdened by the kind of strained sentimentality that sometimes hampers Spielberg. It can be at times surreal and absurd, but not the kind of surrealism that floats above and transcends the actual war as in "Apocalypse Now"-- it keeps its feet firmly on the ground. The tanks don't pass the test, but the characters more than make up for it... Lee Marvin's nameless Sergeant, stone-faced, intransigent, whose tragic prologue sets up a touching epilogue... Keith Carradine's cigar-chomping, novel-writing Private Zab-- a fill-in for Fuller, who lived all these experiences in his days with the Big Red One-- and Mark Hamill's Griff, the most fleshed-out character, whose unforgettable finale in the Falkenau concentration camp gives new meaning to Conrad's notion of "shelling the bush". The Falkenau scenes, by the way, were shot, like much of the movie, in Israel with Jews playing the Nazi wardens--a surrealistic slap in the face to anyone itching for strict realism in their war flicks. Inconsistencies be damned. This is a great one, and now, thanks to Richard Schickel and his gang, a fuller Fuller movie, a very generous update of a picture that never got a fair chance its first time around.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Apr 22, 2010 4:47:03 PM PDT
Before becoming an actor, Lee Marvin was a U S Marine who fought in the Pacific War He did twenty-two beach landings and was wounded once. He was the real deal. Caddams

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 3, 2010 8:00:13 AM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Aug 3, 2010 8:02:56 AM PDT]
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