Friday, April 16, 2010

1977 -CROSS OF IRON, Peckinpah's very mixed bag of a war film

Unlucky enough to come out around the same time as Star Wars which probably killed every serious film  that year, Sam Peckinpah's Cross of Iron was doomed by it's cliche ridden script.  It's to bad because the film has some excellent battle scenes and an interesting point of view for a World War II film


Peckinpah had a screenplay from an old Hollywood writer named Julius J. Epstein.  Epstein had written Casablanca along with other Warner Brothers films.  His story was about a German Army unit in World War II fighting along the Russian front.   Having a war film with this point of view was interesting unfortunately the screenplay was a pile of cliches.  There were the good Germans, the evil Nazi Germans and James Coburn's character Sergeant Steiner who was the tough but war weary soldier.  

The film had a good cast.  James Mason was a "good" German general who gave his usual expert performance.  David Warner was the cynical philosophical German Captain commenting on the action and lamenting on the state of humanity in war.  One of the few actual German actors in the film Maximillean Schell,  gave a very broad performance as the evil German Colonel.   Schell really hammed it up as the bad guy and he  seemed right out of an old 1940's war movie, probably a character Julius Epstein had written Warners.

It was surprising that Peckinpah didn't recognize the problems with the screenplay, before he was a director he had been a decent screenwriter.  Then again Sam Peckinpah could never make a film with out having some kind of conflict going on.  He was usually fighting with his producers or battling his own chemical dependency problems in most cases it was both. 

As with just about any Peckinpah film, the action scenes are outstanding.  Peckinpah was probably the only director who understood how to film action in slow motion.  He had a special technique of intercutting the slow motion action with other angles which always gave his scenes a kinetic look.

Unfortunately for the rest of the film,  Peckinpah couldn't match this high quality of work.

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