Um filme de Ken Annakin
PEOPLE do forget--but, of course, it has been 21 years this month since the last, desperate, almost calamitous breakthrough of the German armies in the Ardennes sector in World War II. That was the large-scale offensive known as the Battle of the Bulge. And 21 years is a long time for people to bear in mind what a shocking, terrifying, agonizing engagement it was.
Especially is it a long time for certain types in Hollywood--those who are inclined to make movies about historic happenings so they will be spectacular rather than true--to maintain a sense of reality and, indeed, a sober regard toward a large military engagement that has the makings for a huge war spectacle.
That is the fairest explanation for "Battle of the Bulge," a large, noisy, almost three-hour picture of some of the things that supposedly happened in the Ardennes, whipped up in color and Cinerama for Warner Brothers under the direction of Ken Annakin and put on last night at the Warner Cinerama Theater.
We might forgive a certain amount of fictionizing in its highly personalized plot, which has to do, in the main, with the encounters of particular elements of the American forces with an oncoming German panzer brigade in just the northern stretch of the Ardennes sector.
We might accept the romantic suggestion that it was the independent reconnoitering and detective work of a lonely American lieutenant colonel -- whom Henry Fonda plays as though he was a pal of Bill Mauldin's cartooned Willie -- that discovered the unbelievable fact that the Germans, who were assumed to be beaten, were about to launch a lightning counterattack.
We might accept the arrogance of Dana Andrews as a colonel who ridicules the thought, and the implication that Robert Ryan as the general at Ambleve, to whom Mr. Fonda reports, is in tactical command of all the bulge. We might concede, for dramatic convenience, that the total assault hinges upon the confrontation of Mr. Ryan's forces with the brigade of German tanks, led by Robert Shaw. And we might tolerate a lot of customary soldier-boy heroics on the part of George Montgomery, James MacArthur. Charles Bronson and Telly Savalas as the usual wheeler-dealer "sarge."
These are all familiar devices and characters in modern war films, not unlike some of those presented in such creditable ones as "The Longest Day" and the old "Battleground," which was by far the best picture made about the Battle of the Bulge.
What is offensive about this picture--and offensive is the word--is the evident distortion of the material and of history to suit the giant Cinerama screen. It is the crude alteration of conditions and tactics during the German breakthrough to provide the wide-screen cameras with mammoth spectacles.
For instance, it is the removal of the heavy fog that actually made it possible for the Germans to carry on their tank attacks without fear of retaliation from the air. Without the slightest explanation, Mr. Annakin has the German tanks ranging widely and impressively across clear terrain, once he has got them out of the fog-shrouded forests, with nary an American bomber in view. This is a complete distortion of the weather conditions that made the battle what it was.
Also, it is offensive to see heavy artillery being brought to the front aboard a train that races wildly along a single down-grade mountain track, twisting and jerking around the curves in the fashion of that famous Cinerama roller-coaster ride. And it is a cruel deception to describe the climax of the Battle of the Bulge as a ranging of German tanks against Americans across a broad plain in the manner of a Western movie cavalry-and-Indian charge.
Mr. Fonda, Mr. Ryan and Mr. Andrews play their American officers well enough. Mr. Montgomery, Mr. MacArthur and Mr. Savalas overact their roles. Mr. Shaw is egregiously Teutonic as the German tank commander who leads a charmed life. And Hans Christian Blech is mawkish as the "good German" who is now inevitable in war films.
"Battle of the Bulge" may please the youngsters who go for loud and flame-filled spectacles, but it will be a likely irritation to those who have some sober, rueful sense of World War II, and also a respectful regard for the memory of the men who fought and died in the real "bulge."
Bosley Crowther, NY Times, December 18, 1965