Cross Of Iron

Cross Of Iron

*****

Reviewed by: Donald Munro

Set in World War Two and based on the book by Willi Heinrich, Cross Of Iron is Sam Peckinpah's only war film. The action takes place on the Taman Peninsula in 1943, as the Wehrmacht retreat from the Red Army. The film focuses on the actions of a German platoon lead by Corporal Rolf Steiner, played by James Coburn, and on the conflict between Steiner and his newly appointed commanding officer Captain Hauptmann Stransky, played by Maximillian Schell.

From their first meeting, Steiner and Stransky form a mutual dislike. Stransky, a Prussian aristocrat, has volunteered to serve on the eastern front in an attempt to be awarded an Iron Cross. In the Russian attack that follows Steiner is badly wounded. Stransky behaves in an incompetent and cowardly fashion. After a period of convalescence Steiner returns to the front. Stransky has fabricated evidence showing that he bravely led the counter attack against the Russians and deserves decoration. The only thing that stands between him and an Iron Cross is Steiner's testimony...

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The film counterpoints the futility of war against the pointless conflict between Stransky and Steiner. Stransky desires to be decorated by a defeated army and Steiner has no intention of submitting his testimony. Here the first rate acting from Coburn and Schell is complemented by fine performances from the supporting actors.

The horrors of war are shown in brutal scenes of battle and in the subjection of the German troops to the effects of a constant barrage of shell and mortar fire. The focus is on flying debris and all the muck and stoor kicked up by the fighting, rather than Hollywood style special effects. Shot in muted colours, the film shows war as a grimy, unpleasant business without a hint of gloss. It shows the desensitisation of the soldiers to suffering and death in the way they ignore the horrors in their environment. Yet the film is not entirely bleak. The time Steiner spends in hospital, after being wounded, is laced with black humour.

The setting and the state of the German troops combines with the visual tone to strip this war film of any sense of jingoism. Cross Of Iron portrays war as horrific. It is one of the most powerful anti war films to have been made.

Reviewed on: 11 Mar 2009
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Cross Of Iron packshot
As the Wehrmacht retreat on the Eastern Front, two German soldiers are locked in a futile personal conflict.

Director: Sam Peckinpah

Writer: Julius J Epstein, James Hamilton, Willi Heinrich, Walter Kelley

Starring: James Coburn, Maximilian Schell, James Mason, David Warner, Klaus Löwitsch, Vadim Glowna, Roger Fritz, Dieter Schidor, Burkhard Driest, Fred Stillkrauth

Year: 1977

Runtime: 132 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: UK, West Germany

Festivals:

Bradford 2009

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