Eye For Film >> Movies >> Fixed Bayonets! (1951) Film Review
Released at the height of the Korean War, only shortly after America had staged the longest retreat in its military history, writer/director Samuel Fuller’s Fixed Bayonets! is a reflective piece that lacks the bravado of similar movies from the period. Rather than make a political statement about the war, Fuller chooses instead to focus on the individual men fighting on the front line; their conflicts, thoughts, and motivations.
Winter, 1950: a division of the US Army is forced to retreat in the face of superior North Korean and Chinese numbers. To facilitate the withdrawal, a platoon of men stay behind to fight a rearguard action, hoping to fool the communists into believing the entire division has remained. Among the soldiers are grizzled sergeants Rock (Gene Evans) and Lonergan (Michael O’Shea), and Corporal Denno (Richard Basehart), who dropped out of officer training and can’t yet bring himself to fire a rifle at the enemy. His biggest fear, however, is taking command of the unit should his superiors be killed in action; a situation that seems more and more likely as the operation unfolds.
Fixed Bayonets! features some visceral combat sequences - which Fuller directs thrillingly, with fast cuts and extreme close-ups - but it is the quieter scenes between fighting that are most impressive. During these periods, the men cope with the daily pressures of army life: keeping warm in the wintery conditions; knowing the value in a pair of dry socks; hoping to stay alive long enough to get home. One scene, in which the unit huddle together in a cave to prevent frostbite, is a stark reminder of the conditions the men are fighting in. Another sees a soldier’s attempts to rescued an injured comrade from a minefield, though his reasons for doing so are not as straightforward as you might think. Sequences like these seem so genuine that the budgetary restraints of the painted backgrounds and fake sets are almost immediately forgotten.
The close filming style and realism of many of the scenes at times gives the picture a reportage feel. Perhaps this should come as no surprise, given Fuller’s background first as a journalist, then as an infantryman during the Second World War. This gave him the perfect experience to study the raw psychological drama of warfare, and the story maintains a high level of tension throughout, particularly as the eventual outcome of the mission is unknown. At 88 minutes this is a lean picture that never drags, with every shot chosen for a reason. Anyone who is a fan of war movies should make an effort to see it.Reviewed on: 03 Sep 2007