Sure, there's a star-studded cast. Let's see, we've got: Henry Fonda, Robert Shaw, Dana Andrews, Robert Ryan, Telly Savalas, and Charles Bronson. And it is an epic. We're talking a cast of thousands with battle scene recreations that make modern warfare flicks pale in comparison. But when all the dust settles, Battle of the Bulge is a really long, really talky movie. And that's fine for history buffs, WWII film fans, and their ilk, but for the casual Friday night viewer it's a cure for insomnia.
The Americans, certain that the war will be over soon, have gotten hasty. Their careless attitude has given Nazi Germany the chance to assemble a surprise offensive, a push into Belgium with a battalion of tanks and possibly even a future atomic attack. While General Gray (Ryan) is doubtful of a German move, Lt. Col. Daniel Kiley (Fonda) thinks otherwise. History was on Kiley's side and the German's did indeed break American lines on December 16, 1944. The showdown in the Ardennes was the largest land battle of the war, both hard won and brutal.
Hollywood has always had a fascination with jingoistic tales of war. Our entire military is built on the American ideal of "an army of one." That's the American way, we're not a social beehive, not faceless drones, and we're individuals doing our part for the team but never losing sight of our own goals, our own desires. Hollywood makes war movies that show us this with a mind-numbing repetitiveness. It's not about the army, not about the war, or even the battle, it's about the men - those individuals - who fought it. That's why we have the star-studded cast. Audiences can't identify with faceless hordes; they don't want to watch over two hours of highly detailed battle recreations. They want personal stories, the faces, the sweat! And Battle of the Bulge delivers in spades. Oh yes, and they want tanks - lots and lots of tanks.
Thing is, according to the buffs, Battle of Bulge really isn't as historical as it should be. Apparently many of the facts in the film are distorted, or downright fiction. But that really doesn't matter here - this is an epic. And epics don't abide by the laws of the real world; if they did they'd feel grounded. They'd be tangible, in some sense. When Battle of the Bulge was released to theatres, it toured with a road show, complete with intermission. It was always intended as an experience, not a lesson. For the most part, it succeeds as a larger than life spectacle, but it's the very essence of the spectacle that negates any of the harder won truths buried in its showy meat.
And the 212-minute print that the web denizens dream about, it probably never existed in the first place.
Run time: 167 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 16th December 1965
Distributed by: WARNER BROTHERS PICTURES
Production compaines: Warner Bros. Pictures, Cinerama Productions Corp., United States Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 67%
Fresh: 4 Rotten: 2
IMDB: 6.8 / 10
Director: Ken Annakin
Starring: Henry Fonda as Lt Col Kiley, Robert Shaw as Col Hessler, Robert Ryan as General Grey, Dana Andrews as Colonel Pritchard, George Montgomery as Sgt. Duquesne, Ty Hardin as Schumacher, Pier Angeli as Louise, Barbara Werle as Elena, Charles Bronson as Maj. Wolenski, Hans Christian Blech as Conrad, Werner Peters as Gen. Kohler, James MacArthur as Lt. Weaver, Karl-Otto Alberty as Von Diepel, Telly Savalas as Sgt. Guffy, Steve Rowland as Eddy, Robert Woods as Joe (Kiley's pilot), Charles Stalmaker as Maj. Burke