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A week or so ago this newspaper reviewed one of the recent outburst of war movies, "Sands of Iwo Jima." We said the movie was trite and inaccurate. The next morning's mail promptly turned up a letter and a postcard, the second signed by "one who was there." Both claimed that the movie was realistic and therefore praiseworthy, mainly because it included clips from official Navy documentaries about the Pacific War.
The writers of these letters should proceed forthwith to Loew's State, and find out for themselves what a really good war movie looks like. For "Battleground" combines a documentary's accuracy with the close-up look at individuals that no documentary can give. And it avoids the stereotyped action (boy meets girl and leaves her because duty calls, corporal hates sergeant because of prewar rivalry but repents when wounded) of "Sands of Iwo Jima."
"Battleground" is the story of an airborne unit at Bastogne, during the German winter counter offensive of 1944. This is a singularly unheroic unit as movie fighters go, preoccupied not with the Tradition of the Service or the Call of Duty, but with frozen feet, interminable K-rations, and three-day passes to Paris. The unit is trapped, partly through its own inexperience. It fights against an intelligent, non-fanatic enemy it often cannot see. Its men die quietly and terribly with a minimum of dissertation on the evils of war, or the girls they have left behind.
The picture is exceptional for photography that is restrained and accurate, for a script that is quietly humorous, for a cast in which nobody is exceptional and everybody is competent, including Harvard's own Ricardo Moutalban. It is exceptional for dealing with war on the personal level, on the when-do-we-eat-next or where-do-we-sleep-tonight level, rather than trying to cover the complexity of an entire operation. Genuine combat films are fine, but you may find they go down better straight, as in "Fighting Lady" or "Action in North Africa," than when watered down with histrionies, as in "Sands of Iwo Jima." And if you're interested in something a little more subtle than isolated clips of a battleship shelling a beach, go see "Battleground."
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