Warner Brothers
$19.97 RATED: NR
RUNNING TIME: 170 Minutes
• The Filming of Battle of the Bulge
• History Recreated

• Original
Theatrical Trailer

I wish I’d been born in the ’50s, so that I could have been a kid when the
ostentatious epics of the ’60s were coming out. I might have been impressed by
movies pretentious enough to include an Overture and Intermission — yeah, I’m
looking at you, Kubrick. And it’s the only way I could have enjoyed such a
shoddy wartime disaster as Battle of the Bulge.

The Flick

titular conflict was the final turning point in the European campaign during
World War II. The German Lufwaffe had been grounded, and supply issues had
driven the Nazi army back to the homeland. For the Germans, the Ardennes
Offensive was conceived as a way to reclaim Antwerp, push back the Allies, and
force their surrender on the western front.

battles that followed featured heroism, treachery and desperation. This movie
captures it all terribly.

See Rip-Roaring Action…

I should
apologize for that jab at Kubrick, because Spartacus at least had the good
sense to concentrate on creating character. In Battle of the Bulge, the
story is centered around an unbelievably dodgy historical account, with
recognizable actors on hand to provide the characters missing from the script.

…Smell The Fog of War…

So Henry
Fonda anchors the film as the streetwise pessimist who knows the Germans are
planning an attack. He just knows it.
Robert Ryan is the stern but sympathetic allied general, and Charles Bronson
the tough Major. He’s like John Wayne brand toilet paper — tough as leather,
and don’t take shit off nobody.

…And Experience Larger Than Life Risk(s)!

Savalas is the self-serving war profiteer who really has a heart of gold.
Battle of the Bulge leans on the goofy side of the actor, instead of
capitalizing on the intimidating insanity that always lurks beneath the skin of

Robert Shaw holds down the enemy side of the line as a Nazi tank commander. The
role wouldn’t seem out of left field to the movie’s contemporary audience, but
for a generation raised on Jaws, seeing Shaw as a Nazi is a

Process shots...
Without a door on the ‘plane’, Hank realized there was no way out of this process shot. He was trapped.

The only
notable feature of the script is that it tries to portray the German
perspective with only half the venom typically excreted in this sort of
endeavor. To do so, it enlists Shaw as the Honorable Adversary. That requires
some work, and so he has the dubious honor of character-building dialogue.

I hoped
at least to enjoy some decent combat footage. This was, after all, a picture
designed to promote the new Cinerama process, the precursor to Imax. No such
luck. All of the combat is poorly staged. Men stiffen and pirouette at death
like Greg Louganis playing charades. The repetitive battle footage is slow and
riddled with continuity errors.

Feel the cold!
Wow. I can really feel the cold.

In fact,
the entire film occurs under the umbrella of poor continuity. The 85-mile front
line of the battle too place in the densely wooded Ardennes in December,
supposedly under the cover of fog and clouds which grounded Allied air support.
So why does the movie occur on the American west coast sometime in August?
Guess they decided to skip that bit about the Allied counteroffensive taking
place during the coldest January on record.

As a
consolation, there’s one pretty good man on fire scene, but it has no chance of
saving the picture.

Man on Fire!
Turn off your damn cel phone at the freakin’ pump!

The first
hour is particularly amateurish. It actually seems like a collection of
last-minute reshoots. The process shots are bad across the board, but they’re
particularly poor in the first hour. One of the worst offenders even opens the
picture! That goes for the model work — check those Toho Studios tanks.
Godzilla movies don’t get away with crappy models in black and white; there’s
no chance for them to succeed in color. I can’t even imagine how bad this
looked in titanic Cinerama.

As the
film unspools, it begins to look more and more like boilerplate Hollywood war
footage. In other words, poor day for night, slow, uncoordinated extras and
cheap sets. Once, Robert Shaw said something about chocolate cake that perked
me up (It means that the Americans have fuel and planes to fly cake across the
Atlantic Ocean. They have no conception of defeat!) and Bronson got in a good
line of his own. (Cooks: But we’re cooks! Bronson: Lunch is over. Get your
rifles and follow me.)

With his stock footage behind him, Wilhelm felt invincible.

The only
thing saving Battle of the Bulge is star power, and it doesn’t even make the
big names look very good. For good vintage Shaw, grab The Taking of Pelham One Two
. For vintage Ryan, check The Set Up. Anyone who doesn’t know
where to grab a good Henry Fonda or Charles Bronson flick can’t be helped. The
score represents one point for each of those actors, and even that seems high.

(For a
much better account of parts of the battle, check out Band of Brothers, or even
the great game Battlefield 1942.)

4 out of 10

The Look

nice, but for some bearable edge enhancement. Not a reference-quality transfer,
but often spectacular nonetheless. The colors are vivid, and the contrast and
black levels seem right for an over-lit studio epic. Thankfully, the wider than Kirstie Alley ratio for Cinerama has been preserved — 2.73:1! It don’t get much wider.

7.5 out of 10

At night, the tank people gathered to rehearse their production of The Seventh Seal.

The Noise

I’ve got no patience for mono films remixed to 5.1 surround. But this track is
above average. The dialogue is generally quite clear, which really highlights that
the Germans all sound like Ahnuld impersonators. (Also note the few phrases auf
Deutch repeated over and over for ‘realism’.) There’s some crispness and punch
to the gunshots and explosions. The music seems to come in a bit too loud and
front-loaded, though.

(Actually, I’ve found that the film was originally released with a magnetic stereo track. So forget what I said about mono.)

7 out of 10

The Goodies

The Filming of Battle of the Bulge
- It’s always
great to see vintage footage of great actors, so Shaw and Fonda fans might
relish the scraps of film in this ten minute promo featurette. The best thing
about this clip is the way it tries to persuade the audience the film was shot
at the real locations, when that’s not at all the case.

Best name ever.
The Belch family were so proud.

History Recreated - This is pure vintage fake press
cocksuckery courtesy of Warner Brothers. Ever wanted to see what the first
generation of press junkets looked like? This is it. You do get to hear Robert
Shaw say ‘I’m very romantic’ in his real accent, though.

3 out of 10

The Artwork

It’s not
quite big heads, and I like the ‘Norman Rockwell goes to war’ approach. All
things considered, this is a step above average, which is far more than I can
say for the film.

7 out of 10

4 out of 10