Saturday, August 16, 2014

Apparently I haven't blogged about Battleground before

Tomorrow's star for TCM's Summer Under the Stars is John Hodiak. I didn't realize until just this morning that I have yet to blog about his 1949 film Battleground, which is coming up tomorrow morning at 11:45 AM.

The titular battleground is the Battle of the Bulge, which occured in Belgium around Christmas 1944, when the Germans staged a counteroffensive in the Ardennes forest in the southeast of the country. Battleground the movie looks more or less at the members of one infantry division and how they try to survive the battle. This is particularly difficult as the soldiers get caught up in the Nazi siege of Bastogne.

Hodiak plays one of the American soldiers, who together form a cross-section of American society, excluding of course black soldiers since the military wouldn't be desegregated until 1947, after the war had ended. Hodiak is Jarvess, the small-town man; alongside him are the red-blooded all-American Holley (Van Johnson); the young kid Layton (Marshall Thompson); the older guy Stazak (George Murphy); and the Roderigues, Mexican-American who wants to show everybody that he too is fully American (Ricardo Montalbán).

There's not too much to say about the plot, other than the fact that it's pretty much only about the battle and the siege, with what little there is in the way of subplots being the characterizations of the soldiers and the things that happen to them in their day-to-day attempts to survive the battle, such as Holley's having an egg and trying to scramble it for breakfast, only for real life to intrude constantly. There's also the dealing with the Nazis who are trying to get the allies to surrender, in a scene that more or less happened in the actual battle, not only in the movie. When the Nazis tell the American general they expect him to surrender and ask him for his response, he simply says, "Nuts!" Understandably, the Germans are nonplussed by this use of colloquial American English. So the Nazi bigwig gets a translation from his interpreter, who translates the response as "Nüsse", which is a literal translation for nuts that you would eat, not giving any sense that the American general isn't just saying no, he's saying hell no. This humorously leaves the Germans even more nonplussed.

I was never in the military, and am certainly too young to have been in World War II, but several of the reviewers on IMDb claim that Battleground does a surprisingly good job of portraying the difficulties of war, up to a point. Being under siege wouldn't be pleasant in the first place, but having to suffer it in the dead of winter would have been doubly so. The movie displays this despite being done mostly at MGM's studios and backlot. Obviously, though, the movie couldn't show the true gore of dead people, so the ultimate effect is of a movie that's pretty darn good but still has some of the MGM sheen, as opposed to The Steel Helmet just a few years later. Still, Battleground is well worth watching.

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