Battle of the Bulge (film)
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|Battle of the Bulge|
Original movie poster
|Directed by||Ken Annakin|
|Produced by||Sidney Harmon |
|Written by||Bernard Gordon |
|Narrated by||William Conrad|
|Starring||Henry Fonda |
|Music by||Benjamin Frankel|
|Editing by||Derek Parsons|
|Distributed by||Warner Brothers|
|Release date(s)|| |
|Running time||167 minutes|
Battle of the Bulge is a widescreen war film produced in Spain that was released in 1965. It was directed by Ken Annakin. It starred Henry Fonda, Robert Shaw, Telly Savalas, Robert Ryan, Dana Andrews and Charles Bronson. The feature was filmed in Ultra Panavision 70 and exhibited in 70 mm Cinerama.
Battle of the Bulge had its world premiere on December 16, 1965, the 21st anniversary of the battle, at the Pacific Cinerama Dome Theatre in Hollywood, California. The original VHS release of the film for home video use was heavily edited to fit in one VHS tape (to reduce costs to the consumer) and used a full screen "pan and scan" technique often employed in network telecasts of widescreen motion pictures. The 1992 Laserdisc and 2005 DVD releases, however, run at their full length and are presented letterboxed in the original 2:76:1 aspect ratio. A Blu-ray release followed in 2007, though the aspect ratio says it is 2:35:1 on the back of the cover, the actual aspect ratio of the film is the orginal 2:76:1 like the previous DVD release.
The filmmakers attempted to condense a battle which stretched across parts of Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg and lasted nearly a month into under 3 hours. They also shot parts of the film on terrain that did not resemble actual battle locations. This left them open to criticism for lack of historical accuracy, but they claimed in the end credits that they had 're-organised' the chronological order of events to maximise the dramatic story.
Unlike most World War II epics, "Battle of the Bulge" contains virtually no portrayals of actual senior Allied leaders, civilian or military. This is presumably because of controversies surrounding the battle, both during the war and after. Though Allied forces ultimately won the battle, the initial Nazi counteroffensive caught them by surprise and caused high casualties.
The film opens with Lt. Colonel Kiley (Fonda) and his pilot, Joe, flying recon over the Ardennes forest. Kiley's overhead passes cause the fictional Colonel Hessler's (Shaw) driver, Conrad (Hans Christian Blech) to drive into a ditch. Hessler, however, maintains his cool, chastising Conrad for fearing an unarmed reconnaissance aircraft.
Meanwhile, Kiley and Joe are on their way back when Kiley spots something and takes a photograph. As the plane flies away, a group of camouflaged German tanks are revealed. Hessler and Conrad briefly discuss the state of the affairs, with Hessler giving an impression of the hopelessness of the war, believing "the world is going to get rid of both of us", before further chastising Conrad for leaving the motor running and wasting fuel, an increasingly rare resource for the German military.
Hessler enters an underground command bunker where his superior, General Kohler (Werner Peters) presents models of the latest wonder weapons: jets, V-2 rockets and the King Tiger tank.
Suddenly, Kohler and Hessler are captured by what appears to be a squad of American soldiers. They are German soldiers in disguise led by Lieutenant Schumacher (Ty Hardin). In the upcoming mission which Hessler will participate, these English-speaking Germans will seize vital bridges and sow confusion. ( Note : In some DVD Releases, this scene has been deleted )
Kohler points out a clock with a 50-hour countdown: the time allotted for the mission, beyond which the odds of success will fall off. Finally, Hessler is presented with a yard full of King Tiger tanks, in response to which he proclaims the operation can be done.
Meanwhile, Kiley returns to headquarters where he warns Germany plans one more all-out offensive. His superiors, General Grey (Ryan) and Colonel Pritchard (Andrews) dismiss it out of hand: all intelligence points to Germany not having the resources and manpower to launch another attack.
Back at German HQ, Conrad confronts Hessler about the chances of success, pointing out all the experienced veterans who have fallen since Hessler first led the Panzers into Poland. Concerned, Hessler reviews his new tank commanders and discovers they are all young and mostly inexperienced. He expresses his lack of confidence to Kohler. The commanders, overhearing this, break into a resounding chorus of Panzerlied. Moved by their spirit, Hessler casts aside his doubt.
Hoping to uncover more proof, Kiley visits a U.S. infantry position on the Siegfried Line under command of Major Walenski (Bronson). En route, he is slowed down by a Sherman tank commanded by Sgt. "Guffy" (Telly Savalas). As the tank moves off the road, black market goods Guffy peddles to soldiers at the front fall from the tank, and he stops to retrieve them, explaining his intent to not return home poor. A patrol led by Lieutenant Weaver (James MacArthur) and Sergeant Duquesne (George Montgomery) capture some young Germans. Kiley concludes experienced German troops have been replaced by these men and withdrawn for an offensive, but Pritchard dismisses this as well.
Early the next day as G.I.'s sleep in their positions, Hessler launches his attack. Awoken by the noise of German tanks, Walenski leads his men into the wooded area of the Schnee Eifel where his men try to stand their ground but are overrun. A group of Shermans, Guffy's tank among them, attempt to slow the panzers, but the Sherman's weak guns and thin armor make them ineffective. Guffy's tank is rammed into a ditch by a panzer, and two of his crew are killed. Guffy and his gunner escape out of the tank and crawl to the rear.
Lt. Schumacher and his disguised German troops capture the only bridge over the river Our which heavy tanks can cross. With his route secure, Hessler continues his spearhead through the Allied front toward Ambleve, while being observed by Kiley. Schumacher later takes control of a small crossroads which is the intersection of 3 roads - one from Ambleve, one from Malmedy and one from the Siegfried Line. With the signs turned around, the rear echelon of Walenski's troops are diverted not to Ambleve but to Malmedy, where an SS Division is waiting. In the last group, Lt. Weaver and Sgt. Duquesne argue about the route, and then their jeep breaks down. they are consequently captured, and placed with other American prisoners. Later, most are massacred by SS troops at Malmedy. Lt. Weaver manages to escape, but Duquesne is killed. Schumacher's masquerade comes undone after US soldiers become suspicious seeing his (fake) military policemen, and not combat engineers, appearing to incorrectly lay explosives on the River Our bridge.
Kiley notices the Germans are carrying rubber hoses and empty metal drums which prove they are short on fuel and scavenging for it. Conceding the German attack is a major effort, Pritchard apologizes to Kiley.
As Grey evacuates his HQ, an unarmed soldier runs past. When Grey stops him and asks where his unit is, the young solder exclaims they're all gone. Seeing what's happening and not wanting his division to disintegrate into a rabble, Grey turns around and orders every man to stand and fight. Guffy meets with his black Market associate, Louise, who presents him with money despite no apparent shortage of goods (indicating prostitution) which angers him. Although he saw their association as a business partnership, Louise obviously has feelings for Guffy, and the two share a kiss before Guffy leaves to link up with his unit.
Kohler informs Hessler that he is at the head of the German offensive. Bursting with pride, Hessler reveals to Conrad that before this attack, he never thought Germany could win. Now everything has changed. Conrad asks what will become of his sons, to which Hessler replies they will become soldiers, fight and die for Germany.
With Hessler's forces now surrounding the town of Ambleve, Grey summons heavy artillery. But as the train loaded with ordnance races toward Ambleve, a lone German tank destroys the engine, denying General Grey the means to defend against heavy armour. (Note: This scene was shortened in some later theatrical and TV releases.) German troops assault Ambleve but fail to capture the town.
General Kohler orders Hessler to bypass Ambleve, but Hessler, after presenting a fresh cake which was baked in the United States, he argues that capturing it will eliminate a thorn in their side and severely damage American morale: if the Americans have the fuel and aircraft to fly things as trivial as cake to the front, such an overwhelming defeat may force them to reconsider their chances of winning the war. Kohler concedes. As night falls, Hessler's tanks and infantry storm Ambleve, finally taking the town. (Note: In some theatrical releases, the Ambleve evening assault was not shown.) Although many Americans are captured, Grey, Pritchard, Kiley, and others escape to the river River Meuse.
Walenski is captured and demands to know whether his troops will be murdered like those at Malmedy. Angered by the accusation and the knowledge that such massacres can "turn a disorganised rabble into avenging soldiers", Hessler complains to General Kohler. American resistance is stiffening everywhere. Kohler points out the units at Malmedy are SS troops and not under Wehrmacht control. ( Note : In some DVD releases, this scene is deleted)
Meanwhile, angry at the thought of his sons never living in peace, Conrad confronts Hessler, denouncing him a murderer and saying he "would murder the whole world" to stay in his black Panzer uniform. Recognizing Conrad's past loyalty, Hessler spares his life, but has him transferred to fuel services.
American forces regroup and begin to reorganize for a counterattack. Guffy goes around the men, asking if anyone who fought at Ambleve is around. When one man tells him that the Hotel where Louise was staying was destroyed, Guffy morosely asks General Grey when he's going to let them fight back.
Facing the dangers of a foggy night, Col. Kiley conducts an aerial reconnaissance in an attempt to locate the main German spearhead. His aircraft nearly crashes into a cliff. Undaunted, he continues, ordering the pilot to shut off the engine and glide in an attempt to listen for enemy tanks. Suddenly through a gap in the fog he spots the jackpot: Hessler's column of Tiger tanks heading toward American lines. Kiley radios in the coordinates, but is hit by German fire and crashes near an American fuel depot.
Meanwhile, General Grey's force, with the river Meuse at their back, prepare to fight off Hessler. The outgunned, out-armored American tanks are systematically destroyed, but at the cost of the Germans burning up much of their fuel. Guffy's tank is hit, but can still move, and he withdraws to the rear, where he meets with Weaver and a group of walking wounded. Distraught at Louise's death, Guffy intends to use the Sherman's .30 caliber machine gun to kill as many Germans as he can, threatening to shoot Weaver if he tries to board the tank. Weaver asks him if he's going to waste ammo on American troops, and Guffy relents in sadness. The damaged Sherman tank, with the wounded men aboard, head for the fuel depot.
Aware of the fuel shortages, Hessler leads a detachment toward an American depot to capture its stocks. Conrad, moving fuel drums, watches him go. Weaver and the stragglers arrive first, taking out Schumacher's men who had taken control of the fuel dump after Weaver, who saw Schumacher at the Our river Bridge, recognizes him. Hessler's tanks appear. The U.S. defenders flood the road with gasoline. Drums are punctured and rolled downhill where they are set ablaze. Numerous German tanks are destroyed, and the crews abandon them in fear of the flames. Hessler desperately goes it alone, commandeering the controls of his Tiger, intending to drive it into the depot. However, the tracks of his tank get bogged down in the soaked mud, followed by the panzer catching fire and exploding where he perishes inside.
As the film ends, an American scout informs Grey the Germans have given up and are marching back to Germany. At the end of a column, Conrad discards his rifle and ammunition. And as the camera pans away, we see an array of abandoned German vehicles strewn across the field.
Vignettes from the actual battle are included in the film, including General McAuliffe's reply of "Nuts!" to an offer of surrender at Bastogne. The character of Col. Hessler was modeled after Waffen-SS Standartenführer Joachim Peiper.
The final tank battle is a rough depiction of the Battle of Celles on December 26, 1944 where the U.S. 2nd Armored Division smashed the German 2nd Panzer Division. The film creates the false impression that large numbers of American tanks sacrificed themselves against the heavy Tiger IIs and in the process lured the enemy off course which caused them to run out of gas. In reality, they were already stranded. The tanks used (despite the claims of the producer in an interview which is one of the DVD extras) are not historically accurate. But the American M47 Pattons representing German King Tiger tanks conveyed the superior size and gun power which the M24 Chaffees representing the M4 Sherman had to contend with.
Aside from the initial American encounters with the German offensive, there is some absence of cold weather and snow, which were the conditions in which the real battle was fought. There is no trace of snow at all in the film's major tank battle scene. Nor were some battle scenes fought in flat and bare territory, considering the mountainous, and forested and grassy nature of the Ardennes. The film was shot on location in Sierra de Guadarrama mountain range and Madrid, Spain.
The role of Lt. Schumacher and his men was based on Operation Greif, the plan to parachute English speaking Germans using American equipment behind American lines to sow confusion and capture the bridges.
Absent from this movie is the response by General George Patton whose Third Army relieved the siege of Bastogne. Indeed, there is no reference to British forces in the area, although British troops were largely kept behind the Meuse river and thus almost entirely out of the fighting. Also not mentioned is General Eisenhower's decision to split the Bulge front into two, ceding temporary command of two American armies to Field Marshal Montgomery in the northern half of the Bulge; implying a totally American operation. Neither was there mention of the role of Allied air power hitting the Germans hard at the first sign of clear weather.
The film's opening narration, by William Conrad, does mention both Montgomery and Patton, but is inaccurate, saying:
to the north, stood Montgomery's Eighth Army. To the south, Patton's Third.
In fact, Montgomery's northern command was actually the 21st Army Group. The Eighth Army, Montgomery's previous command, was actually in Italy at the time of the Battle of the Bulge. Although Patton was in charge of 3rd Army during the battle, this army was part of a much larger American force in the south. Third Army was one of four American armies that constituted the 12th Army Group under General Omar Bradley. It was Patton, however, who was Montgomery's American counterpart on the Western Front.
The fictional German character, Hessler, is generally modeled after Colonel Joachim Peiper whose SS unit carried out the Malmedy massacre. However, this is not evident in the film where Hessler is openly critical of the Malmedy incident, pointing out such things turn a defeated rabble into an avenging army.
The film recaptures the major aspects of the battle, depicting how the inexperienced replacement American units stationed in the Ardenne were initially overwhelmed and the confusion which followed. It points out the superiority of heavy German tanks, along with their one weakness, lack of fuel.
- Henry Fonda as Lt. Col. Kiley
- Robert Shaw as Col. Hessler
- Robert Ryan as Gen. Grey
- Dana Andrews as Col. Pritchard
- George Montgomery as Sgt. Duquesne
- Ty Hardin as Schumacher
- Pier Angeli as Louise
- Barbara Werle as Elena
- Charles Bronson as Wolenski
- Hans Christian Blech as Conrad
- Werner Peters as Gen. Kohler
- James MacArthur as Lt. Weaver
- Karl-Otto Alberty as Von Diepel (as Karl Otto Alberty)
- Telly Savalas as Sgt. Guffy
- Steve Rowland as Eddy
- Robert Woods (actor) as Joe (Kiley's pilot)
- Battle of the Bulge (film) at the Internet Movie Database
- Battle of the Bulge (film) at the TCM Movie Database
- Battle of the Bulge (film) at AllRovi
- Marcus Wendel (May 14, 2006), "Heer Units". Viewed December 26, 2006.
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