This Friday the 26th at 5 pm Pacific Standard Time, Turner Classic Movies kicks off a four day Memorial Day Weekend marathon with director William Wellman’s 1950 production of “BATTLEGROUND”.
“Battleground” is not your typical war movie with lots of shoot ‘em ups, explosions or dogfights. Set in December of 1941, this engrossing battle film focuses on a particular group of men just days before Christmas in Bastogne, Belgium where the 47th German Panzer Corps is advancing through the allied lines and our guys are meant to hold the line until reinforces can arrive. This truly ensemble cast has no discernable lead, but features such notable stars as Van Johnson, Ricardo Montalban and James Whitmore among many other exceptional character actors.
Unlike many other war films, there are no major conflicts or historical moments depicted or reenacted. Instead, we are exposed to the life of our men in the field, the moment-to-moment events as they perform their every day tasks. As a group they have various skirmishes and encounters with the enemy and locals alike. Through the course of these events we learn that each man is going through some crisis emotionally, mentally or physically. The subtle power and depth of the performances is a testament to the fine ability of the actors to portray regular guys without being boring, and to remain interesting without resulting to melodrama. The true to life portrayal of our fighting men is due in large part to Wellman’s acclaimed ability as a director. He has a unique talent of eliciting detailed nuances from an actor that speak volumes in a moment. as to what the troops were going through, and what they suffered along the way.
Many of the men we get to know and care about ultimately die. Often these deaths happen suddenly and in confusion, placing us momentarily in their boots so to speak, as we understand what it is like to come to care for someone only to have them gone in a fleeting moment of violence. The impact of these moments has a quiet power that resonates and draws you in closer to the remaining men. At one point it seems inevitable that all of these men will perish, but true to most war films of its era the battle worn survivors are saved at the last moment by the much anticipated air support.
Battleground stands as a great representation of the life lead in the battlefield and the camaraderie that naturally develops to bind men to one another, to depend on each other and to care for each other. The film also reveals the hardships that are not readily tangible; the great losses one has to endure in the course of performing one’s duty and the personal price of survival. All in all, “Battleground” is an excellent choice to begin a well-deserved tribute to our fighting forces.
Through out the holiday weekend the TCM marathon will showcase a wide spectrum of war themed films representing a diverse cross section of the various conflicts fought by the US since the Civil War. Other not to be missed films include “Sergeant York” airing May 26th at 9:15pm, “From Here to Eternity” airing Saturday May 27th at 5pm and Sunday the 28th at 3 pm, and “Bridge on the River Kwai” also on Sunday the 29th at 11:15 am. “Destination Tokyo” concludes the marathon on Monday the 30th at 12:15 am.Rating: A-