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THE BIG RED ONE
Cast: Lee Marvin, Mark Hamill, Robert Carradine, Bobby Di Cicco, Kelly Ward, Stephane Audran, Siegfried Rauch, Serge Marquand, Charles Macaulay, Alain Doutey, Maurice Marsac, Colin Gilbert, Joseph Clark, Ken Campbell, Doug Werner, Perry Lang, Howard Delman, Marthe Villalonga, Giovanna Galletti,
Todd Corman, Pascal Breuer
Director: Samuel Fuller
UK: 160 mins (Reconstructed version)
UK Certificate: 15
UK Release Date: 29 April 2005 (Limited Re-release - London)
Director Sam Fuller intended THE BIG RED ONE to be his definitive statement on the horror and futility of war, a work to rank alongside Lewis Milestone's classic ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT. For his backers, however - a soon-to-be-bankrupt company called Lorimar - it was simply another action movie, a vehicle for its craggy star, Lee Marvin. Fuller delivered them an epic, as sprawling, random and chaotic as the very combat it described; the producers, displeased, demanded cuts. A new editor was appointed, more than an hour was lost, and the director considered the result one of the greatest disappointments of his already chequered career.
A quarter of a century on, and Sam Fuller's 'Hollywood movie' - his most mainstream release, after dogged independence - has finally been restored to much of its original glory.
And if the result is not quite a fully-fledged director's cut (some footage has been lost, apparently forever, film historian Richard Schickel painstakingly tracked down the surviving reels to a vault in Kansas city) at 160 minutes, almost an hour longer than the version released theatrically in 1980, it is far truer to its maker's original conception.
Episodic, undisciplined, the film follows a hard-bitten sergeant (Marvin) and his platoon of callow young riflemen from one battle to another, wandering dazedly through a world of blasted towns, hidden snipers, abandoned children. Their numbers are steadily diminished - by ambushes, accidents: soon, there are only four left. ("By now, we'd come to see our replacements as dead men who temporarily had the use of their arms and legs," the narrator remarks dryly). Acknowledging the narrative's various dislocations, Schickel has chosen to retain the release print's voice over - written, not by Fuller, but by writer-director Jim McBride, at the insistence of Lorimar.
On its initial release in 1980, situated among post-Vietnam movies such as APOCALYPSE NOW and THE DEER HUNTER, THE BIG RED ONE seemed faintly old-fashioned, a product of a different age and artistic temperament. ("The zeitgeist was a little against it," Schickel concedes). Reconsidered today, however, it feels both modern and definitive, its influence clearly evident in a number of subsequent classics of the genre - most notably, the celebrated Omaha beach sequence in Spielberg's SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. In marrying gritty realism with flashes of remarkable lyricism, Fuller sought to capture all the absurdity, wonder, terror and confusion of his own experiences. "A war film's overall objective, no matter how personal or emotional, is to make a viewer feel war," he noted, adding that, "To make a real war movie would be to occasionally fire at the audience from behind the screen." He would've, too.