PLOT: “Gallipoli” is an Australian war film by Peter Weir. He originally meant to cover the whole campaign, but decided to concentrate on two blokes and one battle. The two buddies are track stars who volunteer for the Light Horse and are sent to Egypt for training and bonding with their mates and then it is off to the Ottoman Empire. The battle they participate in is your typical Sommelike suicide attack. The movie has clear themes of the naivete of rookie warriors, the comradeship of soldiers, and the incompetence of command. The plot flows smoothly to the inevitable ending. The characters are well-developed. Inexcusably for a director who intended to shed light on a campaign, Weir takes some liberties with the facts that he later had to apologize for. GRADE - B
“The Lost Battalion” is the true story of an American unit that gets cut off from the main American force during an attack in the Argonne Forest. The movie covers the entire incident from planning through rescue. The plot balances coverage of the officers (especially Col. Whittlesey) and his men. There are some clichés and it cribs from some other WWI movies like “Paths of Glory”. The plot is what you would expect from a made-for-TV movie in that it is a straight-forward war tale with no frills. It is an outstanding history lesson and covers its subject admirably. GRADE - B
FIRST QUARTER SCORE: Gallipoli - 8 Lost Battalion - 8
ACTING: The cast in “Gallipoli” is average in make-up. The star is a young Mel Gibson (post-“Mad Max”) and he does brash well. His partner Mark Lee was making his film debut and he is shaky. It is clear which one of the leads would become a superstar. The supporting actors handle their stock characters adequately. GRADE - B
“The Lost Battalion” has a made-for-TV cast. The only recognizable face is Rick Schroder as Whittlesey. The second-billed Phil McKee has no significant roles to his credit. Both are excellent and get their historical persons pat. Schroder is especially impressive and reminds of Matthew Broderick’s turn as Robert Shaw in “Glory”. The doughboys are amateurish, but sincere. GRADE - B
HALFTIME SCORE: Gallipoli - 16 Battalion - 16
COMBAT: For a movie named after a battle, “Gallipoli” has very little combat. The story builds to the climactic attack, but the actual fighting lasts less than two minutes. It is a micro view and simply consists of men going over the top to be slaughtered by machine guns. GRADE - D
“The Lost Battalion” has some of the highest quantity and quality of combat of any WWI movie. There is about 21 minutes of it. The opening attack across no man’s land into the forest is a tour de force. It is surprisingly graphic for a TV movie. That scene is filmed in the “Saving Private Ryan” style. There is an intense bombardment where a main character literally is blown apart. There is also a variety of combat. There is a lot of hand-to-hand combat with bayonets commonly used. The Germans even bring in flamethrowers. GRADE - A+
THIRD QUARTER SCORE: Battalion - 26 Gallipoli - 21
ANTI-WAR: “Gallipoli” builds to one of the most poignant anti-war moments in war movie history. Weir reenacts Robert Capa’s iconic photo from the Spanish Civil War entitled “The Falling Soldier”. The movie is more anti-British than anti-war. It’s the pig-headed British colonel who orders the fatal attack. GRADE - A
“The Lost Battalion” is aimed at lionizing a unit, not condemning the war that put them in a sack. It has a happy ending, but there are some heart-tugging deaths along the way. Similar to “Gallipoli”, it indicts command. It is the rare WWI movie that you do not come away from thinking how horrible the war was.
FINAL SCORE: Battalion - 32
Gallipoli - 30
MATCH ANALYSIS: This result comes as no surprise to me. I have always felt “Gallipoli” is overrated, but the tournament format hurt it. In particular, in a tournament comparing combat movies, it just does not have much combat. “The Lost Battalion” is a very underrated movie. It is also not well known. It is incredible to me that it was made for TV. It has some of the most kick-ass combat of any war movie. And it honors a famous unit of heroes.