“Breakthrough” is a sequel to the famed “Cross of Iron” which means it continues the adventures of one of the great war movie characters – Sgt. Steiner of the German Army. The original, directed by Sam Peckinpah, is one of the great war movies and has a cult following. It certainly called for a sequel – directed by Peckinpah and starring the perfectly cast James Coburn. The fact that the sequel has neither of them is a major red flag. Coburn was set to star but backed out at the last minute. I assume he finally got around to reading the script. His replacement was a ridiculously too old Richard Burton. Burton was 53 years old and looked at least ten years older than that. His heart was not in the project and his drinking was a problem. Sticking with the decision to hire old has-been actors, the producers tabbed three other “Longest Day” veterans – Robert Mitchum, Rod Steiger, and Curt Jurgens. This quartet has the dubious distinction of appearing in one of the great war movies and one of the worst. Director Andrew McLaglen sandwiched this movie between “The Wild Geese” and “The Sea Wolves” so it is obvious he had a fetish for old stars embarrassing themselves in action roles.
The movie opens in May, 1944 which would be a few months after the events in “Cross of Iron”. So now we know Steiner survived the climactic fight. And so did his nemesis Capt. Stransky (Helmut Griem) who is still a thorn in his side. The movie seems to start off right with a scene with plenty of action, however it does not take long to silliness to set in. Steiner is sent to destroy a railroad tunnel. When his men peer in to see the light at the end, it turns out to be a T-34. Although he takes out the tank, Steiner perplexingly does not blow up the tunnel and follows this up with a confrontation with Stransky. Steiner once again can’t play nice with generals and gets himself court-martialed. The punishment is a head-scratching two week leave in Paris! While there, Steiner steals Stransky’s girl. I’m not making this up, people. Just as our hero is celebrating his bizarre punishment of being shipped from the Eastern Front, the D-Day invasion occurs. Look out Allies, Steiner’s band of misfits has joined him and they are assigned the defense of a French village. This is a seventies war movie, so we need a political subplot of Steiner getting involved with his Hitler-conspiratorial Gen. Hoffman’s (Jurgens) attempt to negotiate surrender of his forces. The negotiation involves a Col. Rogers (Mitchum) and Gen. Webster (Steiger). They spend the first half hour complaining about their arthritis. Just kidding. Luckily the talking does not prevent the big set piece battle for the village. Unluckily, there is a battle for the village. This scene defies polite description. Make sure you have been drinking heavily by the time you reach this stage of the movie (if you make it this far). Richard Burton was.
How do you tarnish a great movie and character? See this movie. Thankfully, few did. It is horrendous. The acting is wooden. Or should I say geriaratric? Burton is not even the worst performer. Just the most disinterested. Steiger chews the scenery as much as his false teeth will allow. The dialogue is laughable. The plot is inane. The action is ridiculous. This is one of the worst war movies ever made and one of the most disappointing.
NOTE: Check out that poster. The artist does not even bother to make the main stars look younger! But he does manage to get two women in separate clenches. Kudos!
GRADE = F-