Sunday, June 9, 2019

CONSENSUS #70. Battleground (1949)

SYNOPSIS: "Battleground" is the story of a squad of G.I.s from the 101st Airborne Division in the Battle of the Bulge.  They participate in the defense of Bastogne during its famous siege.  The movie is an ensemble piece that realistically (for a 1949 movie) portrays the hardships of the battle.  It is a classic heterogeneous small unit movie.

BACK-STORY: Battleground was the first significant WWII movie to come out after the war and it proved there was still an audience for war films provided they were excellent and realistic. The film wisely avoided the flag-waving of pictures made during the war. Because of the timing and the grittiness, the studio was skeptical about its potential and it almost was not made. The suits proved wrong as the movie was a huge hit and is now considered a classic. It was released in 1949 and directed by William Wellman (Wings, The Story of G.I. Joe). Robert Pirosh based the script on his own experiences in the Battle of the Bulge. Twenty members of the 101st Airborne were used as extras. They were put through acting boot camp. The movie won Academy Awards for Cinematography and Screenplay (Pirosh). It was nominated for Picture, Director, Editing, and Supporting Actor (James Whitmore). Gen. Anthony McAuliffe vetted the script and joined Pres. Truman for a private showing.

TRIVIA:  Wikipedia, imdb, TCM, Guts and Glory
1.  It is considered the first significant post-WWII film about the war.
2.  It was the pet project of producer Dore Schary.  He wanted to make a movie that answered the question “was the war worth it?”  Or as the chaplain in the film put it:  “was the trip necessary?”  He had a hard time getting studio support from RKO where he was production head and when Howard Hughes bought RKO he nixed the project.  Schary left RKO because of this after Hughes let him buy the script for a cheap $20,000.  Schary returned to production head of MGM, but Louis Mayer was also cold toward the making of a WWII picture.  Mayer felt audiences were not interested in WWII movies.  But Mayer did not stand in Schary’s way and was hoping he would fail.  He called the movie “Schary’s folly”.
3.  Director William Wellman had the cast put through training by twenty veterans who appeared as extras in the movie.
4.  Robert Pirosh based his screenplay on his experiences in the Battle of the Bulge.  Gen. McAuliffe acted as technical adviser for the script.
5.  The movie was shot in twenty days less than the schedule and for $100,000 less.
6.  President Truman was given a private showing before the premiere.
7.  It won Academy Awards for Cinematography (Black and White) and Screenplay.  It was nominated for Best Picture (losing to “All the King’s Men”), Director, Editing, and Supporting Actor (James Whitmore).
8.  Whitmore was a Marine in the Pacific.  He based his characters appearance and attitude partly on Bill Maudlin’s “Willie and Joe”.
9.   Douglas Fowley (Kippton) had false teeth like his character because he lost his teeth to an explosion while serving on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific.
10  James Arness (Garby) was the most decorated cast member.  His medals included the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.
11.  Robert Taylor was supposed to star in it but decided he did not want to do an ensemble piece.  He was replaced by Van Johnson.
12.  The movie was a big success and finished second at the box office.  Its timing and success is comparable to “The Big Parade” which was also predicted to be too late after the war
13.  It was shot almost totally in a soundstage.  Compare its realism to the exterior scenes from “The Battle of the Bulge”.
14.  Denise Darcel was cast solely for her boobs.  Check out the scene where she cuts a loaf of bread precariously close to her greatest assets.
15.  Wellman preferred his “The Story of G.I. Joe”, finding it more realistic and more a tribute to American soldiers.

Belle and Blade  =  1.5
Brassey’s              =  4.0
Video Hound       =  5.0
War Movies         =  4.4
Military History  =  #36
Channel 4             =  not on list 
Film Site                =  yes
101 War Movies  =  no
Rotten Tomatoes =  no

CONCLUSION: Battleground is fondly remembered by many war movie lovers. Some have it in their top 10. Some go so far as to call it superior to Saving Private Ryan. When it came out in 1949, it certainly deserved the acclaim it received. Its now sixty years later and I have to say it is a bit overrated. The action is lacking and is unrealistic. However, it has its charms and is a must-see.  The movie is very entertaining. It achieves its objective of humanizing the soldiers. The soldier interaction and talk are the best thing about the movie. What they say and how they react are realistic given the restraints of 1940s movies.  Pirosh, being a veteran, knew how soldiers talked. He obviously had to clean up the language, but he gets the complaining and humor down pat.


  1. Excellent war movie. I like the humor and how the characters act like real human beings. 'Battleground' would be higher on my list of best war movies.

  2. I found a home in the army...
    Yes, the action isn't realistic, but this is one of my favs.


Please fell free to comment. I would love to hear what you think and will respond.