“Anzio” came out in 1968 in the middle of the blockbuster, all-star epic battle string started by “The Longest Day”. Since D-Day had been done already, someone decided the disastrous invasion of Anzio in Italy would bring audiences flocking to theaters. American love to see defeat! It was produced by the king of cheap big budget movies – Dino De Laurentiis. His name in the credits is the first red flag. The movie needed two directors – Edward Dmytryk (Back to Bataan) and Duilio Coletti (Hell Raiders of the Deep). This reflects the American – Italian cooperation which consisted of American actors and Italian everything else, including locations. The movie was loosely based on the book Anzio by British war correspondent Wynford Vaughn-Thomas. Robert Mitchum plays the correspondent character. Peter Falk was brought in as second-billed, but wanted out after finding the script to be too cliched. De Laurentiis promised him his name above the title and allowed him to rewrite his lines. He also apparently allowed him to ham it up. Wolfgang Preiss was cast as Field Marshall Kesselring, cementing his iconic stature as the go-to actor for portraying German generals. Incredibly, the opening song “This World is Yours” was pushed by the studio.
The movie opens with the most bizarre song in war movie history. Topping even the one in “Kelly's Heroes”. Actually, at least it has something to do with war. (See the lyrics below). But wait, it gets worse. Cynical reporter Dick Ennis (Mitchum) gets embedded with a Ranger unit that consists of boisterous American boys who party as hard as they fight. One of them, Cpl. Jack Rabinoff (Falk) is first seen with three Italian babes in the back of an ambulance. The Rangers have to cut short their carousing to invade Anzio. The invasion is unopposed. In fact, there are no people anywhere near. It’s a ghost beachhead! Ennis and Rabinoff jump into a jeep, and with birds chirping, drive into Rome. That was easy. Unfortunately, Gen. Leslie (Arthur Kennedy) decides it’s too easy and he needs to build up his forces first. On the other side of the coin, Field Marshall Preiss, I mean Kesselring, rushes forces to the hills around the beachhead and the cork is in the bottle. It will be up to the Rangers to lead the breakout. The movie shifts to a small unit combat film and then to a “lost patrol” movie. The first gunfire comes at the 55 minute mark, in case you want to fast-forward.
I’ll skip over the rant about who the hell green-lit a movie about Anzio. Let’s concentrate on how bad the movie is. For a big budget film, it looks cheap. We first meet Ennis standing in front of a the fakest background painting ever. The sets are also fake looking. The one-minute shore bombardment preceding the invasion is clearly of a model. The acting performances match the production. The movie is painful to watch. Falk might have written his own lines, but no one forced him to chew the scenery. It’s almost like he didn’t want to be in the movie and decided to sabotage it. Mitchum is stiff, but he doesn’t have to lift much to take your eyes off the rest of the less-than-stellar cast. All-star is definitely an exaggeration. Good violence could have overcome the flaws of the narrative, but that doesn’t happen. Halfway through, the movie shifts to combat mode, but it is second-rate.
First, the movie reenacts the Battle of Cisterna where the Rangers get ambushed. The deaths are of the touchdown-signal twirling variety. In this respect, the movie is similar to the similarly lame “Battle of the Bulge”. This scene features perhaps the greatest fall in war movie history. Mitchum does a swan dive into a shell-hole while maintaining his cigarette. “They don’t shoot dead people” he says when asked if he’s hurt. It turns out he was just faking it! Later, the survivors of the ambush get pinned down by snipers in an otherwise deserted area of Italy. There’s also the mine field scene. And the hiding in a farm house scene. And the big explosive finale. This all sounds great, right? Watch a Korean war film instead.
The only redeeming factor is the movie gets the basics of Operation Shingle right. In an eight grade textbook sort of way. (See below) Since it came out in the middle of the Vietnam War, it focuses on command buffoonery and Anzio cannot be topped if you want that theme. However, the movie bludgeons you with it’s ‘war is hell” preaching. Did you know that there is no such thing as a good war? “Men kill because they like to.” Ennis joins the club when he first picks up a weapon and kills. This theme would have worked better if it was not stuffed with cheese.
In conclusion, if you thought “Battle of the Bulge” was a misfire (and you’d be right), imagine a half-ass version of it. At least “Battle” had Robert Shaw and tanks.
GRADE = D
The World Is Yours” by Doc Pomus (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame songwriter); sung by Jack Jones
Where have you gone you bright-eyed gentle dreamer
Where is the man you thought you knew so well
When did you change into a fearsome soldier
Who finally found the war is necessary evil
When did you learn how much life is worth living
And that his land is worth everything you’re giving
Are you so brave and are you so cold-hearted
Or was it fear that started that rage inslde you
This world is yours, you men who found no answers
You lost your dream, who lost your way and went to war
And this world is yours, all you men
Take the land, take the sea, It’s yours!
HISTORICAL ACCURACY: Operation Shingle was the brainchild of Winston Churchill (he of Gallipoli fame). He thought second time was the charm for an outflanking invasion to change the course of the war. In this case, the Anglo-Americans were butting their heads against the Gustav Line and the liberation of Rome seemed far away. The idea was to land a force behind the Germans and cut off their retreat as well as quickly march on Rome. Commanding general Mark Clark was skeptical and he chose an even more skeptical Gen. Lucas to carry out the plan. As shown in the movie, the landing was virtually unopposed. Lesley in the movie represents Lucas and is a caricature, but Lucas was indeed a terrible general in this operation. Lucas was the opposite of Patton. Instead of quickly pushing inland with the aid of surprise, he hunkered down on a beach that featured marshy ground and surrounding hills. The exact opposite of what Churchill had intended. “I had hoped we were hurling a wildcat onto the shore, but all we got was a stranded whale.” There was a jeep patrol that drove all the way to Rome early on, but Lucas did not want to risk moving until the beachhead was totally secured. To make matters worse, he faced one of Germany’s best. Kesselring immediately rushed forces to bottle up the beachhead and soon the Americans were stuck and under constant bombardment. Lucas had no answer to this Dien Bien Phu situation and was eventually relieved of command by his boss Clark. (When Lucas visited Anzio veteran Audie Murphy on one of his sets, Murphy saluted him, but refused to shake his hand.) Speaking of bad leaders, Clark was one. He did not prod Lucas. Lucas did eventually try to bludgeon his way out which led to the Battle of Cisterna. A Ranger battalion led the attack and got surrounded. Only 6 of 767 returned to the American lines. I don’t need to tell you that the big explosive destruction of the construction site is pure bull shit. The actual breakout was less cinematic and involved slugging our way out. Then Clark shifted the offensive toward the publicity jewel of Rome instead of cutting off the German retreat from the Gustav Line. A documentary would do a better job than this movie if you wanted to show the incompetence of the Anzio campaign.