Saturday, October 19, 2019

CLASSIC or ANTIQUE: Eight Iron Men (1952)

                        “Eight Iron Men” is a movie directed by Edward Dmytryk (The Young Lions, Back to Bataan, Anzio, The Caine Mutiny) based on a screen play by Harry Brown (A Walk in the Sun- book and movie).  Brown adapted his play “A Sound of Hunting” which had a short run starring Burt Lancaster as Sgt. Mooney.  Lancaster was discovered and went to Hollywood to make his first film “The Killers”.  Lee Marvin was cast in the Mooney role because Lancaster was unavailable.  It was Marvin’s first big role.  He was a veteran of WWII.  As a Marine, he was wounded on Saipan.  In some ways, he was the unofficial technical adviser.  During production, when the German machine gun was malfunctioning, Marvin fixed it by breaking it down and putting it back together.    He taught the other cast members how to fall when wounded.  This alone sets it apart from most war movies.

                        “Eight Iron Men” is a classic small unit movie.  It takes place in a bombed out Italian town.  From the point of view of a German bunker, a machine gun opens fire on a G.I. patrol.  Small gets pinned down in a shell crater and the other two withdraw to the squad’s basement outpost.  Here we enter the play phase as the men flesh out their personalities.  Collucci (Bonar Colleand in his American debut) is the wisecracker/slacker/ladies’ man.  He daydreams about dames to the accompaniment of stripper music.  This lasts several minutes!  (The poster above is one of the most inaccurate posters I have ever seen.  It literally has nothing to do with the movie!)   Sgt. Mooney is a pansy.  Just kidding, he’s played by Lee Marvin and Marvin ain’t acting – he plays himself.  Coke (Richard Kiley) is tightly wound.  Sapiros (Nick Dennis) is Greek.  He and Collucci have a Rivera/Friedman type relationship (“A Walk in the Sun”).  Muller (Dickie Moore in the Richard Jaekel role) has received a fruit cake from home.  Presumably because his mother hates him.  He divides it into eight pieces – one for each.  Including Small.  Collucci volunteers to eat Small’s piece, but Mooney takes a “leave no man behind” position.  There is a discussion about whether the sad sack Small is worth the risk.  Coke argues that they have been lucky so far and if they lose Small, it could open the flood gates.  To complicate matters, the squad gets word that they are pulling out.  Mooney goes to Captain Trelawny (Barney Phillips) to get permission to rescue Small.  The captain believes one man’s life is not worth several men’s lives.  Apparently, Army philosophy underwent a change in Vietnam.  Will they disobey orders and go after Small?  If they don’t, we won’t have much of a movie.

                        “Eight Iron Men” has the same vibe as “A Walk in the Sun”, “Attack!”, and “Hell is for Heroes”.  In other words, it is dialogue driven and has the feel of a play.  The soldiers’ talk is authentic.  They gripe a lot.  When Mooney brings the dilemma to the captain, the captain says:  “Before the war, I used to be a car salesman.  I used to smile all the time.”  He adds:  “I came up here with a company and I’ll be lucky to leave with a platoon.”   Hence, the reluctance to risk more men.  You can see his point of view and the point of view of Mooney.  The movie is thought-provoking.  Trelawny is not Cooney (“Attack!”).  There are no villains in this movie and the Germans are faceless.  The movie is excellent in delving into the pressures of command.  It also daringly focuses on the reality of war being mostly boredom that is occasionally broken by stressful action.  This might explain the fact that the movie was not a hit.  Audiences don’t want reality. 

                        The movie is well-made.  Dmytryk likes deep focus, which works well in what is essentially a one set movie.  When the camera leaves the basement, the outdoors is appropriately rubbly. Although the cast is not all-star, the actors act like soldiers (except they are not grubby enough).  The characters are all stereotypes, but at least the movie is not full of clich├ęs.  It is not predictable and has a neat twist ending.  Colleand gets star billing, but did not get a career boost.  He returned to Great Britain where he was more of a star and died in a car accident six years later.  His Collucci could have been obnoxious, like most war movie wolfs, but he is likeable and he gets to say this line which somehow got by the censors:  “Tonight I’ll be whistling at every dame in the country.  You can’t keep a healthy guy like me stuck away like this for too long – I go crazy – I get hair on the palms of my hands – the beast rises in me.” 

                        “Eight Iron Men” is not for the combat porn junkies.  There is a little action, but it is more cerebral than most 1950’s WWII movies.  It fits snuggly into the niche of small unit, play-like movies.  It’s entertaining and manages to overcome two ridiculous dream sequences.  Those scenes, which almost torpedo the movie, apparently were added so the poster artist could honestly add a female.  Do not expect what the poster implies.  What you will actually get is a minor classic that holds up well because it concentrates on an intriguing scenario and the soldiers in the scenario behave like G.I.s would have behaved.

GRADE  =  B           

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the review! It sounds like an entertaining movie; I'll keep an eye out for it.


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