Tuesday, August 16, 2022

FORGOTTEN GEM? Fireball Forward (1972)


                        “Fireball Forward” is “son of Patton”, according to producer Frank McCarthy who produced both.  That must have been a quote he used when selling the script.  He got a competent director, so the finished product was not Marvin Chomsky’s fault.  He later did “Inside the Third Reich” and the miniseries “Holocaust”.  Most of the blame has to go to screenwriter Edmund North, who shockingly also co-wrote “Patton” (along with Francis Ford Coppola).  And the paltry TV movie budget.

                        Gen. Barrett (Ben Gazzara) is a decorated veteran of D-Day.  His reward is to be given command of the “disaster” 14th Division.  He is told to kick some ass.  Like Patton did when he took over II Corps in North Africa.  The outgoing C. O. is not incompetent and takes it well.  He believes it’s a hard luck outfit.  Like Col. Davenport in “Twelve O’Clock High”.  There is a marquis named Duval (Ricardo Montalban) attached to the unit.  The movie forgoes the expected shaping the ship and jumps right into a battle.  After giving us a taste of combat via footage from “Patton”, we learn that Barrett is no Patton.  He is strict, but caring.  Instead of slapping a coward, he coddles him.  The movie shifts from war movie to mystery as the Germans seem to know their plans.  If you can’t figure out who the mole is, don’t task yourself with “Murder She Wrote”.

                        This is a very made-for-TV movie.   The budget must have been a tenth of “Patton”.  The same fraction could be applied to the salaries of the leads.  But the result was not Gazzara’s fault.  He does a decent job with a poorly written role.  The rest of the cast is potential series regulars like Eddie Albert and Dana Elcar.  Anne Francis is shoe-horned in as the requisite female.  Screenwriter North bent over backwards to contrast Campbell with Patton, although he sets him up to be.  Gazzara brings his usual charisma, but the character is inconsistent and unrealistic.  He smiles too much for a general who has a steaming pile dumped in his lap.  The whole arc between Campbell and Collins (the unslapped battle fatigue victim) comes off as a “here’s what Patton should have done” tutorial.    The movie makes a big mistake continually reminding the viewers of “Patton”.  The footage and the music just made me sad.  The movie was a pilot for an unsold series, so clearly it was trying to tap into the popularity of the movie.  It has the feel of an episode of a television series.  Like an episode of “Twelve O’Clock High” where somehow the Germans know where they are going to bomb ahead of time.  As a pilot, it should have concentrated on Campbell ruffling feathers and shaping up the unit and then the series would pick up with the weekly crises.  McCarthy clearly had no confidence the audience would have that kind of patience.

                        The best thing about “Fireball Forward” is its name.  That is the only thing that kicks ass in the movie.  Gen. Campbell certainly doesn’t.  We’ll never know, but it seems clear that the series would not have been another “Twelve O’Clock High”. 


No comments:

Post a Comment

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