Monday, February 20, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Battleground (1949) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

The classic WWII film BATTLEGROUND (1949) is now available on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive.

In a nice coincidence, this film about the siege of Bastogne in late 1944 was on my list of 10 Classics to see in 2017. I just posted the final review from my 2016 list last night, and now my 2017 list is off and running!

BATTLEGROUND is an MGM film directed by William A. Wellman from an Oscar-winning script by associate producer Robert A. Pirosh.

The film is about a section of the 101st Airborne which is trapped in the area of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. The Germans are so close they have even infiltrated the Allies in stolen uniforms. It's constantly snowing, rations are low, and poor flying conditions are preventing relief supplies from being dropped.

The men lean on their friendships and remember their families back home as they struggle for survival. Some will make it through, but many won't.

The movie's look, with the soldiers constantly against a snow white background, is unforgettable, and there are actors to match: Van Johnson, John Hodiak, George Murphy, Ricardo Montalban, Marshall Thompson, James Whitmore, Don Taylor, Herbert Anderson, Leon Ames, Jerome Courtland, Richard Jaeckel, and many more. Their performances are believably low-key, yet they're in the midst of high drama.

It's a tough film to watch, especially as several of the actors' characters don't survive, yet it's so well made you can't quit either. Thinking of the men who actually went through the experience in real life is sobering. It's a great relief when the film's 118 minutes are up and the unit is able to march back from the front.

Much of the movie must have been filmed in soundstages, but it feels authentically cold and miserable. It's a dark, gritty film with superb black and white photography by Paul C. Vogel; his work almost has a documentary look. Vogel deservedly won an Academy Award.

It's interesting to note that some of the cast were no strangers to WWII movies. Johnson, for instance, had starred in THIRTY SECONDS OVER TOKYO (1944), and he and Hodiak were both in COMMAND DECISION (1948) the year before BATTLEGROUND.

Movies like BATTLEGROUND, COMMAND DECISION, or TWELVE O'CLOCK HIGH (1949) seem to have been a way to help the country work through feelings of trauma in the years immediately following the war, while simultaneously paying tribute to those who served.

The BATTLEGROUND Blu-ray is a beautiful print. It imports a trailer, cartoon, and Pete Smith short from the original DVD release.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the WBShop.

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