Cross of Iron
This is a period when Peckinpah pulled away from Hollywood and went to Europe to make a film about the futility of war and about the soldier, it doesn't really matter that this is focussing on German soldiers fighting at the Russian front, but it is the perfect setting for the film.
It does address some interesting issues about the German army though, the fact that the front line soldiers weren't that different to any other soldiers and it looks at how the class system approached the war, divided the ranks, what motivated soldiers to fight, and of course the horror of war.
There's a lot said in this film, but it isn't easily laid out and dare I say that there was miscasting similar to that which caused such negative commentary against Valkyrie, and the film suffers sometimes from being too difficult to get engaged with, but it's still a classic.
He's more at peace with his men fighting on the front line than anywhere else but when an aristocrat from Berlin arrives, intent on gaining his Iron Cross through bravery on the front line through any means he can, he finds himself at odds with Hauptmann Stransky and the growing friction between them leads to dangerous decisions for both.
Yes, it is a classic, the names have already shown that, but I do have to say that I struggled with the film and the story and I'm not entirely sure that it deserves all the praise it received.
The first thing that you'll notice about the film is that James Coburn, James Mason and David Warner are all playing Germans but with their normal accents. It's something that drove some very negative comments about Valkyrie, however for fans of Cross of Iron they view it as a positive aspect of the film. I didn't, I struggled with it, but yet I can understand why it was done as this film wasn't specifically about the German soldier but, as Sam Peckinpah says in some of the extras, about the universal soldier.
I did get that, but it did pull away from some aspects of the story because there were threads specific to the German war and the German soldier and the effect it had on my mind was to place this in a very different place to a film that was sympathetic to the German soldier. I felt that I was watching something more akin to films like Where Eagles Dare.
What did change that for me was the style of the film, some gritty realism that touched on topics not seen in films about war, and the fact that this was giving a very different view of the German soldier on the front line, like any other soldier with the separation from the Nazi party being the distance from Berlin and from the political officers.
The film does present this well and you do get closer to the individuals and some of the terrible circumstances they faced regardless of which side they were on. While this was strongly portrayed for the time and for the other films around them, nowadays you really have to put yourself in that time period to watch the film otherwise you end up comparing it with modern day films about the reality of war such as Saving Private Ryan, and it just can't compete.
The core of the story addresses some fundamental issues about war, and watching Hauptmann Stransky trying to grab the glory of war through any means necessary and get away from the front line as quickly as possible set against the weariness and resigned Sergeant Steiner fighting on and on struggling for survival, desperate to end the war but never to break from fighting with his men, is interesting to watch and really does make you think about soldiering and war. I found I've thought more about Cross of Iron after watching it than I have many films of late, it is a thought provoking story and that's something that Peckinpah is used to doing.
The story does seem somewhat choppy and disjointed although you can follow the events well enough it is sometimes hard to gain a little more of what the characters really are feeling when there is still a fair degree emotionally drained leading male staring off camera.
The gritty realism comes from Sam Peckinpah who clearly wanted to push the boundaries with what war films of the time were showing. He does a great job to pull this back from being a German soldier war film and developing something more through the stories and the characters, and it certainly works, although I think a sympathetic look at the soldiers themselves wouldn't have gone amiss either.
The action is pretty realistic too and the Peckinpah style can be felt through these scenes, particularly the big action sequence close to the end of the film when the Russian troops arrive en masse, and come the closing scenes Peckinpah turns from the psychological aspects of war to the physical and we see the violence associated with his films come to the fore.
Although some of the film does play to the stereotypes of war films of the time, there's plenty that doesn't and that includes what we see through the story. I liked the way the relationship between the battle-hardened Steiner and the aristocratic Stransky develops and ultimately how it plays out. It's surprises but at the same time delivers something insightful about soldiers and the frontline, and again gives you something more to think on.
The film has been digitally restored like never before producing a fantastically rich and detailed picture, indeed I've seen comparisons of this picture to previous releases and this transfer boasts the sharpest and strongest picture.
LCPM DTS MA
The audio is strong and has been digitised along with the picture, and while it is a DTS high definition master audio track, it's not been re-mastered for more than stereo. That's not a big loss though for the audio which is strong and clear throughout.
Passion & Poetry: Sam Peckinpah's War; On Location with Sam Peckinpah, James Coburn, James Mason, Maximillian Schell and David Warner; Krüger Kisses Kern; Letters From Vadim & Sam; Vadim & Sam: Father & Son; Cutting Room Floor; Steiner in Japan; Mike's Homemovies: Steiner & Kiesel Meet Again
Passion & Poetry: Sam Peckinpah's War
A featurette looking behind the scenes of the filming in great detail and revealing some of the problems they faced filming from the usual set and location issues to some very specific problems between producer and director. The documentary is very insightful and really interesting, providing a look to the man that is Sam Peckinpah as well as the film itself. It's a rather fascinating short documentary that shows how these featurette's should be made.
On Location with Sam Peckinpah, James Coburn, James Mason, Maximillian Schell and David Warner
A series of audio interviews with the director and leads from the film talking about the production and the film and what it meant to them, as well as what war is. Some snippets of these interviews are in the previous featurette but as a whole it's fascinating listening to some of these stars talking the way they do, you just wouldn't hear modern day stars saying some of the things they do.
Krüger Kisses Kern
An interesting look to the birthday party scene where Vadim Glowna provided a rewritten scene to Peckinpah who decided to go with it for the final film and sprung it as a surprise on the rest of the cast. This in itself carries more interesting insights into the director of Peckinpah.
Letters From Vadim & Sam
Two letters from from Glowna and Peckinpah with the first being the note about what the change of scene and a return from the director after the film.
Vadim & Sam: Father & Son
An explanation of the relationship between Glowna and Peckinpah that is rather touching to watch and again reveals a little more about the legendary director.
Cutting Room Floor
The stars talk about scenes that were cut from the film, rather ingenious way to talk about cut scenes. There is one short clip that was edited out of the film, but the rest are just the actors describing the scenes.
Steiner in Japan
James Coburn in some Japanese adverts...ermm...yes.
Mike's Homemovies: Steiner & Kiesel Meet Again
James Coburn and David Warner meet again at a screening of Cross of Iron and Coburn gives a short introduction to the audience.
Cross of Iron is a difficult film to review because it is so revered as being a Peckinpah film and a classic war film, or anti-war film, but you have to take into account the other war films of the time and realise what else was on offer. This is a film that delivered some very new and surprising viewpoints, and while it's choppy and at times it feels a little confused, but the overall film presents a view of war and the German-Russian front that you may not have seen before in similar films, plus it's Sam Peckinpah directing James Cobrun, James Mason, Maximillian Schell and David Warner.
The Blu-ray transfer is excellent and appears to give the film a new lease of life when compared to existing transfers. It does look like there's been a lot of work put in to transferring the film and the audio, add in the extras which and it's well worth watching this version rather than any other you might be looking to watch.