Directed By: Samuel Fuller
Starring: Lee Marvin, Mark Hamill, Robert Carradine
Tag line: "Only chance could have thrown them together. Now, nothing can pull them apart"
Trivia: During the UK clampdown on video nasties in the 80's the film was briefly seized by Manchester Police who believed it to be a sex film
Samuel Fuller's The Big Red One takes us through most of the major battle of World War II as seen through the eyes of a small group of soldiers, men who don’t get much time to sit around and think about what it is they’re fighting for. The good and the bad...the right and the wrong...they don’t mean much to any of them. For these men, it’s all about making it out alive.
A U.S. Army sergeant (Lee Marvin) leads a squad of First Infantry, known as the "Big Red One", through many grueling battles, including the liberation of Sicily and the D-Day invasion of Normandy. The soldiers in his company, including Privates Griff (Mark Hamill), Zab (Robert Carradine), Johnson (Kelly Ward) and Vinci (Bobby DiCicco), have seen the worst of war. Their journey has been rough, and they've lost many comrades along the way, but the most horrific images are yet to come, when they find themselves face-to-face with the survivors of a Nazi Concentration Camp.
The men of the First Infantry perform their duties without hesitation, except for Griff, who freezes the first time he spies an enemy soldier through the sights of his rifle. Griff tells the sergeant he can't bring himself to murder another human being, regardless of the circumstances. The sergeant offers a quick, pointed reply: “We don’t murder, we kill”. This logic works on his compatriots, yet Griff struggles with this issue through most of the war. It isn’t until he witnesses the atrocities of a death camp that he finally understands what the sergeant meant. Even after three years of war, the drawn, withered faces of those former prisoners were, for him, the ultimate example of man’s inhumanity to man, and it forces him to action. The Big Red One is, indeed, a thrilling war movie, but it's also a moving drama, with Fuller demonstrating time and again that you can’t have one without the other.
With The Big Red One, Sam Fuller (who himself served in the European theater during World War II) wanted to tell the story of the common soldier, the unsung heroes for whom the war was all about pushing forward, surviving the fight, and making sure the man next to you also made it out alive. Anything beyond that didn’t mean a damn thing.