FIXED BAYONETS! (director/writer: Sam Fuller; screenwriter: based on the novel Immortal Sergeant by John Brophy; cinematographer: Lucien Ballard; editor: Nick DeMaggio; music: Roy Webb; cast: Richard Basehart (Cpl. Denno), Gene Evans (Sgt. Rock), Michael O’Shea (Sgt. Lonergan), Richard Hylton (Medic, John Wheeler), Craig Hill (Lt. Gibbs), Skip Homeier (Whitey), Henry Kulky (Vogl), Stuart Randall (Major-general at headquarters), Pat Hogan (Jonesy), Richard Monohan (Walowicz), Robert Stevenson (Colonel Taylor), George Wesley (Griff), David Wolfson (Bigmouth), Neyle Morrow (Medic), Mel Pogue (Bulcheck), George Conrad (Zablocki); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jules Buck; 20th Century Fox; 1951)
“The grunts ‘talk the talk’ and the action sequences are bloody good.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The gritty war drama is based on John Brophy’s novel Immortal Sergeant; it was previously filmed in 1943 as Immortal Sergeant and starred Henry Fonda. It’s directed by tough-minded combat veteran Sam Fuller (“The Steel Helmet”/”I Shot Jesse James”/”Park Row”), a World War II infantryman, who finds war is hell and survival is the name of the game. In a famous Fuller quote he says “A film is like a battleground. It’s love, hate, action, violence, death. In one word: emotion.” Nothing fresh here, but the black-and-white film shows lots of emotion even though it was shot completely in the studio with fake rocks and fake snow–the grunts ‘talk the talk’ and the action sequences are bloody good.
Set in early 1951 on a snowy mountain pass in Korea, a battle-weary platoon of 48 ethnically diverse men are asked by their general to be a rearguard diversion to delay the Commies for a division of 15,000 men retreating across a river. Their job is to convince the Commies that they are of division strength, so the enemy doesn’t overrun them with tanks before they accomplish their mission.
Among the hand-picked combat veterans led by the gutsy Lt. Gibbs, the hard-boiled wise-cracking Sgt Lonergan and the hard-bitten mentoring Sgt. Rock (Gene Evans), is the brooding, sensitive and insecure corporal Denno (Richard Basehart). The corporal can’t get up the nerve to kill an enemy soldier, but Rock still makes him the fourth in command even though Denno vocally states that he doesn’t want that responsibility.
When the rearguard action is almost successful after the platoon took a lot of casualties and made their home in a snow cave, all three leaders are killed and Denno now takes control and must show he has the brains and guts to do the job.
It’s all very Fuller-like as macho, raw, jagged and powerful war stuff without a political agenda; while the storyline seems routine and is considerably slowed by Basehart bemoaning for most of the pic about not being able to become a responsible leader, it nevertheless moves past that weak formulaic setup and spits out blood and fire as the suffering soldiers fight their way out of the rat trap to safety. It seems better than most other war films of its time that also showed the action in the field with some eye for reality.
REVIEWED ON 5/14/2009 GRADE: B+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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