(director: John Frankenheimer; screenwriters: from the novel by Stephen Peters/Kenneth Ross; cinematographer: Gerry Fisher; editor: Robert F. Shugrue; music: Bill Conti; cast: Roy Scheider (Jack Knowles), Jurgen Prochnow (Valachev), Harry Dean Stanton (General Hackworth), Tim Reid (Lieutenant Colonel Clark), Lara Harris (Elena), Bill MacDonald (M.P. Corporal), Dale Dye (Sergeant Major); Runtime: 91; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Wolf Schmidt; (Orion) MGM Limited Edition; 1990)
A modest but highly entertaining quirky Cold War thriller.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A modest but highly entertaining quirky Cold War thriller, set in November 1988, on the border between West Germany and Czechoslovakia. This beautifully photographed John Frankenheimer(“Year of the Gun”/”Andersonville“/”52 Pick-Up“) directed film leaves us with a harsh reminder of the evils of war, by quoting Einstein. When the scientist was asked what weapons would be used to fight a Third World War, he replied that he did not know. But he said if there was a Fourth War, the weapons used would be stones. The quote is much sharper than anything delivered in this messy film parable, that has its two rigid cartoonish-like heroic warriors behave like spoiled children instead of mature military men.

Writer Kenneth Ross adapts the novel by Stephen Peters to the Big Screen.

The troublesome hawkish Viet Nam War medal winner, Colonel Jack Knowles (Roy Scheider), unhappy America never properly thanked the soldiers for their valiant effort in the unpopular war, is lifted out of obscurity and given command of Camp Clark, the remote West German border crossing post, by his loyal friend from the Viet Nam War, General Hackworth (Harry Dean Stanton). The unhappy and unstable man of action can’t live with the thaw in the Cold War and thereby the unhinged Knowles risks the peace by enraging his Soviet counterpart, the embittered Afghanistan War vet, Colonel Valachev (Jurgen Prochnow), by destructively crossing at night the border. The personal grudge between the two border patrol commanders heightens tensions at the border. It starts after the new commander witnesses a defector fatally shot at the border, who was trying desperately to get to the western side. The ongoing series of puerile but explosive confrontations almost causes a Fourth War, as the two lunatic commanders end up duking it out on the snowy field while their respective heavily armed armies are nervously watching.

This thinking person’s thriller actually doesn’t require much thinking to realize all the military figures depicted, even the ambitious but cautious rational second-in-command at Camp Clark, the African-American West Point grad Lieutenant Colonel Clark (Tim Reid), who must deal with a loose cannon commanding officer, are all products of their country’s war mentality and are programmed to follow orders. Though the pic was dismissed by many critics for its incredulous story, it nevertheless makes for a compelling watch as a troubling parable about two similar disillusioned and malcontent warriors going super-macho war-like in a comic relief way.

Lara Harris plays a duplicitous femme fatale, posing as a Czech radical who pretends that she needs the American colonel’s unofficial help.