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Big Red One, The Print E-mail
Tuesday, 27 April 1999

The Big Red One

Warner Home Video
starring: Lee Marvin, Mark Hamill, Robert Carradine, Bobby Di Cicco
release year: 1980
film rating: Three-and-a-Half Stars
reviewed by: Abbie Bernstein

Released in 1980, director/writer Samuel Fuller’s ‘The Big Red One’ combines modern film technology with something of the sensibility of a ‘40s war film. A touch old-fashioned and decidedly episodic, ‘Big Red’ still has dramatic punch.

‘The Bed Red One’ takes its title from the insignia on the uniforms of the U.S. Army’s First Infantry Division (filmmaker Fuller was part of "the Fighting First" in WWII). A sepia-toned, nightmarelike prologue establishes both the origins of the symbol and the incident that forever after haunts the nameless soldier (Lee Marvin) who, by WWII, has become a veteran sergeant in the Fighting First. The men under him include a youthful quartet (Mark Hamill, Robert Carradine, Bobby Di Cicco, Kelly Ward) who are eventually dubbed "the Sergeant’s Four Horsemen" due to their uncanny ability to emerge alive from the worst firefights. These include battles in North Africa, Sicily and Belgium, as well as the hellish D-Day landing on Omaha Beach.

If nothing else did, this last brings inevitable comparisons to the Normandy invasion sequence in ‘Saving Private Ryan.’ Given the chronology, one can see echoes of ‘The Big Red One’ within ‘Ryan.’ ‘The Big Red One’ D-Day scenes in Chapter 15 and 16 admittedly aren’t nearly as horrific -- the bravado level of the soldiers is a bit much -- but the setpiece still does a pretty good job of conveying the mindset of men who come to believe that their own survival and sanity depends on cutting off sympathy for those around them. There is a measure of sentimentality here, as well as patriotic pride, but Fuller takes care to make parallels between the two sides, allowing the Germans as well as the Allies moments of heroism.

‘The Big Red One’ has some surprises as well, starting with a well-staged, tense beach landing. The day-for-night footage has a muddy quality, but the action is powerful. Chapter 6 has beautiful color reproduction, with painterly blue smoke billowing through brilliant orange flames. Chapters 19 and 22 have wonderful artillery sounds, though when the film goes quiet, the sound on the DVD has a tendency to nearly bottom out. The contrast makes the loud battles even more impressive, but a slightly sharper ambient track would be agreeable.

The notion that war is hell is hardly new, but Fuller puts his version of the message across with technical skill, irony and conviction. He persuades us that he knows whereof he speaks, which gives ‘The Big Red One’ its power.

more details
sound format:
English Dolby Surround Stereo
aspect ratio(s):
Original Widescreen Aspect Ratio (exact ratio not given), Full-Screen Ratio: 1:3:3 (modified from original format)
special features: English Closed-Captioning; French Subtitles; Chapter Search
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 27-inch Toshiba

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