The Big Red One (1980)
After all the hoopla and media gushing over Saving Private Ryan, you may not be inclined to pop a World War II movie into the VCR. But if Memorial Day does put you in a mood to recall America's fighting men, take a look at The Big Red One, a tribute to the infantrymen of the U.S. Army directed by Sam Fuller, who fought in North Africa and Europe. The title refers to the Army's First Division, whose fighting prowess rested on the strength and tenacity of its rifle squads and the noncoms who led them. The sergeant here is played by that toughest of tough guys, Lee Marvin, also a real-life WWII vet. The members of his four-man squad include Mark Hamill, post-Star Wars, and Robert Carradine, pre-Revenge of the Nerds. Shooting on maybe 1 percent of the budget Spielberg had, Fuller propels his troops on a slam-bang odyssey from North Africa to central Europe, with tightly shot action sequences that show infantry war to be a dirty, confusing terror. Fuller knew in his bones a truth Spielberg could only guess at: In combat, no one wants to be noble, they just want to get out alive.