The Big Red One
The Big Red One (1980) is not two-fisted auteur Samuel Fuller’s best film, or even his best war film (that’d be 1951’s Steel Helmet). But it was his last shot at a studio film, a long-nurtured pet project filmed on a shoestring and trimmed down by Lorimar from over four hours to just under two. Its standing as fanboy-fave Fuller’s artistic Alamo has burnished its reputation to a higher sheen than the original version actually deserves—which is not to say that it’s not a fine, flinty account. Fuller was himself a dogface with the 1st Infantry Division during World War II, slogging and fighting across Europe, just as the grizzled, nameless sergeant (Lee Marvin) and his squad (including Robert Carradine and Mark “Luke Skywalker” Hamill) do here. The episodic story brims with the texture and bizarre detail of personal experience, tempered by Fuller’s unheroic take on combat: When the unit winds up in a firefight in a Belgian insane asylum, there’s no war-is-insanity heavy-handedness in sight. There’s probably nothing that can be done at this point about the bad secondary performances or some of the more overripe bits of dialogue, but a brand-new restoration returns 45 minutes of excised footage to Fuller’s magnum opus. Maybe it’ll earn those stripes now.