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The Big Red One

Directors Damien Chazelle, Jon M. Chu, Bill Condon, Dexter Fletcher, Adam Shankman, Barbra Streisand and Julie Taymor tackle the genre's suspension of disbelief in varying ways, making the internal external and lifting our spirits in the process

The Big Red One

James Signorelli, who directs SNL's film and commercial parodies, and Beth McCarthy-Miller, who directs the live segments, discuss the challenges and pleasures of putting together 90 minutes of comedy a week.

Film critic Richard Schickel and a battery of visual and audio restoration experts have returned to Sam Fuller's The Big Red One. Their mission? Reconstruct the much longer film the late director had shot before Lorimar took it away from him in 1980. Rumors once flew about of a four-hour version, much like the even longer rough cuts said to exist of Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line.

With the blessing of Warner Bros., Schickel and his editors located and examined approximately an hour of new scenes and additions to existing scenes. What emerges from their work is a much more coherent and satisfying film, at about two hours and forty minutes.

The butchered original-release The Big Red One is a rather cut-price epic done on a miniscule scale. Three major invasions by the Army's First Infantry are seen mostly in close-ups. A tough Sergeant (Lee Marvin) shepherds four main foot soldiers and a larger number of expendable replacements through the first African landing at Ouran to the liberation of a Nazi concentration camp in Czechoslovakia almost three years later. Cigar-chomping writer Zab (Robert Carradine) is the obvious Fuller surrogate but all of the main characters represent parts of the director's personality. The film is an autobiographical account of Fuller through his European campaigns 1942-'45.

The original release seemed bitty and random with incomplete character arcs and undeveloped themes. More of Fuller's ideas make sense in the reconstructed cut. His many vignettes of wartime ironies become a tapestry of folly instead of a string of unrelated incidents.

The new cut raises other questions, especially when we find out (through the disc's generous extras) that the restoration wasn't a simple matter of reinstating footage already existing in outtake negative and track sections. The restoration team cut most of the new material from scratch and editorially altered large sections of the film, in many instances using the script alone to determine where 'new' outtake material would be inserted. An entire sequence or two found in a promo reel provided a cutting template, but no work print existed of Fuller's long cut. So what we are watching is an interpretation, by experts, of what Fuller may have intended.

A full Richard Schickel commentary helps to sort out the new footage from the old. The second disc features a new documentary in which the restoration personnel explain their work and a selection of excerpted material that was found and not re-integrated into the new cut. All of those choices are explained, but they make this version no more than an educated approximation of what Fuller might have done: Some of the pieces Schickel rejected are no more deficient than quirky scenes in his older films!

Warners' DVD of The Big Red One looks marvelous, showing little trace of the matching problems mentioned by Schickel's editors. It looks much better than it once did on cable Television and VHS tape because those un-matted presentations left the battle scenes with big empty spaces at the top and bottom of the frame and made the production look that much more threadbare. Aided by new compositions from the original composer Dana Kaproff, the revised audio work is equally seamless.

Other extras include an excellent video documentary on Fuller from the Men Who Made the Movies series, the original promo reel, trailer and TV spots, still galleries and the above mentioned restoration comparisons.

A veteran sergeant of World War I leads a squad in World War II, always in the company of the survivor Pvt. Griff, the writer Pvt. Zab, the Sicilian Pvt. Vinci and Pvt. Johnson, in Vichy French Africa, Sicily, D-Day at Omaha Beach, Belgium and France, and ending in a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia where they face the true horror of war.

Lee Marvin Mark Hamill Robert Carradine Bobby Di Cicco Kelly Ward Stéphane Audran Siegfried Rauch Serge Marquand Charles Macaulay Alain Doutey Maurice Marsac Colin Gilbert Joseph Clark Ken Campbell Doug Werner Perry Lang Howard Delman Marthe Villalonga Giovanna Galletti Gregori Buimistre Shimon Barr Matteo Zoffoli Abraham Ronai Galit Rotman Samuel Fuller Christa Lang

I know there's someone out there that watches this and sees glory and excitement, but I can't imagine what they must be like. Almost every soldier I've ever spoken to has mentioned how unrealistic war movies are, but that hardly means the movies don't adequately convey some sense of horror and pain. They present effective characters and we empathize with them, and even if what is shown is both less terrifying than the real thing and more condensed, deeply edited, completely limited as compared to the real thing, even if that is the case, it is none-the-less a depiction of nothing I can fathom wanting to be a part of.

"By now we'd come to look at all the replacements as dead men who temporarily had the use of their arms and legs. They came and went so fast and so regular that sometimes we didn't even get to know their names. Truth is, after a while, we sort of avoided getting to know them."

It's either an Epic War Drama disguised as a World War II Adventure B-Movie, or a World War II Adventure B-Movie disguised as an Epic War Drama. I'm not sure which. It certainly is an Epic however, but a Samuel Fuller Epic. No forced messages or sentimentality, just a story about war.

The movie is very simple. It's a series of combat experiences, and the times of waiting in between. Lee Marvin plays a carpenter of death. The sergeants of this world have been dealing death to young men for 10,000 years. He's a symbol of all those years and all those sergeants, no matter what their names were or what they called their rank in other languages. That's why he has no name in the movie.

"If any single day can credibly be presented as the defining moment of a century, it's 6 June 1944, the day of the allied landings at Normandy," said Peter Jennings, former executive director at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

The collaboration between a dozen Western-Allied countries made possible the success of the amphibious Normandy Invasion, also known as Operation Neptune. This operation was, so far, their most significant blow to Nazi Germany during World War II and the largest seaborne invasion in history. Among the U.S. forces, one of its most distinguished elements, who spearheaded the assault and whose accomplishments were pivotal to changing the tide of war, is the 1st Infantry Division, also known as the "Big Red One".

U.S. Army Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe, tasked the Big Red One Soldiers with capturing a 5-mile stretch of the coast of Normandy code-named Omaha Beach. The complexity of their mission at this beach was unlike any of the others. Omaha not only had harsh waters and terrain to maneuver in, but it was also one of the most restricted and heavily defended sections within Operation Neptune. For that reason, the combat-seasoned 1st Infantry Division was chosen, among other elements, to complete the task.

Being true to their motto, approximately 2,400 Soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice that day. However, it was not in vain. Thanks to them, more than 34,000 Allied troops were able to land at the beach by nightfall. During the next five days, the Big Red One drove inland and secured the remaining beachhead for the arrival of additional troops, equipment, and supplies. Subsequently, the division moved eastward across France and spent nearly six months of continuous fighting against the enemy. By the end of the campaign, 17 of its members were awarded the Medal of Honor.

Moreover, for their individual and collective actions on June 6, 1994, the Soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division have three different monuments honoring them on the beaches of Normandy: the Signal Monument, the Charles Shay Indian Memorial, and the 1st Infantry Division Monument.

According to the Mayor of Carentan, Jean-Pierre L'honneur, "while war still knocks on Europe's doors, it is more important than ever to remember the horrors of past conflicts, and how precious and fragile peace between people is."

Despite being thousands of miles from the U.S., the townspeople of Carentan haven't forgotten the courage and sacrifice displayed by the veterans of D-Day. Seventy-eight years later, that event remains a historic reminder of how the strength of the alliance and steadfast resolve to shared ideals proved to be the turning point in a brutal fight against tyranny.

That historic day on Omaha Beach, the Big Red One, didn't just help change the fate of WWII. In the fight for democracy, liberty, and human dignity, the 1st Infantry Division helped change the course of human history.

Ten years later, Samuel Fuller had established himself as a successful writer-director in Hollywood, quickly moving from Poverty Row quickies to a lucrative contract at 20th Century Fox. Financially secure, sleeping in silk pajamas in his spacious Beverly Hills home, Fuller appeared to have it all. But no amount of money or success could shake the trauma that lingered within him.

Christa Fuller: [Sam] turned down all these films about World War II because he wanted to draw on his own vision and experience, what he lived through. Darryl F. Zanuck offered Sam The Young Lions and The Longest Day. He turned down Patton. It was offered to him, a firm offer, in 1968.

Peter Bogdanovich, director: I looked up Sammy [in the late 1960s] because I was a fan of his pictures, especially his war pictures. I liked him as a person, enormously. My wife at the time, Polly Platt, got along well with him and with Christa. We kind of liked each other right away, so we spent quite a bit of time together. 041b061a72

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