Sam Peckinpah's only war film has intensity and action to spare, but sadly lacks the consistency and scope of classics like The Wild Bunch. The best feature of Cross of Iron is its stellar cast. James Coburn keeps Steiner from becoming a macho cliché by investing him with a tormented soulfulness, Maximillian Schell hits the right blend of snobbery and sociopathic deviousness as the autocratic Stransky and David Warner and James Mason give the film a touch of humanity with their work as a pair of war-weary senior officers. Despite an obvious low budget, John Coquillion's skillful cinematography finds the visual poetry in the film's grimy locations and Ernest Gold enhances the film's grandeur with a grand orchestral score that is both haunting and rousing. Finally, Sam Peckinpah uses his trademark editing techniques to create a series gut-wrenching set pieces; highlights include a scene where Steiner and his men ambush a Russian unit by posing as prisoners of war and a haunting scene where Steiner is tormented by hallucinations in a veteran's hospital. The problem with Cross of Iron is that it shows all the clear signs of being made in a rush. The roughly hewn script periodically loses focus, the varying accents of the international cast seldom match, and the battle scenes suffer from a lack of scope due to the film's much-publicized budget woes. Worst of all, the film abruptly ends in a cryptic and unexpected manner that suggests the filmmakers lacked the funds or time to shoot a proper finale. Despite all these annoying flaws, Cross of Iron is a worthwhile if inconsistent effort that offers enough solid moments for Peckinpah enthusiasts thanks to the commitment of its filmmakers and cast.
by Donald Guarisco review