review for The Big Red One on AllMovie

The Big Red One (1980)
by Michael Betzold review

Some critics would select maverick director-writer Samuel Fuller's The Big Red One as the best war movie ever made. It is certainly one of the most terrifying. In its unforgiving and realistic action scenes, it matches the immediacy of the first half of Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan. In its allegorical nature, it presages Terrence Malick The Thin Red Line. Fuller's script is a loosely connected series of vignettes, based on his own World War II experiences, that follow a rifle squad across North Africa and into Europe. The squad is led by a gruff, unyielding sergeant (Lee Marvin), who taunts and terrorizes his four green, frightened soldiers. There are many spooky scenes, including the climactic liberation of a Nazi death camp. The two-hour final version was less than half the length of Fuller's director's cut, but it retains his uncompromising vision. Made when Fuller was in his late 60s, The Big Red One provided a crowning achievement for his long and controversial career, in which his renegade techniques and film noir sensibilities made him a post-modernist before his time.