Cross of Iron: Short of Greatness

Out of all of the films about the Second World War, Cross of Iron, directed by Sam Peckinpah, stands out as among the most unique due it showing that great war from the perspective of the Wehrmacht.

By the time he directed this film, Peckinpah had already built up a reputation of showing violence in a brutally honest way, as well having more-complex-than-usual characterizations even when it came to typically vilified characters. His breakthrough film, The Wild Bunch, showed a group of aging Western outlaws as also having some sympathetic qualities, while the many law-men in the film aren’t quite saints. There is mix of traits all around and Peckinpah was interested in showing the very real volatility of men on opposite sides clashing instead of some fluffed up white hat/black hat, fairy tale style western. Thus, it seems that Peckinpah was the right man to show the oft vilified Wehrmacht in a more realistic light.

To a large degree, he succeeded in looking past the all the “evil Stahlhelm” stereotypes and showed a diverse and down to earth Wehrmacht. However, the film is not without its (perhaps inevitable) shortcomings.

Overview
The year is 1943 and the German army is retreating from the Soviet. On one small part of the Eastern Front, on the Taman Peninsula, Corporal Steiner and his men return to base after a successful mission and learn that a new commanding officer has been assigned to their platoon. This is Captain Stransky who is a proud Prussian aristocrat and who quickly makes it known that he specifically volunteered himself for this new post so that he can have a good chance to be awarded the Iron Cross, a top Wehrmacht decoration for a soldier’s valor. In contrast, Steiner is an experienced veteran from a humble background and he’s had about enough of the war. Practically right away, a conflict between Steiner and Stransky begins to boil when Stransky orders Steiner to shoot a young Russian prisoner on the grounds that no prisoners are to be taken. Steiner then suggests that Stransky do the dirty work, but the new officer hesitates. One of Steiner’s men then says he will do the job, but he takes the boy back to their trench safely.

Stransky has obviously never been in combat and flinches at the sound of every exploding shell whether distant or close in contrast to Steiner who hardly flinches at anything. These two very different outlooks on the war also mean that each man defines his duty as different. Steiner is a soldier, who carries out orders and oversees his squad with care. Stransky is a lone wolf who seeks to exploit his position in order to win an award, which then will enable him to show off.

Though Stransky may lack a true soldier’s attitudes and valour, he certainly possesses a sharp cunning that enables him to make himself seem eligible for the coveted Iron Cross. First, he spies on the fact that one of lieutenants, Triebig, is a homosexual and threatens to expose him. Second, after a Soviet attack, he claims to have led the successful counter-attack and names two witnesses to this feat: Triebig, who has been blackmailed with his homosexuality, and thus glumly goes on with the fraud. Steiner, the second named witness, is not so easily swayed. Stransky had from the start tried to suck up to the soldiers to earn their respect as commander; for one he spontaneously promoted Steiner from Corporal to Sergeant when he first arrived at his new assignment. Now, Stransky proceeds to further bribe Steiner by promising to take care of him financially after the war. Steiner refuses to take part in the scheme.

This causes Stransky’s plotting to turn ugly and he doesn’t relay an urgent retreat order from Colonel Brandt, the company commander. Steiner and his men are left in their position, which is now behind enemy lines.

Their way back features some top-notch battle scenes that are notable for their use of exclusively real, and not computer generated, effects. The torn up landscape, the tanks (actual T34s, albeit the Yugoslav variant) and grim tone makes for an uncompromising image of war. With the German shown in the middle of this, it makes for a unique, English language film about the Second World War. Due to all the characters being German, there is also a very welcomed language uniformity, namely no corny accents. In English language films, but especially the American ones, with both Allied and Axis soldiers, the Germans almost always speak with accents in order for them to be differentiated. European productions tend to avoid this awkwardness by hiring German speaking actors and having them speak their native tongue fluently and the film is then subtitled. Hollywood was, all too often, too lazy for this kind of authenticity. “Cross of Iron” circumvents the issue all together, but whether intentional or not, it is one of the film’s strengths.

Steiner and his men eventually make it back to their own lines. They used a radio to secure their passage across no man’s land and head towards their trenches. Stransky, having hoped that Steiner was killed after not having received the retreat order, suggests that Triebig shoot at Steiner and his men and then it can be written off that they were mistaken for Soviet troops. A Soviet attack does, in fact, start right then and in a dramatic scene almost all of Steiner’s men are wiped out by a machine gun from a Wehrmacht position, but the ever resilient Steiner makes to the trenches. Triebig confesses as to what happened and is gunned down by a vengeful Steiner who then goes after Stransky. As the Soviet attack grows in intensity, Steiner finds Stransky cowering in a building and says he’ll show him “where the Iron Crosses grow.” They head out to meet the Soviet assault, but then, in a odd twist, the film ends on an abrupt note: Stransky fires of all of his ammunition and is unable to reload, while Steiner erupts in laughter. The end is sort of ambiguous, but plenty of artillery shells rain down, thus we can presume what happens to Steiner and Stransky in those moments.

Oddly, for most of the film, Steiner carries a Soviet PPSh-41 and not a German MP-40.

Weltanschauung
The film’s view of the World and war is largely based off of the opening and closing credits sequences. I have omitted those from the overview in order to focus on them here.

First, there is the German folk song about coming of age called, Hänschen klein, which can be heard over the opening and closing of the film. It is a recording sung by children, whose mild voices starkly contrast much of the film’s harsh sound effects. This opening also has grim imagery of battle inter-cut with images of Hitler and NSDAP rallies. The message here that Hitler is “Hänschen klein” – Little Johnny – whose adventure is the war, but he doesn’t suffer any of its effects. These are instead thrust on the shoulders of ordinary men like Steiner. This then reflects Steiner’s low view of all officers; he tells Col. Brandt with full open frankness that he despises all officers even the “enlightened” ones, meaning those who know what the ordinary soldier goes through. Brandt is one of these “enlightened” ones and can be seen to rally troops in the last closing battle scene, unlike Stransky who cowers.

Second, the film’s closing sequence, right after Steiner erupts in laughter, once again has the folk song and now it portrays Stransky’s naive view of war. It is rather ambiguous, but presumably as this song plays and Steiner laughs, an artillery shell takes both of them out. This is further suggested in the appearance of the young Russian prisoner who had died earlier when Steiner had tried to release him during en ebb in front line action, but this proved fatal as an attack started without warning and the boy was caught in a crossfire. Thus, his appearance now suggests that Steiner and Stransky are also dead. This ending reflects the Eastern Front for many of the men of the Wehrmacht. In an interesting move, the stock sad ending is avoided, which again proves to be a strength of the film. Steiner goes out like a warrior, unafraid; Stransky goes out like the coward he is. In the moments before death, the men’s true characters are shown and Stransky’s boasting and conniving have finally been proven to be totally worthless.

While it is not the worst kind of ending, as it realistically rounds of character arcs, there is also a very established convention at work in that last scene. And that is defeat or death for the German soldier. If Wehrmacht soldiers are shown as the typically faceless enemies of a war movie, then many die but many may also be spared to wind up in defeat. In contrast, if Wehrmacht soldiers are shown as much more drawn out characters with whom an audience can identify and sympathize, then they must die. For there can be no lasting sympathy to their struggle according to Hollywood.

In this end sequence, the folk song soon transitions into a sad instrumental and we see images of war atrocity from many wars throughout the 20th centruty, including a photo of what appears to be a Wehrmacht officer in the process of hanging some young people. This photo appears several times in different framings throughout this last sequence. However, that the thing that seals the deal with the film comes along right after the last photo is shown. It is the following quote:

“Don’t rejoice in his defeat, you men. For though the world has stood up and stopped the bastard, The bitch that bore him is in heat again.”

Those pessimistic words that suggest an eternal loop of pointless struggle are the product of Bertold Brecht. More specifically, they are from his 1941 play, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, which is Brecht’s fictionalized version of Adolf Hitler’s story and his attitude toward Hitler can be readily seen even in the title of the play. Not surprisingly, Bertold Brecht was a life-long Marxist who emigrated from Germany to Denmark in 1933, and then, by 1941 he left Europe all together for the United States. In the late 1940s, he was suspected of being a member of the Communist Party due to his commitment to Marxism. He then left the US after giving one testimony before the House Committee on Un-American Activitie and returned Germany, Marxist East Germany to be more precise. There lived out the rest of his days in East Berlin where he became one of the GDR’s “intellectual heroes.” Unfortunately for Cross of Iron, it is with this mention of Marxism that the film’s anti-elitism takes on a whole new meaning.

When Stransky is attempting to persuade Steiner to sign a witness statement as part of his scheme to get the Iron Cross, the two have a brief discussion about class in society. Steiner’s background is unspecified, but we can assume he is a regular working man. Stransky, on the other hand, is very class conscious is sure that there are differences of blood quality between the upper and lower classes. He even writes off Immanuel Kant and Franz Schubert (both did not have upper-class origins) as “exceptions” while he is interested in “general concepts.” He is even initially angered when Steiner brings up the notion of Hitler’s attitudes about the equality of all Germans, but this is only a brief rise in tension and he immediately backs down, “…but he is our Fuhrer.”

The discussion doesn’t go much beyond that. It’s a shame, since when it finally seems that a film is ready to actually discuss NS policies by having a realistic pairing of characters from the era in dialog about them, it cuts off. The sharp contrast between the humble Steiner and the slimey Stransky also screams Marxist class warfare. While it is true that Hitler did not like the old aristocratic system, he did not despise the people in it, just the system of favorites that the upper class had going on, that is what Hitler got rid off. As far as the former elite class was concerned, Hitler had nothing against them and even permitted that they serve in the Wehrmacht; for one, General Erich von Manstein had upper-class origins. It was the Marxists who demonized the upper class and, in Soviet Russia, had practically all of them executed. Thus, we can see why the film cut off the discussion: if it continued there might have been some great NS myth busting, but as we well know, Zionist Correctness will strive to never let that happen.

There is even one NSDAP member in the film, but he turns out to be a rapist who has his genitals bitten off by the woman whom he is abusing. This is then mirrored, in a way, when Stransky is symbolically castrated by not being able to reload his submachine gun. This is Marxist propaganda making its enemies into impotent fools.

There are also some subtle appearances by Hitler in the film beyond the images from the opening. These are in the form of a picture of him that rests on a shelf in Col. Brandt’s field office. First, the officers in the bunker are discussing their glum situation and Captain Kiesel, Brandt’s adjutant, who is clearly shown to be disillusioned and worn out from the war, gets up and whips out a salute just as shells start to rock the whole place. He tries to stand up straight at attention with the salute, but is being shaken all about. In a quick cutaway shot, we can see the small picture of Hitler fall from one shelf to the one below it. The theme of instability in this brief sequence is thus linked to Hitler: the men following him are just going to their deaths, or that Hitler made his followers delusional – basicially it is a reheated serving of all the usual ZC propaganda. The second appearance of Hitler is when Steiner is giving his opinion (a very negative one) on officers: the picture is back on the shelf in the background just over Steiner’s shoulder. Thus, once again, a Hitler-myth, the one in which all decent Germans during the war actually hated Hitler. Steiner even adds that he not only hates all officers, but also “everything that this uniform stands for.”

In the end, the film’s Weltanschauung remains humanist, at best. As far as portraying the Wehrmacht soldier, this is a good step from the typical vilification and/or faceless helmets, but there are still plenty of steps to be taken. And this not only requires for a story arc to go further, but also for it to have a different starting block than this film.

Production Background
The film’s background can also be seen as an indicator of its content. First off, the money put up for production came from, Wolf C. Hartwig, a West German producer, albeit one who made a career from pornography and exploitation films. Thus, that was one of the early steps to indicate that showing anything authentically National Socialist was pretty much out of the question. The film doesn’t venture into exploitative territory, but it doesn’t go too far past the standard themes of the war genre. It just shows the Wehrmacht campaign as “men on the front lines of Hell” – a very common war film theme – a.k.a. the old anti-war/pacifist theme. This effectively reduces the struggle of the Wehrmacht to that of soldiers in any other war when, in fact, theirs was so much more.

Director Sam Peckinpah had been in steady decline throughout the 1970s and this film is often seen as his last bit of greatness as a filmmaker. Again, the film is good in parts, but it could have been so much better. It could have been groundbreaking on more than just one level. On set, Peckinpah was reported to have been drinking up to 4 bottles of vodka a day during shooting and only sleeping a few hours each night. Thus, the fact that he managed to deliver a finished work at all is rather astounding. By the end of filming, the production had run out of money, so the ending scene in the film was actually improvised on the last day of shooting. However, imagine if Peckinpah was of totally sound mind and fully committed to his story. What could have he shown us then? Would he have seen past the base themes and written them out of the story? Would he then have expanded and shown us a truly honest portrayal of the Wehrmacht soldier? In all likelihood, this would have then gone on to be edited accordingly by the studios, so whatever the result may have been, we’ll never know. It just remains interesting to ponder or as act a springboard for a future film project.

Final Thoughts
The material in the film remains a mixed-bag, however, there is one last thing, and this is something superb. This is the original release poster. It very aptly shows the tragedy of the German soldier on the Eastern Front and how his honor was stolen.

The fallen Wehrmacht soldier tangled in barbed wire,
unable to retain the symbol of his honor,

for the Soviet propaganda machine has destroyed it,

after the Soviet military machine had killed him.

About Miecz Elizejski

Kindling a Kampf deep in Zionist occupied territory.
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16 Responses to Cross of Iron: Short of Greatness

  1. Yea its true how in movies that depict any sympathy towards the German soldiers that they inevitably end up dying, and dying in a way that is shown to be futile, as if they were mere pawns fighting for the wrong team against their will.

    I have also seen 3 German language films; Stalingrad, Das Boot, and Downfall, I can barely rememner aything from Stalingrad it was that long ago, Das Boot was just downright insulting, and Downfall is just another typical anti-Hitler film.

  2. “Stalingrad” wasn't too bad, but it was one of those movies where the sympathetic characters are all not NS and there is the “defeat or death” theme. “Das Boot” is largely the same, just from the Kriegsmarine perspective. Not a bad movie as far as showing the intensity of war, but still bound to ZC.

    “Downfall” I'd say was not a typical Hitler movie, but it was anti-NS. It was the first German produced movie to have an actor play Hitler and it was the main role, so it showed Hitler as a human and not the typical monster image. But, still, as far as history it is much akin to Shakespeare's “Richard III” – intense drama, but takes many, many liberties for the sake of that drama. There has yet to be an accurate movie about the Fuhrerbunker.

  3. Yea I guess “Downfall” did give Hitler a human face.

    What is your take on the dozens of “hitler rants” that “Downfall” has spawned?

  4. To me, the Downfall parodies indicate, above all else, that people cannot seem to be able to take Adolf Hitler seriously. He is either absolute evil or the butt of a joke. Those videos are funny to a degree, since many are genuinely absurd, but it's just simple Gentile humor, which not coincidentally, serves ZC very well.

  5. Ja, if he isn't the absolute evil incarnate, he is an emotionally unhinged raving lunatic, who somehow managed to get millions to obey him simply by screaming at them, LOL… The joke is really on the Gentiles for believing such nonsense, but hey for the Gentile if its on Television it must be true! The motto for the Gentile is; “It is impossible therefore I believe!”

    88

  6. Mark Hess says:

    This comment is a late one. I was not aware of this site until recently.

    Thank you for writing this excellent and thought-provoking review. I was very glad to read it, as “Cross of Iron” is my favorite war film, and one of the best movies I have ever seen, period.

    Of course, there are many flaws in Mr. Peckinpah’s masterpiece. The ones that make me most uncomfortable are those that betray an acceptence of many of the myths and lies about Hitler, Nazism and the SS on the part of the film-makers. You dealt with several of these flaws in your review. However, in spite of these mistakes which are significant and troubling, “Cross of Iron” is still an amazing film.

    Here, I would like to mention one scene that, I believe, is very important. It is the one involving Nurse Eva and Steiner.

    In short, Eva, an obviously brave, capable, intelligent and sensitive woman, offers Steiner an alternative to war. Steiner, still recovering from a serious concussion, is not yet obligated to return to the front. He turns away from her and her offer, and goes back to fight alongside his men. This, no doubt, is noble. However, the way the scene is filmed, and the way it is acted (both characters look sad, troubled and desperate– and Steiner looks ashamed, as well), underscores that it is also a tragedy. It could very well be that our Steiner is no longer capable of even imagining a normal, happy life.

    Of course, this scene exemplifies the film’s humanist concerns. That being said, it is interesting that Eva’s anti-war sentiments do not come across as being anti-Nazi/anti-Hitler. Maybe Mr. Peckinpah was aware of more than we give him credit for. It could be that he, like many of us, recognized that it was Churchill, FDR and Stalin who really wanted and brought about The Second World War, not Hitler– and that, if there were ever military actions that were indeed justified during the last century, Germany’s attack on Poland was one of them.

    Anyway, thanks again.

  7. Mark,
    You make some interesting points. Eva’s feelings are quite general, as in anti-war, not anti-Hitler, but this is the main theme of the film. The photo montage with the sad music at the end shows atrocity from many wars, not just WW2. I supposed this could be seen as going either way – “WW2 was just another maniac’s war” OR “death in war is sad no matter what.”

    I honestly lean towards the latter as far as this film is concerned, though I do think that it is a better than usual war film all-around with it’s gritty sets/locations and unconventional story angles.

    As far as the start of WW2 is concerned, I think there has yet to be an accurate picture taken. Mainstreamers tend to demonize Germany, Revisionists often sanctify Germany (which is more accurate than mainstream), but the full picture of Germany’s and Poland’s 1930s hatred has yet to be painted. Given what was going on, war was inevitable, people don’t see it as a vicious cycle playing out.

  8. Mark Hess says:

    Miecz,

    Thank you for replying to my comment.

    I have only been seriously studying the history of WW1, WW2, the period between those awful conflicts, and the period after the last (and the consequences of those times) for less than two years, now– not a very long time. I certainly do not have enough knowledge to understand what the leaders of Poland were thinking. However, I do not think that it is totally unreasonable to believe that it was possible for Poland to have benefited itself enormously (economically, socially and militarily) by granting Germany Danzig and The Corridor, and by working with them, making them friends and allies. Again, I am not asserting this. I really am not sure. Do you truly believe that WW2 was inevitable?

    Anyway, in case you read this comment first: a short time ago, I wrote a comment to the review of “They Live” that may interest you.

    Thanks again.

  9. In my view, with Marshall Piłsudski’s death, war became inevitable, yes. Both Germans and Poles had a mutual antagonism towards each other. It took an Aryan like Hitler to put enough sense into the Germans so that they don’t lose control of their bigotry and descend to bloodlust. Poland did not have an Aryan leader. Marshall Piłsudski was pretty good, but he lacked a greater vision. He was just interested in stability, hence his signing the German-Polish non-aggression pact of 1934. Hitler as late as 1937 in the Reichstag was telling the Germans that the Polish state is a reality, but with Piłsudki’s death and Rydz-Śmigły’s rise to Marshall, Poland’s leadership was in no position to be so bold as to look past old antagonism towards their neighbor.

    It is key to realize that Prussian resentment for Poland and Poland’s resentment for Prussia were key factors. Prussians held as negative a view of Poles and Poles did of the Prussians. Prussian leadership compared the Poles to the American Indians under the Anglo heel in the USA. Basically, they saw them as primitive and that “Germanization” would be a good thing for them. I can tell you right now that Poland will never accept Germanization and Prussian actions from 1870ish and on were viewed as very hostile by Poles. Oddly, Prussia was mixing ground with mostly Germans, but also Poles as well as mixed people, thus it was ripe for Aryanism, but the Gentiles didn’t see it that way.

    Hitler realized and it took him much effort to convince the Germans of it and to keep them calm as things grew worse and worse between the two nations. I have heard the argument that Poland deserved to be conquered for the crimes of the 1930s and I agree that they were unforgivable, but people, especially Germanophiles, don’t see the historic context. They just flip the demonization of Germany on its head and demonize Poland, when in fact Poland had a similar problem on its eastern side with Ukrainians terrorizing Poles and many Poles hate Ukraine for it. It’s just Gentile BS – Boromir Syndrome. The problem was much greater than just Polish crimes or crimes of any one nation.

    But you are right about Danzig, it should have peacefully gone to Germany, Poland was already developing its own port of Gdynia, thus Danzig was not necessary for Poland and Hitler was all for respecting the Polish minority in Danizg anyway, roughly 5% of the populace, as well as permitting Polish commerce there to continue in the port and city. If the Poles saw Hitler for the reasonable man that he was (one who ended the rule of Prussian Elitism and peacefully, unlike to Jewish Bolsheviks in Russia who murdered the Czarist Aristocracy) things would have gone amazingly well for both Poland and Germany. Sadly, more than one Hitler was needed to construct good relations over the conventional national borders. Hitler tried, but his extended hand was swiped away, as there was no other Aryan to grasp it.

    Another bit of frustration I found on this topic is that many people claim Germany is being occupied, namely that Danzig is now Gdańsk. These same people don’t notice the fact that while Germans were booted from certain lands, Poles were booted from their eastern lands. Lvov was Lwów with a Polish majority for a long time. Though now “reclaiming” Lvov would be very stupid and pointless. Oddly, now with the relative “containment” of people in boundaries administered by their ethnic kin, Aryanism has a bigger chance since ethnic squabbling is at an all time low in Eastern Europe. Racism is still present online, but I am talking about actual fighting in the real World. A Hitlerian leader now would be in a great position to spread Aryanism.

    Wow, long comment. But it’s a complex topic.

  10. Mark Hess says:

    Miecz,

    I watched something recently that may interest you. It was a documentary on Sam Peckinpah, titled “Man of Iron.” Overall, it was not great, but a few things really stood out to me.

    At one point, a famous actor read a diary entry in which Peckinpah described an experience when he was a young man. He shot an elk while hunting. Sadly, he got it through the neck, and the creature did not die immediately. Young Peckinpah had to track it, and, when he found it, the animal was still alive. He described looking into the elk’s eyes, and seeing fear and knowledge there. The young hunter put the animal out of its misery. Peckinpah describes crying uncontrollably in that moment, feeling an anguish that was monumental.

    In another section, an ex-partner talks about an experience that Peckinpah shared with her, from the time he was a marine. He was with a group that was in China, somewhere (unfortunately, I cannot be specific about the time, the place, and the events, as she was not specific with her description). He witnessed prisoners being dragged by their genitals into some kind of holding barracks. Horrified, he went to his commanding officer, informed him of what was happening, and tried to see if they could stop such abuse. The officer told Peckinpah that they were only there to witness what was happening, and that they could not do anything to stop it. Later, that night, Peckinpah slumped next to the building where the prisoners were being tortured, in anguish and impotence.

    Lastly, one colleague talked about a moment that occured during the shoot of one of Peckinpah’s films. They were in Mexico, and, during some free-time, they, along with others, went to a bordello. A Mexican woman, who was obviously not feeling well, and not looking attractive because of that, sat down next to another fellow coworker. Peckinpah was sitting across from them, apparently just drinking and observing the proceedings. For about an hour, that coworker simply sat there and ignored the prostitute, not even talking to her, and she got up and left the room. Shortly after she left, Peckinpah jumped to his feet, and shouted angrily at the man, pointing out that that woman was a human being, and should be treated as such.

    I believe that these three moments from that documentary explain much about Peckinpah and his films. I am also fascinated over why it is that so many men and women who have such a profound capacity for sensitivity, empathy and intelligence turn against themselves. As we know, Peckinpah destroyed himself, and hurt many others, with drinking and drugging to the point of oblivion. It really is a tragedy.

    Anyway, I hope you are doing well. Take care.

  11. Mark,
    That’s very interesting. But I am not that surprised. Many people who realize a profound and pure truth that is so far removed from anything in our current diluted reality often “go nuts” as the saying goes. Even Stanley Kubrick (Jew), who ended up NOT making his planned film on the Holocaust, but rather kept making films that ambiguously condemned elitism, had many similar aspects to him. Kubrick was bright and, like Peckinpah and many others, he simply “couldn’t handle the truth.” For Kubrick this must have been a crazy mind twist since he was a Jew and he had these odd swings from noble behavior (concern for how animals were being treated on his film sets) to typical Jewish arrogance (being deceptive with his actors to force desired performances out of them). Peckinpah must have been lost in his own way and went from showing genuine compassion in moments, but then slowly self-destructing with booze. Neither had a clear goal in sight for how to combat the Zionist Elitist plague. Then we must consider that Kubrick intentionally made those ambiguously themed films to cover for his kin. He hated his brood, but he didn’t expose them directly. That’s a different topic, though.

    Today’s Aryanists are frontiersmen and the frontier has always been frightening, especially if one is alone.

  12. Mark Hess says:

    Miecz,

    Thanks, in large part, to your outstanding writings on movies, I have been trying to find time to watch movies again. I have recently re-watched several of Carpenter’s films, as well as George A. Romero’s “Bruiser,” “Knightriders,” “Martin,” and “Monkey Shines.” I am glad to have done so, as I am reminded of why I developed such a soft spot for ‘Uncle George’ in the first place. I think he is a brilliant film-maker with an unusual amount of insight and sensitivity.

    I just posted a comment on Pandarya’s site that may interest you. It has to do with “Knightriders,” and why I would describe it as having an Aryan nature (like most of his other films). I would appreciate your feedback on it, as well.

    Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

    Sincerely,
    Mark

  13. Greetings Mark,
    I am planning to review the “zombie metaphor” and use Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead” as a focus point for that essay. I have seen the “Night,” “Dawn” and “Day” from the “Dead” series, but not the newer ones. Also, I do want take a look a closer look at some of Romero’s other work as he is not a sellout to Hollywood.

    The same goes for John Carpenter and my next two reviews will be Carpenter films. One of which you suggested.

  14. Pingback: Cross of Iron (1977) | timneath

  15. Brent Richards says:

    Great review of the film. I did a series of articles on the film for the Wargaamer website some years back. I compared the book to the film and found a lot of things about the film during my research, including the original script. Based on a novel by Willi Heinrich, Sam Peckinpah took the story of a platoon of landsers on the Eastern Front and turned it into a strong anti war film. With James Coburn in the lead, the film brought the words of Heinrich alive in an unprecedented manner of authenticity and made the story even more powerful by changing the sequence of events to create a shattering and unforgettable climax.

    Heinrich’s novel is a very strong and chilling portrayal of combat on the Eastern Front during the year of 1943, focusing on a platoon of the 101 Jager Division that had been isolated with the rest of the 17th Army in the Taman Peninsula in a position named the Gotenkopf or Goths Head. This position was the brainchild of Adolf Hitler who, in an attempt to preserve some of the gains made following the disaster of Stalingrad, ordered Army Group A to establish a bridgehead to be used as a springboard for the recapture of the Caucasus region in the summer of 1943. The position was anchored at Novorosyssk in the south and centered on the town of Krymskaya then bent to the northwest to the Sea of Azov. Isolated from the rest of the Eastern Front, Army Group A spent the rest of the year in this backwater before withdrawing into the Crimea in October 1943, long after the initiative had passed from the Germans.

    Heinrich’s writing effectively portrays the brutal and callous nature of the war for the average landser. This excerpt of Schnurrbart contemplating the death of the “Professor” Dorn, who was just about to go home for officer training when he was killed by a mortar round is a good example of Heinrich’s ability to portray the hopelessness of the situation
    “His eyes rested on the boots. German army boots, size 10. He suddenly recalled that these were the boots of a man who had joined the company shortly after Dorn, and had died under a hail of machine-gun bullets. Dorn, who had been equipped with uncomfortable clodhoppers, had asked Fetscher for the boots, then relatively new. The nails had since become worn down and the soles were full of holes. What a long way those boots had come since their nails first rang challengingly on the cobblestone street of a small Czech town and the March sun was reflected in the high polish of the uppers. Schnurrbart knew all the paths they had walked. They had trodden the clean highways of Slovakia, the sandy paths of Poland, the corduroy roads of the Ukraine, the crushed flowers of the steppes, the lonely forest paths of the Caucasus. In light and dark, on hills and valleys, over land and water. And the road had always been there. Dust and searing heat had dried the leather and cracked it. The boots had slogged through rain and bottomless swamps, through cold and deep snow. With a kind of insane clarity Schnurrbart calculated: perhaps six million footsteps lay behind them. Now they had reached their final destination and were resting, unsightly, used up, worthless, with the warm sun beating down on the cracked leather. They lay waiting patiently, patient as the hide of which they were made. Schnurrbart suddenly became aware of the tears streaming down his face. Now the soldier Dorn had left his boots and his body behind. (p. 250)”

    Cross of Iron is a revelation It is the first film to give a realistic portrayal of the other side of the hill. Steiner and his men are not Nazis nor are the officers. They are soldiers doing their duty. They question the purpose of the war and the leadership of Hitler.

    Cross of Iron is an anti-war film in that it focuses on the average foot soldier, the harshness of his daily existence, and the horrors inflicted on him by war. These men dream about survival, peace, sex and home. The story is full of the irony of war. By using the German side, Peckinpah makes the irony stronger than it normally would be by using an American squad. The viewer is confronted with the fact that Germany was defeated in the war so the struggles of Stiener and his landsers are in the long run all in vain. In the film it is made clear that the men know they are already defeated and fighting for a lost cause.

    The star of the film, James Coburn, plays Sergeant Steiner, who has seen too much of the horror of war and during his service he has not in any way endeared himself to his superiors. The men under his command, however, are loyal to him to the death. During their time of service, they have been come a close-knit group of comrades, a sort of “Band of Brothers” on the Eastern Front. The book and film focus on Steiner and the events of war that engulf him and his men.

    The film uses the irony of the landsers fighting simply to delay an outcome already obvious to show the futility of war. Peckinpah uses this irony to deliver his message and it is constantly echoed in the film through the principal characters;

    Col Brandt commenting on a 37 Moselle wine being as out of place in Russia as the German Army itself

    Stransky telling Triebig that the high command has written off the Kuban Bridgehead

    Steiner asking Kruger if Kruger really thinks the Germans will ever be forgiven or forgotten for what they have done

    Steiner telling the Russian boy that “ It’s all an accident, an accident of hands. Mine, others, all without mind, from one extreme to another, but neither works nor will ever.”

    Brandt asking Kiesel “what will we do when we lose the war?”
    Kiesel replying “Prepare for the next one”

    Steiner commenting that trenches have been a part of mankind for over 1000 years

    Brandt telling Kiesel his job was to survive and find the “better people” to rebuild Germany

    And the strongest statement of all in the film, not given by a character but shown at the end of the credits long after most of the audience has left the theater is the quote from the famous Marxist playwright Berthold Brecht

    The original screenplay remained true to the book in dealing with the part covering Steiner’s recovery and his encounters with 3 women, Ilse, Inge and Gertrud and also explains how Ilse frames him for stealing a watch because Steiner rejected her. She found a way to get even — result –Court martial — degraded — Six months in a Penal Battalion. When he is in the hospital he gets her to confess. By the time filming started there was only one woman, Eva, played by Senta Berger. The character of Eva incorporates the qualities of Gertrud and to a lesser extent, those of Inge. Ilse, the woman who framed Steiner and stole the watch, was totally written out of the story and with her the story of Steiner’s demotion and punishment. Cross of Iron is not perfect and the omission of Steiner’s degradation is a major mistake. The story goes far to make both Stransky and Col Brandt more multidimensional. Stransky’s hatred of Steiner is not only motivated by Steiner’s refusal to sign the documents awarding Stransky the Iron Cross or Steiner’s attitude. Stransky, the Prussian aristocrat, sees Steiner as nothing more than a common thief and feels the Army and the world in general would be better off without him.

    Col Brandt’s character becomes more complex with the knowledge of Steiner’s degradation. To Brandt, Steiner represents both the good and bad sides of his landsers and Brandts fatherly attitude towards Steiner becomes more understandable. His statement to Stransky of Steiner being “a first rate soldier so we look the other way” takes on more significance. Brandt, the realist, sees both sides of Steiner and accepts Steiner for who he is, a first class platoon leader and reconnaissance specialist who has flaws in his makeup just like everyone else in his command.
    The character that loses the most by the change is Steiner. His decision to throw away Ilse’s confession after he forces it out of her represents his final break from his current path in life. It no longer matters to him if his honor is restored. It makes it clear he wants nothing to do with a system that spawns men like Stransky. His hatred for his own life and his uniform becomes painfully clear. His indifference towards Brandt and the Army is more sharply defined. In the film this was shown by the change in Steiner’s uniform. After his meeting with Brandt Steiner no longer shows his uniform and his many decorations but instead covers them with a ratty sweater. His handling of Ilse’s confession would have made this part of Steiner’s character stand out more clearly.

    I asked noted Sam Peckinpah authority Mike Siegel the reason why the story of Steiner’s degradation was removed from the final draft. He told me that Sam Peckinpah did not like Julius Epstein’s original script at all and asked Jim Hamilton to rewrite it. Hamilton used his experiences from the Korean War to embellish the script and removed the Hollywood platitudes in the dialogues that Epstein had relied on. Walter Kelley worked on the script some more once filming started in Yugoslavia and James Coburn also contributed to the revisions. The scene where Kruger kisses Kern and the bathtub scene with the Russian woman were both added by Vadim Glowna, who played Kern. Sam at first was furious realizing a German actor would think about altering scenes. Then he said ‘Yours is better’ and kept it. Many of these changes were based on budget. A lot of scenes were filmed that were removed from the final cut, including a rendezvous between Steiner and Eva.

    One of the big changes was the ending. In Epstein’s original script Steiner confronts Stransky at the airport where Stransky was boarding his plane to Paris. Steiner takes a grenade and forces Stransky towards him while pulling the pin. Another change was the removal of a conversation between Stransky and Meyer while surveying the Russian lines that makes clear Meyer’s confidence Steiner would return from reconnaissance and Stransky, after wondering aloud why such a gifted soldier is still a corporal agreeing to promote Steiner to Senior Sergeant if he does return. Another scene taken out is Steiner’s meeting with Brandt after returning from patrol. Another big change was having Deitz skip over the sunlight spots. In the book this was Zoll and Steiner uses the incident to ridicule the man. A scene with Kern lighting a cigarette and Steiner slapping it out of his mouth was also deleted.

    We will probably never know the real reason Steiner’s degradation was taken out of the script. Perhaps it was budget. The film was in financial trouble from the start with producer Wolf Hartwig unable to come up with all of the 4 million dollars the film was budgeted for and then the film ran another 2 million over that with Peckinpah forced to pay some of the crew himself. One actress is less expensive than three and the story would make no sense with only Eva to play against Steiner. Perhaps it was timing. The film was already over 2 hours and the complication of the story with the 3 nurses at Gursuf made it too long. Perhaps it was a combination of reasons that killed the storyline. Whatever the reasons it was a critical change to the story and gives justification to those that say a film will never be as good as the book it is based on.
    It is our loss that the storyline was altered by the removal of the story of Steiner’s degradation. It would have made an already strong and cynical, yet inevitably flawed, film all the more unforgettable.

    • Brent Richards,
      Interesting and well thought out review of the film. However, I disagree with your appreciation of Bertold Brecht. The inclusion of his quote pretty much confirms the Marxist and Soviet-approved outlook of the Wehrmacht (and NS Germany, by extension) that the film promotes. Surely there were soldiers in the Wehrmacht who knew and understood Hitler’s ideals and were willing to fight for them, fight to the end no matter how bitter. After all, the war ended not with surrender of a disillusioned army, but it ended in the streets of a torn up Berlin. Because there were men, women and even children, German and non-German who fought in the Wehrmacht and Waffen SS for the Third Way ideals of the Third Reich. It is about these people that a film is waiting to be made.

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