Greetings, Glancers! We continue our journey of re-evaluating my favourite films from every year through the decreased bias inherent to The Nightman Scoring System (c). Today’s pick is my Number 10 from 1980 – Sam Fuller’s War epic The Big Red One. Not a War movie you hear many film fans mention, not one which tends to appear often on Best Of lists. Lets see how it scores.
Sales: 3: It made more than it cost, but was hardly considered a success beyond that. You can’t say it was a flop either, so a 3 seems like the best response.
Chart: 3: I’m forced to go with a more or less average score for this category given that Chart data isn’t as well documented for film as it is for music. Possibly this is one of those categories which needs to be modified into a new category. I’ll think about it.
Critical Consensus: 3: It’s a tricky one – one the one hand it has been name in Best War Movies lists, but fairly low down the list – and critics have generally been positive, though not effusive or overwhelmingly so. The issue is that is it underseen and therefore not universally acclaimed. I’m happy with a 4 here, but 3 feels more accurate.
Director: 5: I’m happy giving a 5 here as it’s probably Fuller’s finest moment. It’s a hard-nosed, hard-boiled war movie which pulls no punches and is based on Fuller’s own experiences of the war. As such, you can’t go in looking for all out action, deep character study, or easy answers, but muddy morals, memorable shots, and gritty realism. I’m good with a 4 or even a 3 here based on your own preferences, but I’m being positive.
Performances: 3: The three lead actors are the three names you’ll know – Lee Marvin is Lee Marvin, Bobby Carradine has enough room to be charismatic, and Mark Hamill is almost unrecognizable, but everyone else does their job. Nothing is showy, no-one is given the chance to standout, but every one is human.
Music: 2. Pretty generic for the most part, the main theme is standard marching drums but with forgettable melodies. It’s fittingly more sombre than most War movie themes, but that means it doesn’t carry the same emotional musical weight.
Cinematography: 4: Adam Greenberg had mostly made cheap cash-ins of the Golan brand, but with The Big Red One he branched out leading to bigger films. It’s easy to see why – the Restoration cut of the movie is gorgeous and the photography from Africa to the Omaha landing and into the liberation of the Concentration camps is consistent in towing the line between beauty and chaos.
Writing: 3: Fuller’s movies are known for ‘showing more than talking’, while remaining thoughtful. The script is serviceable, but if you’re looking for reams of quotable dialogue you won’t find it here.
Wardrobe: 3: Fairly standard, WWII uniforms, WWI uniforms, and associated era clothing.
Editing: 3: An average 3 from me – does the job and neither adds much or takes much from the film, lacking some of the editing punch of Fuller’s other films.
Make up and Hair: 3: Perfectly fine, nothing bad, nothing you’d notice – it’s not that type of film.
Effects: 3: Your standard War movie fare with snapshot scenes of famous battles with the required effects.
Art and Set: 3: If you compare it with the earlier Apocalypse Now, or perhaps more accurately the later Saving Private Ryan, you can tell those films have a much broader and iconic visual style. Fuller was more into realism and a near docu-style.
Sound: 3: All good.
Cultural Significance: 3: I think 3 is the peak here, given hardly anyone has seen the movie or talks about it today. You can tell it had an influence but War movies, especially WWII movies, mostly disappeared from Cinema for the next 15 years.
Accomplishment: 4: Fuller gets a lot out of what is a small budget for a film of this scope. It looks and feels like a bigger movie, and revisiting his own past exploits, experiences, and nightmares must have been difficult.
Stunts: 3: Your standard War movie fare with snapshot scenes of famous battles with the required stunts.
Originality: 2: I’m being harsh with a 2 here, perhaps. But WWII stories had been around for forty years by this point and there wasn’t much ground which hadn’t been covered. We know War is terrible and Fuller shows that there isn’t much between whichever tribe you find yourself a part of once the bullets start flying.
Miscellaneous: 3: I don’t have much to add in this category – again something which will plague the older films, so I go with the average score.
Personal: 4: 1980 is a weird year for me – even with this being one of my Top Ten movies of the year, I don’t think this is a 5 for me. I love it, but if you compare it with my Number 1 of 1980 – that’s a pure 5.
Total Score: 63/100
A fairly low score perhaps, but it is nevertheless a film everyone should see. Let us know in the comments what you think of The Big Red One!