Battleground (1949) starring Van Johnson, John Hodiak, Ricardo Montalban, George Murphy, Marshall Thompson

Soldier's Story

In an army base somewhere in France the men are in relaxed spirit as they look forwards to a few days leave where most of the men plan to hit the city with just a couple of men and their replacements including the enthusiastic Private Layton (Marshall Thompson) left behind. But their plans are thrown a curve ball when their leave is cancelled as the German's have broken through and the men are sent into the freezing cold and foggy area of Bastogne. With them finding themselves trapped with supplies and fuel running low whilst the German's constantly try and get them to surrender each man's spirits are hit including the enthusiastic and naive Layton.

As I often do before watching an old movie I look at opinions from others hopefully to find reactions of those who watched "Battleground" nearer the time it was released. What I found was a lot of reviews from American's proclaiming "Battleground" as the greatest war movie ever made with those thinking it less so coming from non American's. Now I am not an American and I don't think that "Battleground" is the best war movie ever made but can appreciate that it is better than most.

Marshall Thompson in Battleground (1949)

The thing about "Battleground" is that it is a multi-layered war movie with lots of things going on. In an early scene we see the men head off on their secret mission only to have a German aircraft leaflet drop them at which point they want to know how comes the enemy know what they are up to, by doing so bringing in a traitor element. But we also see how the men's attitudes change as their situation becomes increasingly dire, going from jovial to scared, the bravado and brashness evaporated by realism. And this is shown best through Private Layton whose enthusiasm is replaced by cynicism as the story unfolds as he faces death for the first time including one of this friends in another battalion. There is a lot more to this which just adds to the wonderful layered storyline which makes it a war movie about the men rather than the action.

There is also the impressive fact that "Battleground" was also shot on a studio plot rather than on location and the set builders have done a fantastic job. In fact visually "Battleground" is a great movie with the thick fog which engulfs the area creating atmosphere whilst cinematographer Paul Vogel uses it to create this ominous feeling as voices coming out from it and we see shadows moving. Add on top of that layers of snow and I honestly don't think there is a visually better war movie.

But my trouble with "Battleground" is in the way the shift in tone is presented as whilst I like how the men go from if you like happy to afraid the extremes are too much. Basically what I am saying is "Battleground" starts on almost a comedy level with the banter of the men being full of wise cracks and ribbing. But in being so full of sharp banter it doesn't feel real with too much comedy going on and too many smart mouthed characters.

What this all boils down to is that "Battleground" is an impressive war movie with a good storyline, look and some impressive acting by all the cast. But it is spoiled by the opening which to me is too humorous making it feel forced.