Cross of Iron (1977)
Schnell Crosses Coburn
Corporal Rolf Steiner (James Coburn) finds himself at odds with newly appointed Captain Stransky (Maximilian Schell) when the Prussian aristocratic commands him to shoot a young Russian boy-soldier who has been captured which he refuses to do. With Stransky having volunteered to serve on the front in order to win a Cross of Iron their relationship is strained right from the word go even when Steiner is promoted to Senior Sergeant as he couldn't care less for the promotion. But when following a battle which leaves Steiner injured and Lieutenant Meyer (Igor Galo) killed Steiner is angered to discover that Stransky is claiming Meyer's bravery for his own and is blackmailing a homosexual officer to vouch for it in order to win the Cross of Iron. When Steiner refuses to vouch for Stransky it leads the Captain to try and silence him when following orders to retreat he doesn't tell Steiner or his men and then when he learns they are making their way back in disguise as enemy soldiers he doesn't tell his men not to shoot on them.
I am a very sceptical movie reviewer, when ever I see that a movie is much loved I am always wary of the reasons why especially when a movie is made by a director who over the years have collected many fanboys. It is why with the numerous glowing reviews that I watched "Cross of Iron" with a level of wariness in case those reviews came from those who blindly think Sam Peckinpah only made great movies and can't see the flaws because of their idol worshipping. If people think I am going over board le me just say it is not just Peckinpah as many a director and star have their fanboys who skewer opinion through their fanaticism.
So here is the good news "Cross of Iron" despite not doing very well on its release is a very good movie; beautifully directed and acted, has fascinating anti-war stance with its anti-war message and a lot of impressive action sequences. But I would say that whilst there is plenty to be impressed with going on in "Cross of Iron" is a movie which to me feels at times that Peckinpah became obsessed and distracted by the violence, action and brutality which whilst entertaining weakens the movies storyline.
Never the less "Cross of Iron" certainly has a message built around Steiner being a good soldier, doing his duty even though he has become world weary and tired of the senseless killing going on which is quickly demonstrated in his disagreement with Stransky when ordered to shoot a young boy. We also see how he has little respect for many of those in command as he sees them as using the war for their own glory with Stransky's openness about wanting to win a Cross of Iron being indicative of what is wrong with those running the war especially when they have no idea what it is really like to be fighting on the frontline.
And this message, this anti-war stance is well worked in to what we watch as Steiner and Stransky lock horns with Stransky willing to let a good soldier like Steiner die to protect his lies when it comes to getting the distinction he wants so badly. All of which builds up to betrayal, treachery and revenge as Steiner becomes aware of how despicable Stransky is. This is where it is entertaining and as mentioned Peckinpah gives us plenty of brutal action which is impressive in that old fashioned real way rather than in the modern CGI enhanced way.
What this all boils down to is that "Cross of Iron" is a very good war movie which delivers its anti-war message whilst also delivering plenty of action and entertainment with a simple storyline to focus upon for those not looking for depth. It's only issue is that at time it feels like Peckinpah gets carried away when it comes to the action and violence which distracts from the storyline.
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