Monday, November 19, 2012

Fixed Bayonets!

Based on the novel by John Brophy, Fixed Bayonets! is the story of a 48-man platoon trying to defend a choke point leading to all sorts of trouble as a corporal tries to deal with the fact that he might lead the platoon. Written for the screen and directed by Samuel Fuller, the film is about a group of soldiers trying to survive in the cold mountains as they fight against the North Koreans. Starring Gene Evans, Richard Basehart, Michael O’Shea, Richard Hylton, Skip Homeier, and, in his film debut, James Dean. Fixed Bayonets! is a riveting yet chilling film from Samuel Fuller.

A platoon led by a colonel trying to defend a choke point so that a group of troops can withdraw from an overexposed bridge. Leading the pack is a lieutenant (Glen Corbett) as he has soldiers positioned over parts of the mountain to fight off against the North Koreans while Corporal Denno (Richard Basehart) is worried about losing his superiors as he is afraid to shoot and lead the platoon. When trouble arises, Denno has to rely on the experience of Sgt. Rock (Gene Evans) who knows a lot about combat and is aware of what the North Koreans can do. With the platoon hiding in a cave inside the mountains and their numbers dwindling, it’s up to Denno to lead a final assault on a tank and whatever North Koreans are left.

The film is essentially a survival story that revolves around a platoon during a cold region in the Korean mountains as they fight off against the North Koreans. Yet, trouble ensues when soldiers are getting killed as some try to survive and save others while some deal with other things like nature and fear. Leading all of this is a corporal who is groomed to be an officer but lacks any real experience fighting on the ground as he has a hard time about killing a man as he turns to a no-nonsense sergeant who has experienced war. Once the battle commences, it’s not just trying to kill as many soldiers but also outsmarting them with tricks and psychology. Though these tactics would work, it would only buy them little time as these men know that they have to do whatever to survive.

Samuel Fuller’s screenplay is very engaging for the way he captures the sense of fear in battle but also the sense of urgency that men have to do when they’re fighting for their life. Fuller also create scenes where the men take a break from fighting as they’re in a cave trying to figure out how to survive as they look towards Sgt. Rock for guidance as he’s the one man that seems to know a lot about war. Among them is Cpl. Denno who has a hard time dealing with the responsibility he has to carry in case something goes wrong where he would eventually realizes that he has to step up and lead whatever is left of his platoon.

Fuller’s direction is definitely mesmerizing for the way he creates the tense atmosphere of war where it is about strategy and the ability to outwit the enemy. Still, there is that element of danger where the enemy could be themselves in a very chilling scene involving a soldier trying to save another by walking on landmines. Fuller also creates some very broad scenes to establish the locations these characters are in where the mountains definitely add to the danger these men are in as some are in the caves because a few are injured or are waiting for the enemy to come. Eventually, it comes down to the climatic battle where a lot is on the line and the men have to do whatever it takes to survive. Through some eerie close-ups and wide shots, Fuller maintains that sense of terror in what these men have to go through. Overall, Fuller creates a truly engrossing and thrilling film about survival in the heat of battle.

Cinematographer Lucien Ballard does excellent work with the black-and-white photography to capture the scale of the locations as well as the intimacy inside the caves where the men are hiding along with wonderful lighting schemes for the exterior scenes at night. Editor Nick DeMaggio does brilliant work with the editing by creating swift, rhythmic cuts for some of the film‘s fighting scenes along with more methodical cuts in the suspenseful moments. Art directors Lyle Wheeler and George Patrick, along with set decorators Thomas Little and Fred J. Rode, do amazing work with the look of the cave as well as the mountains where the bulk of the film takes place.

Wardrobe supervisor Charles LeMaire does nice work with the look of the uniforms and helmets as well as the clothes the North Koreans wear. The sound work of Eugene Grossman and Harry M. Leonard is terrific for the atmosphere that occurs in the film along with the great scene involving the North Korean blaring trumpets to get the men out of the caves and attack as part of psychological warfare. The film’s music by Roy Webb is superb for its orchestral score that underplays the suspense and action without going into elements of bombast or swelling themes to make things grander.

The film’s wonderful ensemble cast features some notable small roles from Skip Homeier as na├»ve but helpful Whitey, Henry Kulky as the gruff artillery man Vogl, James Dean in a small role as Doggie, Richard Hylton as scared medic John Wheeler, Michael O’Shea as the determined Sgt. Lonergan, and Glen Corbett as the brave Lieutenant. Gene Evans is great as the experienced Sgt. Rock who tries to make sure everyone is in check while aware of what the enemy is capable of doing. Finally, there’s Richard Basehart in a remarkable performance as Corporal Denno who deals with his own uncertainty in his role as a superior as he’s forced to make decisions that could help or harm his platoon.

Fixed Bayonets! is an excellent film from Samuel Fuller that features terrific performances from Richard Basehart and Gene Evans. It’s definitely a war film that captures the sense of fear and uncertainty in battle as well as the psychology of war. It’s also a film that reveals soldiers as real men who are determined to survive and do whatever it takes to help one another no matter how scared they are. In the end, Fixed Bayonets! is a gripping yet compelling film from Samuel Fuller.

Samuel Fuller Films: I Shot Jesse James - The Baron of Arizona - The Steel Helmet - Park Row - Pickup on South Street - (Hell and High Water) - House of Bamboo - (China Gate) - Run of the Arrow - Forty Guns - Verboten! - The Crimson Kimono - Underworld U.S.A. - Merrill’s Marauders - Shock Corridor - The Naked Kiss - (Shark!) - (Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street) - The Big Red One - White Dog - (Thieves After Dark) - (Street of No Return) - (The Madonna and the Dragon)

© thevoid99 2012

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