Cross of Iron (1977)

Cross of Iron (1977), directed by Sam Peckinpah.

A soldiers-eye view of the chaotic German retreat from a Black Sea front in 1943. Cold weather uniforms are not the problem this time: the emphasis is on muddy trenches, lice, blood, dismemberment and close-quarters vicious combat.

The central story is a conflict between weaselly Prussian aristocrat Maximilian Schell and non-com James Coburn, tired but the best soldier in the unit. The officer wants to collect an Iron Cross and scoot back to Paris as quickly as possible; he blackmails his men to get what he wants. At least he's not a nazi.

Coburn is not so much insubordinate as displaying a fiercely bad attitude. Well beyond fed up, he says to the kindly officers played by James Mason and David Warner:


Do you think that just because you and Colonel Brandt are more enlightened than most officers that I hate you any less? I hate all officers, all the Stranskys, all the Triebigs, all the Iron Cross scavengers in the whole German army.

Do you know how much I hate this uniform and everything it stands for?

But he goes back into action when he could have gotten out.

The lost patrol has an ugly encounter with a group of Russian women soldiers. It's bad on both sides.

At the end, approaching Valhalla, Coburn gives Schell a weapon and says "I'll show you where the Iron Crosses grow."

Because they are so recognizable as "Peckinpah" techniques, some scenes of extreme violence take us out of the story: bodies flying through the air in slow motion, hosing blood. Is this the insanity of war? Was The Wild Bunch (1969) about the insanity of bank robbery?

Filmed in Yugoslavia. His only war film. I think Coburn is pretty tremendous here, more restrained and quieter than usual.

This is in print on region 1 DVD but beware older 4:3 pan & scan editions; I think that's what Netflix has. My thumbnails are from a region B Blu-ray. It is 24.0hz, which is part of the standard but rare.

The reviewer at DVDBeaver thinks the green coloring is intentional. I've been seeing excess green in many Euro titles for years and have always presumed some issue with color standards has contributed.