Battle of the Bulge (film)

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Battle of the Bulge
Bulge sheet A.jpg
Original movie poster
Directed by Ken Annakin
Produced by Sidney Harmon
Milton Sperling
Philip Yordan
Dino De Laurentiis (uncredited)
Written by Bernard Gordon
John Melson
Milton Sperling
Philip Yordan
Starring Henry Fonda
Robert Shaw
Robert Ryan
Narrated by William Conrad
Music by Benjamin Frankel
Cinematography Jack Hildyard
Edited by Derek Parsons
Distributed by Warner Brothers
Release dates
  • December 16, 1965 (1965-12-16)
Running time
167 minutes
Language English
Box office $4.5 million (est. US/ Canada rentals)[1]

Battle of the Bulge is an American widescreen epic war film produced in Spain that was released in 1965. It was directed by Ken Annakin. It starred Henry Fonda, Robert Shaw, Telly Savalas, Robert Ryan, Dana Andrews and Charles Bronson. The feature was filmed in Ultra Panavision 70 and exhibited in 70 mm Cinerama. Battle of the Bulge had its world premiere on December 16, 1965, the 21st anniversary of the titular battle, at the Pacific Cinerama Dome Theatre in Hollywood, California.

The filmmakers attempted to condense a battle which stretched across parts of Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg and lasted nearly a month into under 3 hours. They also shot parts of the film on terrain that did not resemble actual battle locations. This left them open to criticism for lack of historical accuracy, but they claimed in the end credits that they had 're-organized' the chronological order of events to maximize the dramatic story.

Unlike most World War II epics, "Battle of the Bulge" contains virtually no portrayals of actual senior Allied leaders, civilian or military. This is presumably because of controversies surrounding the battle, both during the war and after. Though Allied forces ultimately won the battle, the initial Nazi counteroffensive caught them by surprise and caused high casualties.


Lt. Colonel Daniel Kiley (Fonda) and his pilot, Joe, are flying a reconnaissance mission over the Ardennes forest, spotting a German staff car. On the ground, Colonel Martin Hessler (Shaw) is briefed by his superior, General Kohler (Werner Peters). Kohler points out a clock with a 50-hour countdown: the time allotted for the mission, beyond which Germany has no resources for full-scale attack. At the same time, German soldiers disguised as American troops, led by Lieutenant Schumacher (Ty Hardin), are tasked with seizing vital bridges and sowing confusion behind the Allied front lines.

Meanwhile, Kiley returns to headquarters where he warns that Germany is planning one more all-out offensive. His superiors, General Grey (Ryan) and Colonel Pritchard (Dana Andrews), dismiss it out of hand: all intelligence points to Germany not having the resources and manpower to launch another attack.

Hoping to uncover more proof, Kiley visits a U.S. infantry position on the Siegfried Line under command of Major Wolenski (Charles Bronson). A patrol led by Lieutenant Weaver (James MacArthur) and Sergeant Duquesne (George Montgomery) capture some young Germans. Kiley concludes experienced German troops have been replaced by these men and withdrawn for an offensive, but Pritchard dismisses this as well.

Hessler launches his attack the next day. Awakened by the noise of German tanks, Wolenski leads his men into the wooded area of the Schnee Eifel where his men try to fight the Panzers off but are overrun. A group of Allied tanks led by Sgt. Guffy (Telly Savalas) also attempt to slow the Panzers, but the tanks' weak guns and thin armor make them ineffective, forcing him and his crew to retreat.

Lt. Schumacher and his disguised troops capture the only bridge over the Our River capable of carrying heavy tanks. Hessler continues his spearhead toward Ambleve, while being observed by Kiley. Schumacher later takes control of a vital intersection of three roads connecting Ambleve, Malmedy, and the Siegfried Line.

Schumacher sabotages the road signs, and the rear echelon of Wolenski's troops take the wrong road to Malmedy, and almost the entire unit is captured and massacred. Lt. Weaver manages to escape, but Duquesne is killed. U.S. soldiers become suspicious when they witness his military police lay explosives incorrectly on the Our bridge, and Schumacher's masquerade is revealed.

Hessler's tanks and infantry storm Ambleve, finally taking the town. Although many Americans, including Wolenski, are captured, Grey, Pritchard, Kiley, and others escape to the River Meuse.

American forces regroup and begin to reorganize for a counterattack. Facing the dangers of a foggy night, Col. Kiley conducts an aerial reconnaissance in an attempt to locate the main German spearhead. He orders the pilot to shut off the engine and glide in an attempt to listen for enemy tanks. Suddenly, through a gap in the fog, he spots Hessler's tank column heading toward American lines. Kiley radios in the coordinates, but is hit by German fire and crashes near an American fuel depot.

Meanwhile, General Grey's forces, with the river Meuse at their back, prepare to fight off Hessler. The outgunned, out-armored American tanks are systematically destroyed, but at the cost of the Germans burning up much of their fuel. Guffey, Weaver, and the surviving Americans head to the depot.

Aware of the fuel shortages, Hessler leads a detachment toward the depot to capture its stocks. Weaver and the stragglers arrive first, taking out Schumacher's men who had taken control of the fuel dump. The U.S. defenders flood the road with gasoline where they are set ablaze. Nearly all of the German tanks are destroyed in the fire, including Hessler's. The remaining Germans give up the attack, marching back to Germany.


Historical inaccuracies[edit]

The final tank battle is a rough depiction of the Battle of Celles on December 26, 1944 where the U.S. 2nd Armored Division smashed the German 2nd Panzer Division. The film creates the false impression that large numbers of American tanks sacrificed themselves against the heavy Tiger IIs and in the process lured the enemy off course which caused them to run out of gas. In reality, they were already stranded. The tanks used (despite the claims of the producer in an interview which is one of the DVD extras) are not historically accurate; although the M24 Chaffee light tanks used in the scene were World War II-era vehicles, they were not in use in the scale shown in the film and were relatively rare. However, the American M47 Pattons representing German King Tiger tanks conveyed the superior size and firepower which the M4 Shermans, represented by the aforementioned M24 Chaffees, had to contend with.

Aside from the initial American encounters with the German offensive, there is some absence of cold weather and snow, which were the conditions in which the real battle was fought. There is no trace of snow at all in the film's major tank battle scene, nor were some battle scenes fought in flat and bare territory, considering the mountainous, and forested and grassy nature of the Ardennes. The film was shot on location in Sierra de Guadarrama mountain range and Madrid, Spain.

The role of Lt. Schumacher and his men was based on Operation Greif, the plan to parachute English speaking Germans using American equipment behind American lines to sow confusion and capture the bridges.

Absent from this movie is the response by General George Patton whose Third Army relieved the siege of Bastogne. Indeed, there is no reference to British forces in the area, although British troops were largely kept behind the Meuse river and thus almost entirely out of the fighting. Also not mentioned is General Eisenhower's decision to split the Bulge front into two, ceding temporary command of two American armies to Field Marshal Montgomery in the northern half of the Bulge; the film implies a totally American operation. There was also no mention of the role of Allied air power hitting the Germans hard at the first sign of clear weather.

The film's opening narration, by William Conrad, does mention both Montgomery and Patton, but is inaccurate, saying:

to the north, stood Montgomery's Eighth Army. To the south, Patton's Third army.

In fact, Montgomery's northern command was actually the 21st Army Group. The Eighth Army, Montgomery's previous command, was actually in Italy at the time of the Battle of the Bulge. Although Patton was in charge of 3rd Army during the battle, this army was part of a much larger American force in the south. Third Army was one of four American armies that constituted the 12th Army Group under General Omar Bradley.

The film recaptures the major aspects of the battle, depicting how the inexperienced replacement American units stationed in the Ardenne were initially overwhelmed and the confusion which followed. It points out the superiority of heavy German tanks, along with their one weakness, a lack of fuel.


Screenwriter Bernard Gordon claims to have rewritten John Melson's original screenplay.[2] Some of the original choices for director were Richard Fleischer who turned it down and Edward Dmytryk, with whom Jack Warner of Warner Bros. refused to work.[3] Technical advisor on the film was Meinrad von Lauchert, who commanded the panzer division that made the most headway in the actual battle.

For an economical price and with no restrictions, the Spanish army provided an estimated 500 fully equipped soldiers and 75 tanks and vehicles, some of World War II vintage.[4]


Former President Eisenhower came out of retirement and held a press conference to denounce the film for what he considered its gross historical inaccuracy.[5]

The film was one of the most popular movies at the British box office in 1966.[6]

Later releases[edit]

The original VHS release of the film for home video use was heavily edited to fit in one VHS tape (to reduce costs to the consumer) and used a full screen "pan and scan" technique often employed in network telecasts of widescreen motion pictures. The 1992 Laserdisc and 2005 DVD releases, however, run at their full length and are presented letterboxed in the original 2.76:1 aspect ratio. A Blu-ray release followed in 2007, though the aspect ratio says it is 2.35:1 on the back of the cover, the actual aspect ratio of the film is the original 2.76:1 like the previous DVD release. A more recent Blu-ray release states the correct aspect ratio.


  1. ^ "Big Rental Pictures of 1966", Variety, January 4, 1967 p 8
  2. ^ pp. 193-194 Gordon, Bernard Hollywood Exile: Or How I Learned to Love the Blacklist University of Texas Press, 1999
  3. ^ p.194 Dmytryk, Edward Odd Man Out: A Memoir of the Hollywood Ten SIU Press, 1996
  4. ^ p.68 Simonis, Damien Spain 7 Lonely Planet, 01/03/2009
  5. ^ pp.110 Niemi, Robert History of the Media: Film and Television ABC-CLIO 2006
  6. ^ "Most popular star for third time." Times [London, England] 31 Dec. 1966: 5. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 16 Sept. 2013.

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