Official film poster
|Directed by||William A. Wellman|
|Written by||Robert Pirosh|
|Music by||Lennie Hayton|
|Cinematography||Paul C. Vogel|
|Edited by||John D. Dunning|
Battleground is a 1949 American war film that follows a company in the 327th Glider Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division as they cope with the Siege of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge, in World War II. It stars Van Johnson, John Hodiak, Ricardo Montalbán, and George Murphy, features James Whitmore, and was directed by William A. Wellman from a script by Robert Pirosh.
The film is notable for portraying American soldiers as vulnerable and human. While they remain steadfast and courageous, each soldier has at least one moment in the film when he seriously considers running away, schemes to get sent back from the front line, slacks off, or complains about the situation he is in. Battleground is considered to be the first significant American film about World War II to be made and released after the end of the war.
In mid-December 1944, Pvt. Jim Layton (Marshall Thompson) and his buddy Pvt. William J. Hooper (Scotty Beckett) are assigned to the 327th Glider Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. As a newcomer, Layton receives a chilly welcome from his squad. PFC Holley (Van Johnson) returns to the company after recuperating from a wound.
Instead of going on leave in Paris, the squad is trucked back to the front because of a surprise German breakthrough in the Ardennes. They stop that night in Bastogne and are put up for the night in the apartment of a young woman, Denise (Denise Darcel), to whom Holley is attracted.
Jarvess (John Hodiak) later stands guard in the village, where he runs into some battle-weary soldiers making a "strategic withdrawal". The next morning, led by Platoon Sgt. Kinnie (James Whitmore), the men are ordered to dig in on the outskirts of town. Just as they are nearly done, they are sent elsewhere and must dig in all over again.
Holley, Layton, and Kippton (Douglas Fowley) man a roadblock that night. German soldiers, disguised as Americans, infiltrate their position and later blow up a nearby bridge. In the morning, Roderigues (Ricardo Montalbán), a Latino man from Los Angeles, is delighted by the novelty of snow from a heavy winter storm, but Pop Stazak (George Murphy), awaiting a "dependency discharge" that will send him home, is unimpressed. Layton goes to see Hooper, only to find he had been killed, and no one in his company had even known his name.
Kinnie informs the squad about the infiltration and dispatches a patrol comprising Holley, Roderigues, and Jarvess. Just before they start out, the platoon is shelled by German artillery, causing Bettis (Richard Jaeckel) to panic and desert. Holley's patrol briefly skirmishes with the infiltrators. Roderigues is wounded by machine-gun fire from an enemy tank, crippling him. Holley conceals him under a disabled jeep half-buried in snow, promising to return for him. Unfortunately, when Holley returns, Roderigues has died.
Moved repeatedly, 3rd Platoon is attacked at dawn. Hansan is the first to return fire, which apparently hits the German commander. When it appears the platoon will be overrun, Hansan is wounded, Holley flees, and Layton follows Holley. Ashamed, Holley then leads a flanking counterattack that stops the Germans.
After they get Hanson to an aid station, the squad runs into Bettis, who is doing K.P. duty. Holley finds Layton being entertained by Denise. Later, while on guard duty, they encounter some Germans who have come under a flag of truce to offer Brig. Gen. McAuliffe surrender terms; his famous reply - "Nuts!" - puzzles the Germans.
The squad is short of supplies, as bad weather has grounded the supply transport aircraft. Several men attend impromptu outdoor Christmas services held by a chaplain (Leon Ames). That night, the Luftwaffe bombs Bastogne. Denise dies, and Bettis, slowed by his fear of returning to the lines, is killed by a collapsing house. The "walking wounded", including Hansan and a mess sergeant he befriended (George Chandler), are recalled for a last-ditch defense of the town.
As the platoon is down to its last few rounds of ammunition, the weather finally clears, allowing Allied fighter aircraft to attack the Germans and C-47 transports to drop supplies, enabling the 101st to hold. Afterward, Kinnie leads the platoon's survivors rear-ward, for a well-earned rest. As they move out, they spot a relief column of clean soldiers marching toward them. Kinnie begins calling "Jody cadence", and the veterans pull themselves together as they pass their replacements.
- Van Johnson as Private First Class Holley
- John Hodiak as Donald Jarvess
- Ricardo Montalbán as "Johnny" Roderigues
- George Murphy as Ernst J. "Pop" Stazak
- Marshall Thompson as Jim Layton
- Jerome Courtland as Abner Spudler
- Don Taylor as Cpl. Standiferd
- Bruce Cowling as Sgt. Wolowicz
- James Whitmore as S/Sgt. Kinnie
- Douglas Fowley as "Kipp" Kippton
- Leon Ames as the Chaplain
- Herbert Anderson as Hansan
- Thomas E. Breen as Doc
- Denise Darcel as Denise
- Richard Jaeckel as Bettis
- James Arness as Sgt. Garby
- Scotty Beckett as William J. Hooper
- Brett King as Lt. Teiss
- Ian MacDonald as Army Colonel (uncredited)
- Dickie Jones as Tanker (uncredited)
- Dewey Martin as G.I. Straggler (uncredited)
- George Chandler as Mess Sergeant (uncredited)
Battleground was originally an RKO property, titled "Prelude to Love" to hide its subject matter, but was shelved when production head Dore Schary resigned, despite $100,000 having been put into the property to that point. When Schary went to MGM, he purchased the rights to the script from RKO, over the objections of Louis B. Mayer, who believed the public was tired of war films. At MGM, Robert Taylor and Keenan Wynn were reported to have been penciled in for the film, along with Van Johnson and John Hodiak, and the project was budgeted at $2 million. Wellman put the cast through some military training with Robert Taylor, a former navy officer who dropped out believing the role was not right for him. He was replaced by Van Johnson.
Robert Pirosh had based the script on his own experiences during the Battle of the Bulge, although he did not serve with the 101st Airborne. Many of the incidents in the film were based on actual events, including the rejection of a German demand for surrender on December 22, 1944, with Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe's one word response, "Nuts!". Twenty veterans of the 101st were hired to train the actors and appeared in the film as extras. Lt Col Harry Kinnard, who had been the 101st's deputy divisional commander at Bastogne, was the film's technical advisor.
The film was in production from April 5 to June 3, 1949, with location shooting in northern California, Oregon, and Washington state. Fort Lewis, Washington was used for the tank sequence showing the relief of the 101st Airborne by Patton's Third Army. Shooting took 20 days less than was scheduled, due in part to innovative measures taken by Schary such as processing film as it was shot, then dubbing and cutting it so that scenes could be previewed within two days of being shot. The film came in almost $100,000 under budget.
Battleground received a number of premieres before its general release. A private showing for President Harry S. Truman was arranged even before the premiere in Washington D.C. on November 9, 1949, which was attended by McAuliffe, who commanded the 101st during the siege. Two days later, the film premiered in New York City, and then on December 1 in Los Angeles.
Battleground was MGM's largest grossing film in five years. According to studio records it earned $4,722,000 in the US and Canada and $1,547,000 elsewhere resulting in a profit of $2,388,000, making it the studio's most profitable picture of the year. It was rated by Photoplay as the best picture of the year.
Awards and honors
Battleground won two Academy Awards: for Best Cinematography (Black-and-White) awarded to Paul C. Vogel, and for Best Writing (Story and Screenplay) awarded to Robert Pirosh. It was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Director (William A. Wellman), Best Film Editing (John D. Dunning), and Best Actor in a Supporting Role (James Whitmore). James Whitmore won a 1950 Golden Globe Award as Best Supporting Actor, and Robert Pirosh's script won Best Screenplay. Pirosh was also nominated for a Writers Guild Award for Best Written American Drama.
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
Although the film is a fictionalized version of the siege of Bastogne, there were no Germans disguised as Americans GIs operating around Bastogne. Operation Greif only focused on the front of the 6th SS Panzer Army, many miles to the north. The scenes depicting US troops quizzing each other about their culture (like sports and films) to verify they were not German infiltrators did occur once news of the operation became known.
The unit portrayed in the film is the fictional "2nd Squad, 3rd Platoon of Item Company" of the real 327th Glider Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. The 327th Glider Infantry Regiment never had an Item Company. When the airborne divisions were conceived early in World War II, glider regiments were given two battalions; the first had companies named Able, Baker, Charlie, and Dog while the second got Easy, Fox, George, and How. The 327th held the western perimeter of Bastogne.
- Glancy, H. Mark (1992). The Eddie Mannix Ledger. Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television. 12. Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. pp. 127–144. doi:10.1080/01439689200260081. ISBN 978-1-4391-0791-1.
- Eyman, Scott (2005). Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer. Simon & Schuster. p. 418. ISBN 978-0-7432-6917-9.
- "War and Anti-War Film". Filmsite.org.
- The actual incident involved F Company, 2nd Battalion, 327th Glider Infantry on December 22, near Marvie, southeast of Bastogne. As depicted, the commander of the 327th GIR, Col. Joseph Harper, was called upon to explain the term.
- Thompson, Lang. "Battleground". TCM.
- TCM Notes
- pp. 93–94 Davis, Ronald L. Robert Pirosh Interview in Words into Images: Screenwriters on the Studio System Univ. Press of Mississippi, 01/05/2007
- Pirosh was a sergeant in Company G, 320th Infantry of the 35th Infantry Division, one of Patton's divisions assigned to break through to Bastogne.
- S.L.A. Marshall Bastogne: The First Eight Days, Chapter 14 and notes.
- TCM Overview
- IMDB Awards
- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved August 20, 2016.
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