|Directed by||William Wellman|
|Written by||Robert Pirosh|
|Music by||Lennie Hayton|
|Edited by||John D. Dunning|
|November 9, 1949|
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 Montalban and George Murphy, and features James Whitmore. It was directed by William 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. The platoon is 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 who are 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 somewhere else and have to 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 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 over to see Hooper, only to find that he had been killed, and that no one in his company had even known his name.
Kinnie informs the squad about the infiltration and sends out a patrol — 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, leaving him unable to walk. Holley conceals him under a disabled jeep half-buried in snow, promising to return for him. Unfortunately, by the time he is able to, Roderigues has died.
Wolowicz and a sick Cpl. Standiferd (Don Taylor) are sent back to a field hospital. Later, Doc (Thomas E. Breen) informs the 2nd Squad that the hospital has been captured. Holley is appointed the new squad leader and partnered with Layton, while Pop is paired with Hansan (Herbert Anderson). Pop's discharge comes in, but they learn that they are surrounded.
Moved again and again, 3rd Platoon is attacked at dawn. Hansan is the first to return fire, apparently hitting the German commander. When it appears that the platoon will be overrun, Hansan is wounded and Holley runs away. Layton follows Holley. Ashamed of himself, 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 (Ian MacDonald) surrender terms; his famous reply - "Nuts!" - puzzles the Germans.
The squad is short of supplies, as supply transport aircraft are grounded by the bad weather. 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 going back 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 survivors of the platoon toward the rear 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 Montalban 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, which was called "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 that the public was tired of war films. At MGM, Robert Taylor and Keenan Wynn were reported to be 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 dropping out for not feeling the role was 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 the one word response "Nuts!" by Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe. 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. The film's general American release was on January 20, 1950.
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 (Paul C. Vogel) and for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay (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, it is highly accurate with one major exception. There were no Germans disguised as Americans around Bastogne. Operation Greif, as it was known, only operated in front of the 6th SS Panzer Army, many miles to the north. However the scene depicting the quizzing of each other by G.I.s to verify their identity as Americans did occur across the battlefield after rumors of the operation became widely known.
A minor inaccuracy is that, at the time of the Battle of Bastogne, the 327th Glider Infantry Regiment did not have an Item Company. When the airborne divisions were conceived early in World War II, the Army's senior commanders decided that the glider regiments would have only two battalions each. The first battalion would be made up of Able, Baker, Charlie, and Dog Companies, while the second would have Easy, Fox, George, and How Companies. When by 1944 it became evident that these two-battalion regiments were not suited to combat operations, certain glider regiments were broken up and their battalions attached to others. The 327th was assigned the First Battalion of the 401st Glider Infantry Regiment, getting "doubles" on Able, Baker, Charlie, and Dog Companies. Thus "the 2nd Squad, 3rd Platoon of Item Company, 327th Glider Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division," did not exist at the time of the Ardennes campaign. The producers did not want to have someone complain that he was in Item Company during the fighting around Bastogne, and that no such thing happened.
- The Eddie Mannix Ledger. Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. 1992. 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 978-0743269179.
- Filmsite.org War and Anti-War Film
- 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.
- Lang Thompson "Battleground" (TCM article)
- 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 2016-08-20.
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