Fixed Bayonets! (Samuel Fuller / U.S., 1951):

The jeep exploding at the outset and the regiment retreating to a hushed chorus of "Back Home Again in Indiana" give you the breadth of Samuel Fuller's Korean War, in between them the wounded general tries to justify leaving the decoy-platoon behind ("48 men giving 15,000 men a break"). The parka-clad grunts stuck with "delaying action" include Gene Evans as a less deranged but no less gruffly instinctual version of The Steel Helmet’s sergeant, and Richard Basehart as a corporal crash-learning leadership skills. (Basehart freezes with rifle in hand as a Red ambles toward the lenses -- getting "over the hump" of killing a man is the quandary.) The Fox sets are painted as obviously as in The Ox-Bow Incident, yet Fuller blasts the artificiality out of the screen with some of the most real-feeling detonations ever shot. Shells punch holes into rock, bombs pockmark the soil; when the platoon leader (Michael O’Shea) is stranded in a minefield, the interplay of close-ups of faces, boots and snow becomes crystalline cinema. Evans dodges a hail of gunfire, slides down the side of a mountain (the camera keeping apace), scuttles to the other hill and sinks his bayonet into the enemy: one unbroken take. Inside the cave the men huddle around a feeble fire and try to rub the frostbite out of their toes, a 360° circular pan in the cramped spaces is timed to the medic’s removal of a bullet from his own flesh. Telepathy, shot-off body parts, bugle-playing as "psychological warfare." "I ain’t hanging around here to be chopped off into Chinese rice balls and washed down with Russian tea!" The sudden stillness of the sergeant as he tersely accepts his demise by a ricocheting bullet is Fuller’s most masterful sketch. The survivors offer their thoughts (beginning with existential koans and concluding with a three-part joke about dry socks), and emerge from the Ch’ongch’on River like figures from Tom Lea. With Richard Hylton, Craig Hill, Skip Homeier, Glenn Corbett, Neyle Morrow, and Stuart Randall. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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