BULGING WITH ERRORS
The most damning publicity for Battle of the Bulge came from Dwight Eisenhower, who attacked the picture for its flagrant inaccuracies. Among his objections: the movie’s narrator (William Conrad) states that Montgomery was in command of the British 8th Army at about the time of the battle, when in fact the 8th Army, under another general’s leadership, was in Italy, no where near Ardennes, Belgium, the site of the 44 day-long clash; that the movie fabricates about a strategic U.S. fuel dump having played a part in defeating the Germans; that no German infiltrators actually ever managed to do anything more than briefly worry the Allies; and that the German Tiger tanks depicted in the movie weren’t German at all but American tanks that had been previously used in the Korean War. Eisenhower no doubt noted that the real battle took place in foresty environs, not fields devoid of greenery, during one of the coldest European winters on record. And he probably booed the chestnut characterizations of both American and German officers by the actors. The movie never implicates the real culprit—Hitler’s maniacal war-planning—for the following losses: 120,00 Germans killed, wounded, or labeled missing, with over 600 tanks, 1600 planes and 6,000 other vehicles destroyed; on the American side, 8,000 were killed, 48,000 wounded, 21,000 captured or missing, 733 tanks and tank destroyers lost. We might want to blame director Ken Annakin for the messed up facts, but someone else is more likely responsible—screenwriter Philip Yordan, who career-wise never did understand that factuality is often more persuasively dramatic than concoction. (He’s aided and abetted by John Melson and Milton Sperling.) Audiences know the movie is in trouble right away, even if they aren’t aware yet of the errors to come: Henry Fonda is taking what amounts to a joy ride in a small plane passing over the moving vehicle of German commander Robert Shaw. Insisting on taking a picture of him, Fonda demands the pilot repeatedly fly over Shaw and when we get to see the photo’s perspective a little later, we know it would have been impossible for Fonda to have taken it from the air. And we sense the movie will be a cheat: many of the shots of Fonda and Shaw are so obviously studio-processed that we begin to laugh—a fatal kind of laugh for an Ultra-Panavision 70 roadshow. (Making the exposure of the shoddy worse is that it was projected via seamless .) Nothing about the action is convincing; everything about the acting is dishonorably discharged. With Robert Ryan, Dana Andrews, Ty Hardin, Pier Angeli, Charles Bronson, James MacArthur, Telly Savalas and George Montgomery. Jack Hildyard is listed as chief cinematographer, but there isn’t a single shot confirming it. Annakin’s interview over at in70mm.com reminds us of the dangers in nostalgia—directors forgetting the realities of the bummers they made. The British version ran a 212 minutes; the American premiere was 170 minutes; other versions for wider release ran considerably shorter; the 2007 Blu-ray clocks in at 170 minutes. Budgeted at $6.5 million, its original box office gross was $4.5 million. Opened at the McVickers 12/22/1965, surviving 14 weeks.
Text COPYRIGHT © 2002 RALPH BENNER All Rights Reserved.