Fixed Bayonets!, 1951.
Directed by Samuel Fuller.
Starring Richard Basehart, Gene Evans, Michael O’Shea, Richard Hylton, Skip Homeier and James Dean.
The story of a platoon during the Korean War. One by one Corporal Denno’s superiors are killed until it comes to the point where he must try to take command responsibility.
Here’s a tightly wound ball of suspense with the duality of fatalisms and heroism at the heart. It’s the Korean War and there’s snow up to the knees, and for an hour and half Samuel Fuller puts us amongst the American platoon who have the unenviable task of acting as the rear guard, and fooling the enemy into thinking they are in fact the whole damn regiment; with a little subterfuge, planning, and a whole lot of courage these brave few show us it can be done. Heroes will be made and heroes will be lost.
In the classic age of Hollywood men talked the talk and walked the walk and we find plenty of such characters here. The camaraderie between soldiers is at the heart of the picture, a respectful homage to the real soldiers of the US Army where a good man is a good man regardless of the war he is sent to fight. At the centre of the film is Corporal Denno (Richard Basehart) who fears one thing more than death and that thing is leadership. But in war, Fuller and many other have shown us, a man doesn’t always know what he is capable of, and as Denno watches his superior officers die he knows his fate is to become a hero to himself, his men, and his country.
The film comes together through moments and thought, rather than gung-ho action, although there is explosive scenes peppered throughout (this is a 50’s war movie after all). Three such scenes stand out for me starting with the platoon as they watch the regiment march away and must get prepared to ‘hold the fort’ and here Fuller focuses on the platoon’s faces; young, wholesome but full of a sadness and fear we can only imagine. A tense walk across a mine field to rescue the group’s leader is made all the more troublesome knowing the mines are the platoon’s own but their positions are known by one man who is unable to help. When frostbite sets in, the men all rub their feet together for warmth, with one man complaining he can’t feel his own toes. In the hands of a lesser director the scene might play out as overly dramatic but Fuller emphasises the agony, pain and hopelessness.
The transfer from Masters Of Cinema is outstanding as one would expect from the label who has given us Fuller’s White Dog, Forty Guns, Park Row (still in need of the Blu-ray treatment) and the outstanding noir Pickup On South Street. With Fixed Bayonets! the love and care for Fuller’s work continues and is a sure-fire success both when it was made and now on Blu-ray.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Rohan Morbey – Follow me on Twitter
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