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The Pacific Edible Seaweed Company
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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

CROSS OF IRON 1977






    Most often lumped within the group of three that comprise Peckinpah's last movies - the final two being the perverse curiosity of a mess that is CONVOY (1978) and glimpses of greatness failure of 1983's THE OSTERMAN WEEKEND, however when taken on its own 1977's CROSS OF IRON can looked upon as the last great Peckinpah film. Coming after the box office disaster of the schizophrenic THE KILLER ELITE from 1975, Peckinpah found himself unable to find work in America and traveled to Europe at the bequest of some German producers (whom I seriously doubt know what they were in for) to helm this British/German co-production. Coming at a time in his career when his fortunes were maybe at their lowest ebb (along with his ever present personal demons) he managed to craft a film that while perhaps not a great piece of art does manage to showcase his combination of poetry like brutality and loyalty among men in a desperate situation - all the while battling with "the money men" and working on a agonizingly small budget. And lets face it, even a sometimes flawed Peckinpah minor masterpiece is still better then a vast majority of other directors best work.



    Set in southern most Russia in the year 1943 (during which time the tide of war turned seriously against the German Army) the film focuses on a German infantry platoon led by Sgt. Steiner (James Coburn) who finds himself in embroiled in a battle of wills with Capt. Stransky (Maximilian Schell), an aristocratic Prussian officer newly arrived at the battle front and whose determined to win the Iron Cross. Being the German English co-production in addition to Coburn, it does have a curious mix of both British (James Mason & David Warner) and German actors (Schell & Vadim Glowna) with the resulting sometimes strange mixture of accents.
    In spite of the budget restraints (there are stories of the production being shut down at various times until mysterious loads of cash would show up) Peckinpah manages to stage some truly terrific set pieces including the Russian infantry assault and most spectacularly the tank sequence. The uniform and equipment details are amazingly realistic (even such things as buttons are correct) with only the hair styles of some of the actors (in particular Warner & Coburn) being a bit jarring. The film takes a bit of an odd left turn with a too long sequence at a hospital that works in an appearance by Senta Berger (reunited with Peckinpah from MAJOR DUNDEE) as a nurse. The abrupt ending was improvised by Coburn and Peckinpah when the money ran dry.







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