William Wellman’s big WWII actioners, THE STORY OF G.I. JOE/’45 and BATTLEGROUND/’49 have aged poorly, but they’re immortal classics next to this effort, an appalling item. James Garner stars as the eponymous Darby, a desk-bound lieutenant who gets himself out of the office and into combat by organizing an elite ‘first-strike’ unit. The men are all gung-ho types, coarse & remarkably unlikable, who learn discipline & teamwork in Scotland before facing the enemy in a series of brutal engagements in the Italian sector. Hardly fresh material, but there’s nothing particularly wrong with the basic set-up. It’s the treatment that’s so insulting. Cloying sentimentality, corny dramatics & clownish comedy, filmed on the sort of sound stage exteriors you’d expect in a ‘50s tv series. Occasionally, a clip of actual war footage is thrown into the mix and, at the climax, a weirdly gorgeous, foggy, expressionistic war wasteland straight out of a late silent era movie. Max Steiner’s score is heavy w/ military marches & comic ‘mickey-mousing’ which does little to help the mostly young, painfully amateurish cast. Embarrassments like this probably goaded Sam Fuller into making his flawed, but earnest THE BIG RED ONE/’80.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Try a double-bill contrasting John Huston’s sober Italian campaign short SAN PIETRO/’45 w/ Blake Edwards’ brutal absurdist war comedy WHAT DID YOU DO IN THE WAR, DADDY?/’66.