Sam Peckinpah’s blunt, often powerful Russian Front/Nazi Retreat film is something of an apolitical cheat with Herr Hitler either unmentioned or heartily loathed by his own army. The sole ideologically-minded soldier, a despised internal spy, winds up with his pecker bitten off. For the rest, violence & near certain death interrupted by personal grudges (rooted in lingering class differences) & the flawed grace of being an honorable warrior during relentless shelling & enemy attacks. Working again with lenser John Coquillon, Peckinpah finds a look & rhythm that lets him intersperse his signature slo-mo action editing with explosions to punctuate dream-like horror on & off the battlefield, and hallucinations at a convalescent hospital. James Coburn, with an indifferent on-and-off German accent, gives a commanding perf as the indispensable insubordinate Sargent with a motley platoon of warring eccentrics under him. James Mason, playing yet another German officer (back to Rommel in ‘53; on to his Nazi enabler in next year’s BOYS FROM BRAZIL/’78) and David Warner hit their marks perfectly in the C.O. office, but Maximilian Schell is a little too ‘Snidely Whiplash” then he needs to be as the vicious, cowardly officer who’ll undercut anyone to get his Iron Cross. Peckinpah, going thru a series of post-GETAWAY/’72 flops at the time, overspent and hacks the ending. Best to celebrate what did get done; a considerable achievement and his last piece of sustained filmmaking.
ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: With an undeserved rep made after his EXODUS theme became a Pop hit, Ernest Gold became house composer for Stanley Kramer. These two were made for each other, but his over-emphatic score here is nearly as much of an impediment as the botched ending.