‘I believe God is a sadist but probably doesn’t even know it.’
Perhaps one of the most underrated Second World War masterpiece made by the cinematic poet of violence. After seeing this film Orson Welles was so overwhelmed that he instantly cabled Sam Peckinpah to let him know that it was the best anti war film he has ever seen about the ordinary enlisted man. The film portrays the setting of 1943, Second World War where German soldiers are fighting on Russian front under the able and valiant leadership of Corporal/Sergeant Steiner. A new appointed selfish and over ambitious officer Captain Stransky takes the charge as a new commander. The confrontation between the two sparkles the fire untamable as one is courageous man of honor don’t care damn about winning medals, the other is pure wicked man paving his way to win favors and bag undeserving medals.
Watching Peckinpah films and his aging heroes reminds me another master American wrier Ernest Hemingway and his heroes. The myth and culture of American macho hero is predominant part of both these Masters of their own fort and their contribution is perhaps well appreciated much after their death. Well one can write a whole essay on Sam Peckinpah’s heroes (won’t call them just ‘protagonists’) and their association with violence. Here Steiner is a disillusioned and stoic courageous soldier trapped in the world of ruthless violence of war and selfish seniors craving for ‘cross of iron’ medals compelling him to favor their unscrupulous act; and still he managed to remain the man of integrity. Though he’s fighting the war like valiant soldier he hates the blind ambitious rat race. He is the real man of honor who has to sacrifice himself along with others in the hostile situation not only against enemy but towards home too. For James Coburn perhaps this is the meatiest and memorable role of his career.
As for Peckinpah fans, Violence on American Cinema is divided in two general categories- pre Peckinpah and post Peckinpah. Master’s penchant for slow motion action portrays the intense experience. Just like his brilliant westerns, he managed to brought the brutal and godforsaken side of war violence with striking visuals. The film also depicts the psychological damage and paranoia that horror of war can inflict upon soldier. The awesome climax is pure Peckinpah touch of exploding chaos and violence on screen and there’s no match for ‘Bloody Sam’. The exciting thrill under the bridge, the unpredictable affair with lady soldiers followed by landmines in Russian trenches and the shattering final nemesis of Steiner’s platoon. Even in the final frames Peckinpah showed you the nihilist and unpredictable horror of the war making man almost animal; and Peckinpah knew no language suits him better than anger, blood and bullets. Hopeless angry Steiner emptying his machine gun to Triebig is the scene hard to forget. The final freezing frames are brilliant satire about war and the two faces of war heroes.