December 31, 2018  (Web Review)

Cross of Iron

Hen’s Tooth, 133 min., R, Blu-ray: $29.95

Reviewer rating: 3.0/4

Sam Peckinpah directs this violent, hard-edged 1977 war drama about German soldiers trying to survive the icy winter in 1943 at the Russian front—the turning point for the Nazis in World War II as their glorious march on the Soviet Union turns into a devastating retreat. James Coburn stars as the combat veteran and war-weary sergeant who clashes with his commanding officer (Maximilian Schell), a glory-hound Prussian aristocrat and coward who recklessly sacrifices his men in his quest to earn the titular war medal. James Mason costars as another nobleman, a colonel who realizes that the war is lost, and David Warner is his favorite officer, a captain with a cynical attitude toward the campaign. This is a brutal World War II drama from the German perspective (unusual for 1977) and the only war movie made by Peckinpah, which is surprising given his interest in films about violent men in battle. If the dark, claustrophobic Cross of Iron lacks the usual Peckinpah bravura, it also eschews the splashy spasms of gloriously photographed violence ballets for a more austere, elemental execution. Death is dirty, lonely, and final, and the glory of combat ultimately devolves into madness. Extras include audio commentary by film scholar Stephen Prince, the 2011 documentary Passion & Poetry: Sam Peckinpah’s War, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and archival audio cast interviews. Recommended. (S. Axmaker)