"This is fictional life based on factual death": so begins The Big Red One, writer/director Sam Fuller's classic semi-autobiographical account of his WWII tour of duty with the US First Infantry. Originally released in 1980, it's been reconstructed here with 40 additional minutes of footage, fleshing out the experiences of veteran sergeant Lee Marvin and his men, including Griff (Mark Hamill, armed with a rifle instead of a lightsaber) and Zab (Fuller's screen surrogate, played by John Carradine).
These characters aren't your typical war-movie heroes, dazzling us with their derring-do. They're first and foremost survivors, slogging from one incident to the next through North Africa, Sicily, the D-Day landings, and the Falkenau death camp. Yet this bunch of ordinary GI Joes remains vivid. Marvin's stoney-faced portrait of authority commands the screen (even though we learn next to nothing about the nameless sarge), while it's still fascinating to see Hamill wrestle with the dark side of the force's mission: learn to kill, or be killed.
"SOME EPISODES ARE JAW-DROPPERS"
Made for only $4 million, this is an episodic epic, slow-paced and dealing with inactivity as much as action. But the intimacy of Fuller's focus makes this one of the most truthful takes on the realities of combat. And besides, some of those episodes are jaw-droppers: the loony-bin shoot-out, for example, or the Omaha Beach sequence, which holds its own against Saving Private Ryan (despite the differences in age and budget). Like Spielberg's Oscar-winner, this deserves a place in the frontline of World War II flicks - especially in its fuller version.