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Battleground is a war film that tells the story of the 2nd Squad, 3rd Platoon of Item Company, 327th Glider Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, trying to cope with the Siege of Bastognemarker during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II. It stars Van Johnson, John Hodiak, Ricardo Montalban and George Murphy, and features James Whitmore. It was directed by William Wellman from a script by Robert Pirosh.

The film is notable for portraying American soldiers as vulnerable and human, as opposed to just inspirational and gung-ho. While there is no question concerning their courage and steadfastness, each soldier has at least one moment in the film when he seriously considers running away, schemes to get sent away from the front line, goofs off, or vocally complains about being in the situation he is in. In spite of all their fears and misery, though, they stay at their posts when the battle is at its worst, and exhibit great pride in their unit and in themselves. Battleground is considered to be the first significant film about World War II to be made and released after the end of the war.

Plot

In mid-December 1944, Jim Layton (Marshall Thompson) and his buddy Hooper (Scotty Beckett), replacement soldiers fresh from the United States, are assigned to separate companies in a battalion of glider infantry in the 101st Airborne Division. Holley (Van Johnson) returns after recuperating from a wound and Layton discovers that as the new man in the squad, he is ignored and unwanted.

Instead of going on leave, the squad is trucked back to the front to help stop a surprise German breakthrough in the Ardennesmarker. They stop that night in the town of Bastognemarker. The platoon is put up for the night in the apartment of a local young woman, Denise (Denise Darcel), with whom Holley hopes to fraternize. Their comfort is brief. The next morning, led by Platoon Sgt. Kinnie (James Whitmore), they march to the outskirts of town and are ordered to dig in. Just as their positions are nearly prepared, they are moved abruptly to a new location and have to begin digging again.

Holley, Layton, and Kippton (Douglas Fowley) stand guard that night at a roadblock. A patrol of German soldiers, disguised as American G.I.s, infiltrates their position and later blows up a nearby bridge. In the morning, the squad awakes to find themselves in a heavy winter storm. Roderigues (Ricardo Montalban), a latino from Los Angelesmarker, is delighted by the novelty of snow, but his foxhole mate Pop Stazak (George Murphy), awaiting a "dependency discharge" that will send him to America, rolls over and goes back to sleep. Layton discovers that Hooper's company is nearby, so he goes over to see his friend, only to find that he had been killed hours before by a mortar shell.

Kinnie informs the squad about the infiltration and sends out a patrol — Holley, Roderigues, and Jarvess (John Hodiak)— to search the woods. Just before they start out, the platoon is shelled by German artillery, during which Bettis (Richard Jaeckel) panics and runs away. During the barrage, Layton informs his squad leader, Sgt. Wolowicz (Bruce Cowling), of his name and finds for the first time that he has been accepted as a part of the squad. Holley's patrol encounters the same group of infiltrators, and in a brief skirmish, Roderigues is wounded by machine-gun fire from an enemy tank. He is unable to walk, so Holley hastily conceals him under a disabled jeep half-buried in snow, promising to return for him. However, Roderigues freezes to death.

Walowicz, wounded by shellfire, and a sick Standiferd (Don Taylor) are sent back to a field hospital, further depleting the squad. Holley becomes the new squad leader, partnered with Layton, while Pop Stazak is paired with Hansan (Herbert Anderson). The squad, starved for news, finds out from a copy of the Stars and Stripes that they are making a "heroic stand" in Bastogne, from their medic that the field hospital has been captured by the Germans, and from Kippton that the 101st is surroundedmarker.

Moved again and again, 3rd Platoon is attacked at dawn. Just when it appears the platoon will be overrun, Hansan is wounded, while Holley loses his nerve and runs away. Layton follows Holley, who regains his courage and leads a flanking counterattack that defeats the attack. Jarvess's partner, Abner Spudler (Jerome Courtland), is killed while trying to put on his wet boots.

The squad runs into Bettis doing K.P. duty in the rear and gets a hot meal. In the brief respite, Holley shows his indifference to the plight of civilian victims of the war, angering Jarvess, who was a newspaper columnist before the war. Holley discovers that Layton is a quick learner, finding him being entertained by Denise. Later, while on guard duty, they encounter a party of Germans who have come under a flag of truce to offer Brig. Gen. McAuliffe terms for surrender; McAuliffe gives the puzzled Germans his famous answer, "Nuts!"

In the bitter and foggy weather, the squad is short of supplies – bad weather has grounded the transport planes which could have airlifted them in. Several men attend impromptu outdoor Christmas services held by a chaplain (Leon Ames). That night, the German Luftwaffe bombs Bastogne. The next morning, the "walking wounded", including Hansan, are called back to duty for a last ditch defense. Bettis, slowed down by his fear of going back into the front lines, is killed in the collapse of a house shaken by an explosion.

As the squad is down to its last few rounds of ammunition, the weather clears, allowing Allied fighters to attack the Germans and C-47 transports to drop supplies by parachute. With the support, the 101st successfully holds its ground. Afterward, the siege lifted, Kinnie leads the survivors of the platoon toward the rear for a well-earned rest.

Cast



Production

Battleground was originally an RKO property, which was called "Prelude to Love" to hide its subject matter, but was shelved when production head Dore Schary resigned, despite $100,000 having been put into the property to that point. When Schary went to MGM, he purchased the rights to the script from RKO, over the objections of Louis B. Mayer, who believed that the public was tired of war films. At MGM, Robert Taylor and Keenan Wynn were reported to be penciled in for the film, along with Van Johnson and John Hodiak, and the project was budgeted at $2 million.

Robert Pirosh had based the script on his own experiences during the Battle of the Bulge, although he did not serve with the 101st Airborne. Many of the incidents in the film were based on actual events, including the rejection of a German demand for surrender on December 22, 1944, with the one word response "Nuts!" by Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe. Twenty veterans of the 101st were hired to train the actors and were used in the film as extras.

The film was in production from April 5 to June 3, 1949, with location shooting in northern California, Oregon and Washington state. Fort Lewis, Washingtonmarker was used for the tank sequence showing the relief of the 101st Airborne by Patton's Third Army. Shooting took 20 days less than was scheduled, due in part to innovations instituted by Schary such as processing film as it was shot, and dubbing and cutting it so that scenes could be previewed within two days of being shot. The film came in almost $100,000 under budget.

Battleground received a number of premieres before its general release. A private showing for President Harry S. Truman was arranged even before the premiere in Washington D.C.marker on November 9, 1949, which was attended by McAuliffe, who commanded the 101st during the siege. Two days later, the film premiered in New York Citymarker, and then on December 1 in Los Angelesmarker. The film's general American release was on January 20, 1950.

Response

Battleground was MGM's largest grossing film in five years, taking in a total of over $5 million in the U.S. market alone, and was rated by Photoplay as the best picture of the year. MGM released a similar film in , Go For Broke, also starring Van Johnson and directed by Pirosh.

Awards and honors

Battleground won two Academy Awards: for Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (Paul C. Vogel) and for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay (Robert Pirosh). It was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Director (William A. Wellman), Best Film Editing (John D. Dunning), and Best Actor in a Supporting Role (James Whitmore).James Whitmore won a 1950 Golden Globe Award as Best Supporting Actor, and Robert Pirosh's script won Best Screenplay. Pirosh was also nominated for a Writers Guild Award for Best Written American Drama.

Trivia

Although the film is a fictionalized version of the siege of Bastogne it is highly accurate with one major exception, there were no Germans disguised as Americans around Bastogne. Operation Greif, as it was known only operated in front of 6th SS Panzer Army, which was many miles north of Bastogne.

References

  1. In actuality the squad would have been part of 1st Battalion, 401st Glider Infantry Regiment, whose companies were designated Able, Baker, Charlie, and Dog. The 327th GIR did not have a 3rd Battalion until the 1st of the 401st (which had been acting as its third battalion) was disbanded on 1 March 1945. Its personnel and equipment remained in place as the newly "created" 3rd of the 327th and its companies were redesignated as Item, King, Love, and Mike. Thus in the film the companies to which the two replacements were allocated at the beginning of the film (Item and King) did not exist in December 1944, and none of the many veteran glidermen in the audience could say: "That was my unit, and it didn't happen that way!" It should also be noted, however, that the war journal of the 327th GIR did not make the distinction and referred to the 1st/401st as the "3rd Battalion".
  2. Filmsite.org War and Anti-War Film
  3. The actual incident involved F Company, 2nd Battalion, 327th Glider Infantry on December 22, near Marvie, southeast of Bastogne.
  4. Lang Thompson "Battleground" (TCM article)
  5. TCM Notes
  6. Pirosh was a sergeant in the 320th Infantry of the 35th Infantry Division, one of Patton's divisions assigned to break through to Bastogne.
  7. S.L.A. Marshall Bastogne: The First Eight Days, Chapter 14 and notes.
  8. TCM Overview
  9. IMDB Business data
  10. IMDB Awards


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