Cross of Iron

EMI/Hen’s Tooth

Sam Peckinpah only made two war films in his career, and I think I know why. The war genre is less mythic and iconic than the Western; its clichés more rigid and less easily exploded by Peckinpah’s jagged, amoral sensibility. Fortunately, his 1977 Cross of Iron does have plenty of tanks and trucks that are quite easily exploded, mostly in slow-motion cutaways. The film tells the story of a battle-scarred Nazi battalion retreating from the Russian front; they’re led by a jaded but skilled soldier (James Coburn) who butts heads with his aristocratic martinet superior (Maximilian Schell), a wimp so obsessed with receiving the Iron Cross that he would massacre his own troops. When things aren’t blowing up, Cross of Iron gets dragged down by undeveloped characters and overwhelming pretension.