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Not Peckinpah's best
on February 6, 2002
This movie didn't do much to stir me. It's billed as an anti-war film from the German perspective, but I think it tries just a bit too hard.
James Coburn is not unconvincing as a German army sergeant, but his antagonist, Maximillian Schell, who plays a German captain obsessed with earning the iron cross medal, seems to be a bit of a straw man. His only motive is to be awarded the medal regardless of the consequences and whether he actually earns it or not. There's little depth beyond that.
There are some scenes that seem to be shoehorned in just for the sake of having them there. The hospital scene and the Russian women's barracks scenes come to mind. Peckinpah has never done romance well. In fact, he doesn't do women well. Much as they are in The Wild Bunch, the women in Cross of Iron are little more than tramps, there to sexually entice, tempt or please our male protagonists.
As hard as the movie tries to show the desolation of the Eastern Front, from all accounts I've read it was much worse than this movie portrayed it. You never get a sense of what the Germans are trying to accomplish here until they begin their retreat.
The war scenes are passable, but it's hard to go back an enjoy a mediocre war movie once you've seen modern classics like Saving Private Ryan, Stalingrad, or Black Hawk Down. Peckinpah's use of slow motion and gratuitious gore has become passe compared with the in-your-face realism of today's war movies.