Cross of Iron (1977)

cross_of_iron_04Sam Peckinpah’s CROSS OF IRON¬†takes place as Second Army is retreating out of Russia – demoralized and beaten. It is this backdrop of deadly defeat and despair that Peckinpah delights in unrelenting nihilism.

Be warned this movie is full of Nazis. Real fightin’ Nazis. This is James Coburn at his most coke sniffing, bench pressing, chiseled jaw, squinty eye malcontent. The fact that he plays one of the most successful Nazis on the Eastern Front is beside the point, right, he stands for the absurdity of war, the inhumanity of social climbing, and the denigration of German heroics.

Coburn plays awesome solider, Steiner, who is given a new commander, Maximilian Schell who plays, Hauptmann. The new commander is of high social standing, meticulously clean uniform, and a sneering disdain for the common solider. Hauptmann is an over-the-top villain, all but twisting his mustachio in delight as Steiner is put in harm’s way. All this hatred and double dealing is because Steiner refuses to say Hauptmann was valiant and brave when he was really cowardly and sniveling.

Hauptmann, you see, feels he needs the IRON CROSS to prove his worth and validate his family’s social standing by proving his heroics in war.¬† While Steiner, completely disillusioned by Germany, bureaucratic morass, and the futility of war, sees the CROSS OF IRON for what it really is – a hypocritical acknowledgement by corrupt generals for acts of dumb luck and chance survival.

As war pictures go, this one is solid. It has some detailed action, a bit of suspense, and a faceless enemy. With the sole exception of the kid solider that Hauptmann refuses to shoot and might just be an angel…or something.

As far as Peckinpah movies go, this one fits the formula – men fighting the odds and rising above their situation to take on all comers to face down certain death. You know the masculinity of the lost cause. Flex.

Apache (1954)

broncoapachebr2Robert Aldrich’s APACHE is a testament to the not so old timey racism of Hollywood movies. The fact that stars are white actors are in “red face” isn’t even the most egregious aspect of the movie. The dialogue is incredibly racist and sexist, too. In addition, the movie has a studio forced ending that sees the hero submitting to the white man’s heel.

Burt Lancaster plays the “last Apache warrior” Massai – who is loosely based on a real person by the same name, who did some of the same things, but was probably murdered in cold blood with his family by US Troops while travelling back to a Reservation.

Jean Peters plays Nalinle, Massai’s woman. She suffers greatly at the hands of the movie. She is brutally tortured by Lancaster, made to crawl across mountain rocks, and finally wins him over through her diligence and sacrifice. In fact, she taunts Massai into storming out to his death and thus becoming legend. Of course, he does not – instead he drops his rifle, hangs his head, and returns to his family hut.

So. There is an interesting tension in the first half of the movie. After Massai escapes the prison trains, he encounters a fellow Native American who has adapted to the life under white domination on the reservation. He hands Massai the keys to the kingdom – CORN.

Massai returns to his people and is immediately betrayed. Nalinle’s drunkard father alerts Charles Bronson to Massai’s presence, thus smashing the dreams of a peaceful agricultural future. This is a pregnant metaphor – as social control alcohol is more effective than farming because it reduces the Native American to a subservient tattletale.

Overall, this relic is not as offensive as others, but is still highly problematic to the point where I was genuinely uncomfortable watching it.