Battle of the Bulge Review

I would like to dedicate this review to Mr Peter Judson. This review was requested by his son on the occasion of his 85th Birthday. Best wishes go out to Peter!

I can’t speak for everyone (at least not yet, give it a few years), but I imagine that not everyone is an expert on the events of WWII. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that some people may think that D-Day was more or less the end of the war. Of course, I could be wrong, but we hear so little about the period between D-Day and VE Day that this assumption doesn’t seem outside the realms of possibility. After all, these two events were some of the most triumphant of the entire conflict, so of course, they’re the ones that will be romanticised.

In actuality, though, D-Day occurred roughly a whole year before VE Day and fifteen months before the final end of the war. Although the events of the 6th June (D-Day) represented a devastating blow against the German forces, they still fought on for nearly another year, so the question remains? What happened during that time? Well, this film hopes to fill in some gaps.

Battle of the Bulge portrays the titular struggle (also known as the Ardennes Counteroffensive), which took place in December of 1944, and January of ’45. The German army used some of their newly created artillery as a warmongering German colonel seeks an improbable victory. In contrast, American forces holding the area are put on the back foot by the surprise attack.

While on the surface, this film might seem similar to the last movie I reviewed, The Guns of Navarone, I was struck by how different the films are tonally. They share a few issues (and we’ll get to them). Still, for the most part, despite both being about WWII and being produced in the 1960s, there aren’t a lot of similarities between the films.

Firstly, GoN was a film that was firmly (& surprisingly) anti-war. While this film certainly doesn’t think war is a roll in the tulips, it has a far more romanticised view. It’s a much fonder look back at the war than Navarone is, falling back on some of the broad stereotypes I applauded the other film for lacking. As such, it’s much worse off for it, in my opinion.

It feels like a film I’ve seen play on repeat for years on terrestrial TV channels. A bland, paint-by-numbers war film reminiscing about the last war where we were unequivocally on the good side. It exists to make us feel good about ourselves, but the problem is that it’s something we’ve already seen a hundred times.

To me, the best kind of war film is one that reflects a new perspective on events we may already know about. We know the Nazis were terrible, and we know that giving them a good old kicking was a good idea, so we don’t need reminding of it every five minutes. I felt so utterly disconnected from this film because it conveyed the same message as so many other films, and it just ended up boring me.

Don’t get me wrong; as a production of its time, it’s very well made. I get the feeling that it was a film the studio was particularly invested in, as it clearly shows on screen. A few pretty interesting battle scenes still look great in upscaled HD, so it was clearly a production that many people cared about. It just didn’t have enough identity of its own to set it apart. All of the exciting parts of the film take place towards the end. The first hour or so of the film is entirely inconsequential.

Like Navarone before it, it’s much too long in the tooth. I think this is a wider-scale issue in many films of its era. It was of the time where films had intermissions, and by then, I needed it. It’s funny because I complained about these films’ lengths, and yet I sat down to watch Zack Snyder’s Justice League in one sitting, and that’s four hours long. Somehow that film felt better paced than this, which is ninety minutes shorter.

Although it’s a perfectly fine film which I’m sure is looked upon fondly by those who remember it, it is most certainly a product of its time. Some older movies tend to age worse than others, and I’d say this is one of them. Not only is it too long, but its characterisations are also bland too. There was nothing to differentiate each character from one another. The Nazis are made to look bad by being cartoon Nazis. Fair enough, they were unimaginably evil, but there’s no nuance here. They took the easy route, and it showed.

In summary, then, it’s a perfectly serviceable film technically, which I don’t think has aged as well as some of its contemporaries. The kind of war film that was made en-masse in the 50s and 60s. Well-acted, but lacking in character, and well-shot but lacking in vision. I can appreciate it being enjoyed by a particular audience, but it didn’t do much for me.

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