#41 - Cross of Iron (Sam Peckinpah)

Where the Iron Crosses Grow


The idea of a World War 2 film by Sam Peckinpah is a very intriguing one on its own, but when you add to that the fact that it is told primarily from the German point of view you get something completely irresistible. Because, first and foremost, we don’t get that many films which portray that war from the perspective of “the villains”, and second, you know that the always unrestrained Peckinpah is going to revel in the opportunities such a film provides.

One of these opportunities is the central conflict of the films storyline, a conflict between two very different men. This conflict of rank, class and overall disposition towards the war they’re fighting is the main driving force of the story and the thematic core of the film. Such a conflict would be very hard if not even impossible to portray in the American forces or the Russian forces of WW2, and especially its final resolution. Simply because it would demean the war effort of the allied forces, but the atrocities portrayed in “Cross of Iron” are very much universal to all armies.

And yes, this is undoubtedly an anti-war film even thought it does not wear that badge with pride as some other war films do. It pays tribute to the soldiers in the trenches as it portrays the German soldier as human beings, which many other WW2 films miserably fail to do and at best portray them as faceless figures or at worst as dastardly villains.

The violence in the film reflects these anti-war sentiments as well. Sam Peckinpah is often criticized for the violence of his films, but his violence is rarely enjoyable. Where Leone for example elongated the build up to the violence and then had a quick release of it, Sam Peckinpah extends the act of violence itself through the use of slow motion and disorienting editing to such degrees where its grotesque and disturbing nature go way beyond the mere visual thrill that violence may provide on the screen.   

This holds true in “Cross of Iron” as well. The battle scenes are shot and edited amazingly well and the scale of them is very impressive but they are an assault on the senses and last almost torturously long, driving home the point that war is indeed hell and does not start and stop at our convenience. With this he reveals the horrifying realities of war and violence - both are a very unpleasant business in Sam Peckinpah’s cinema, a far cry from those criticisms stating that he glorifies it.

This also makes “Cross of Iron” a very exciting film, as bullets whiz by and shells pound the ground it’s very hard not to feel constantly aware of the danger that might engulf these characters any minute. And it does, oftentimes unexpectedly, and as exciting as this may be its quite unnerving as well because the film rarely gives you a foothold to stand on. This gave me personally a great emotional relation to the main character, Sgt. Steiner (James Cobrun). A relation that went beyond just a mere sense of honor and duty and ideology and what not, because it actually gave me a sense of participation which only made the end of the film even sweeter.

But as I said this is a film about German soldiers, and the fact that it made me connect on such a level with “the enemy” only speaks to its power. And even even beyond that, this is a no bullshit war film that does not care to patronize you or hold your hand through the rough spots, and for that it deserves to be in the pantheon of the genre.


James Coburn - Sgt. Steiner
Maximillian Schell - Capt. Stransky
James Mason - Col. Brandt
David Warner - Capt. Kiesel
Klaus Lowitsch - Cpl. Kruger

Cross of Iron on IMDb

No comments:

Post a Comment