In Cross of Iron Sam Peckinpah weighs in on World War II from the German point of view. The result is as bleak, if not quite as bloody, as one expects from the director of The Wild Bunch, in part because this 1977 film was cut to ribbons by nervous studio executives. The assorted excerpts that remain don't constitute an exhilarating or even an especially thrilling battle epic. The war is grinding to a close, and veterans like James Coburn's Steiner are grimly aware that it's a lost cause. The battlefield is a death trap of sucking mud and barbed wire, and the German... generals (viz., the martinet played by James Mason) seem to pose a bigger threat to the life and limbs of Steiner's men than the inexorable enemy. Not even Peckinpah's famous sensuous exuberance when shooting violence is much in evidence; the picture is a depressive, claustrophobically overcast experience. The bloody high (or low) point isn't a shooting; it's a wince-inducing de-penis-tration during oral sex. For a fun time with the men in (Nazi) uniform, try Das Boot instead. --David Chute, Amazon.com [show more]
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Sam Peckinpah's only war film follows the story of a doomed German platoon facing annihilation at the hands of the Russians in 1943. Non-Nazi German soldier Steiner (James Coburn) resents the arrival of arrogant Prussian Stransky (Maximillian Schell) as his new commanding officer. Stransky is desperate to win an Iron Cross - a medal Steiner has already earned, but considers worthless - and so promotes the highly-recommended Steiner to sergeant. During a siege, Stransky hides in his bunker, terrified of battle, only to later file a report claiming that he himself led a victorious counter-attack. However, when Steiner disputes this Stransky takes measures to remove him.