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Cross of Iron

By executive editor Wolfgang Bang

Posted November 17, 2015
cross of iron the best war film ever made
Watch it: It's bloody ace. © EMI Films

Wolgang Bang on 'Cross of Iron', the best war film ever made. Fact.

"What will we do when we lose the war?"
"Prepare for the next one."

Sam Peckinpah's violently drunken personal life mirrored his career as a director.

His westerns always seemed to focus on people cast adrift as the world's values changed around them, leaving them with a moral code that no longer held any value.

It was hardly a surprise then that he would make a film about a world where nothing at all had value and clashing ideologies ground at each other in perpetual slaughter.

Where martinets grope feverishly for battle honours to boost their prestige.

In typical Peckinpah fashion, he chose to be awkward, taking the German war novel The Willing Flesh and forcing it into celluloid at gunpoint.

Set on the Eastern Front in World War II as the Soviets push back the Nazi invasion, Cross of Iron was released in 1977 to no particular fanfare and very little critical acclaim.

Hardly surprising when you consider that the entire cast were jammed into Nazi uniform, taken to communist Yugoslavia and had a German producer who made his fortune in porn and was a former panzer commander as technical adviser.

Ja! Zen he pulls it out und gesphunkles her tits on zer back off der panzer!

God, the Yugoslavs loved them.


Despite all this, it's really, really good.

Not the money shots – they ended up on the cutting room floor.

"Saving Private Ryan was cardboard compared to this."

A brilliant cast portray a doomed struggle for survival against all odds.

James Coburn makes a surprisingly grimy, world-weary hero (Sgt Rolf Steiner), whose moral code the aristocratic Capt Stransky (Maximilian Schell) ends up bumping up against in his quest for the Iron Cross.

James Mason plays the good old soldier Colonel Brandt, while his second-in-command (Capt Kiesel, played by David Warner) is a cynical, chain-smoking pisshead whose fatalism never stops him from doing right for the men under him.

And they're all top notch.

Saving Private Ryan was cardboard compared to this.

War is portrayed as so grimy, pointless and ugly in this film that Orson fucking Welles himself declared it "the greatest war film ever made".

And he was bloody right.

NB: The beginning and end credits are a full part of the piece, so don't skip them, alright?


Chief hack's note: Cheers, Bang! There are many great war films out there, including the excellent Tae Guk Gi (a South Korean war film I strongly recommend you see). However, without a doubt, Cross of Iron is the best of the lot.

The acting, the dialogue, the direction, the lack of a cheesy happy ending and the extensive use of authentic German and Soviet World War II weaponry all contribute to making it a definite must-see. And if you don't believe me, then watch it now, for here it is embedded in full (including the opening and closing credits) on the film-tastic
Rake & Herald from Third Reich 1923's YouTube channel, which you can check out here here.

" Don't rejoice in his defeat, you men.
For though the world stood up and stopped the bastard,
The bitch that bore him is in heat again." – Bertolt Brecht

See also RIP Phil Taylor, posted 14/11/15.

Wolfgang Bang
is a former skate punk who dropped the skateboard but remains reliably enraged by various aspects of modern culture. His oaths and verbal abuse still echo around the fashionable Portobello Road area of West London. His hobbies include long-range outdoor drinking, cooking and modern history. He spends much of his time in a hedge with an air rifle, waiting for the rabbits of mass media to pop out of their burrows and graze upon the sweet grass of empty promises.

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