This is an extremely wordy war film which concentrates as much on the psychological battles as it does on the capture of a farmhouse six miles inland from the Italian coast. Dialogue and interior monologues are privileged over action as the platoon fights it way through one morning. Doesn’t sound very Hollywood and, although it has numerous Hollywood stalwarts in the cast, it’s a relatively early example of an independent production: Lewis Milestone productions. Milestone also directed the classic All Quiet on the Western Front (1930).
The representation of the psychic stresses of war is gripping but the action is also thrillingly shot (tracking shots of an attack on a tank; the final assault on the farmhouse). It is rare to see a film, from the ‘classic’ era of Hollywood, that doesn’t simply eulogise heroes. I’d be very surprised if Terrence Malick wasn’t influenced by it when making The Thin Red Line (1999).
Of the ‘stalwarts’ Dana Andrews is his usual terrific, laconic self. He commands attention, on the screen, with minimal gestures. It’s also good to see Richard Conte in a ‘good guy’ role before he got typed as a villain.