Company K (2004)
Director: Robert Clem.
Starring: Ari Fliakos (Pvt. Joseph Delaney), Terry Serpico (Sgt. James Dunning), Steve Cuiffo (Pvt. Edward Carter), Joe Delafield (Pvt. Emil Ayres), Rik Alan Walter (Capt. Terence Matlock), Daniel Stewart Sherman (Sgt. 'Pig Iron' Riggin), P.J. Sosko (Cpl. Clarence Foster), Cosmo Pfeil (Pvt. Nate Mountain), Adam Groves (Pvt. Bernie Glass), Matt Seidman (Sgt. Raymond Prado), Ian Pfister (Pvt. Al Nallett), James Nardella (Pvt. Archie Lemon), Thomas Sadoski (Cpl. Richard Mundy), Tina Benko (Hope), Hillary Keegin (Annette).
man struggles with writing a history of his US Marine Corps company in WWI
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
"In 1933 Alabama author William March decorated three times for bravery as a U.S. Marine, published a book about his experiences in World War I. By writing about the men he had soldiered with, March hoped to rid himself forever of the terrible memories of war."
"I have watched the reactions of many men to war -- to pain, hunger and death -- but all I have learned is that no two men react alike, and that not one man comes through the experience unchanged." William March
July 4, 1933. Joe Delaney says he has finally finished his book on World War I. His wife suggests that he take out the part of the book dealing with the shooting of the prisoners.
Joe types a letter saying: "As a result of the war, I shall never be well again so long as I live."
Joe says: "If I could just tell all their stories and pin them to a huge wheel." And then he could spin the wheel around so that the different stories blended together.
Captain Terence Matlock. April 1917. It's time to give out passes to the boys of Company K. But before a private can even get a pass, he has to pass an inspection of his towels and underwear. The Captain turns down the first couple of guys and then someone makes a farting sound and the Captain demands to know who did that. No one will say anything and this really angers the Captain. So he starts throwing the laundry of the men into the mud next to the inspection table. At the end of the inspection, it seems that almost all the passes have been torn up by the Captain.
Private Emil Ayers. He sits at a bench with a pretty woman, but one who is older than he is. She has to go, but Emil asks her to stay with him. This insults the woman who says she is not a woman that men can just pick up on the street. She is going to leave, but Ayers says he is going abroad to fight and he may be killed. He may never get another chance of being with a decent woman. She asks if he is afraid? He says no, but then changes it to yes. So the woman agrees to spend all the soldier's leave time with him.
Fourth day out to sea.
Spring 1918. Approaching Verdun, France. Private Nate Mountain. An airplane approaches the men marching along. They look at it but don't know if it'is friendly or the enemy. Someone calls out that the plane is an enemy plane and the men have to take cover. The men start scattering around. The plane drops a bomb and at least one of the soldiers is badly wounded. At dinner Nate is famished and gobbles everything down the hatch. The men get to the trenches and a poison gas wafts over them. The men have to get their gas masks over their faces pronto.
Sgt. Edward Dunning. Sgt. Dunning tells the men that the big attack is at 0800 hours tomorrow morning. They will wait for the barrage to go overhead and then go up and over.
Private Christian Geils. The attack begins. Geils jumps into a bomb crater hole and is too scared to move. The sergeants come over and tell him to get moving, but Geils can't do it. So Sgt. Michael "Pig Iron" Riggin shoots Geils in the head.
Sgt. Jackie Brauer. Brauer finds a very young German hiding in the trenches. Two other American soldiers come by. One is a German-American and speaks German. The enemy soldier is very scared saying in German that the Americans are known to cut off the arms and legs of prisoners. Brauer tries to punish the fellow for saying this "lie", but is restrained by the other two soldiers. Brauer wants to scare the prisoner so he tells the German-American to tell the prisoner that a man who takes a German prisoner, has to cut his initials into the enemy prisoner with a trench knife. So the translator tells the prisoner what is going to happen. When the translator tries to take something from the prisoner, the fellow slits the translator's throat with a small knife he has with him. The prisoner starts running, but Brauer catches up with him. He then uses the butt of his gun to repeatedly smash the fellow in the face with his rifle. Brauer says you can't trust a German and he's not giving them any breaks from now on.
Joe and Nate are slowly walking through the woods. They come upon a dead German. The men go through the fellow's belongings. They find a loaf of bread, but the dead man's blood has soaked a bit into the bread. Nate breaks the bread in half and starts eating his half. Joe joins in eating the blood-soaked bread.
American Field Hospital, Bar-le-Duc, France. Three recovering patients get a pass to leave the hospital. The nurse warns them not to go to the Rue Serpentine. One of the three patients is Private Edward Carter. Another of the fellows is Joe. The guys spend two hours trying to find the Rue Serpentine with no luck. So they ask their waiter at a restaurant and he gives them the needed directions.
They find the place and meet one of their fellow company members. He tells the guys that he was making out with this woman when her husband comes along and he has to run for it. The neighbors tried to beat him up but he got out of there fast. A French woman comes over and sits in Joe's lap. She asks him to go with her, but he hesitates. So she kisses him. She says she promises to be good. Joe says he promised his girl Lucy Walters that he would not fool around before he and she get married. The bar maid says she lost her boyfriend at Verdun.
Joe goes with the girl upstairs. She kisses Joe passionately and he responds in kind. When they go back downstairs Edward gives the French woman some money. This makes Joe furious and he knocks Edward down.
Sgt. Michael "Pig Iron" Riggin. The sergeant says that he was an orphan. He had a thing for one of the teachers, but she just yelled at him when he tried to kiss her. So now Michael says: "Anybody who cares for anybody else is a God-damned fool."
Lt. Archibald Smith. The Lieutenant from Yale is new to the group. And he has an idea for getting rid of the bothersome German machine gun nests. He wants Sgt. Dunning to take five men out at night. He wants the men to fill their pockets with rocks and at every mound throw some rocks at it to make the Germans start firing their machine guns and thus give away their positions. The results of this experiment are disastrous as the squad is lucky to get back to their trenches.
Sgt. Raymond Prado. The next time the Lieutenant suggests something similar, Sgt. Prado tells him it's just not a good idea. But the Lieutenant insists and the men have to risk their lives for a bad plan. The Germans watch the men and then start lobbing mortars in their direction. The attempt at establishing a new American position is destroyed with the loss of all six lives.
It rains hard exposing some of the skeletons of the buried bodies. This also produces quite a stench that the men can't stand.
Private Archie Lemon. In a forward trench, Archie sees Jesus walking toward him and he shouts: "Damn it, you ought to be ashamed. How long can you let this go on?"
The new lieutenant is having a hard time sleeping. He even cries a bit. He puts his pistol in his mouth, but he doesn't pull the trigger.
Carter is wanted by Lt. Smith to be on patrol again. Carter complains that he hasn't gotten any real sleep for a week. They keep giving him more assignments. The sarge sympathizes with him but those are the orders of Lt. Smith. Carter asks why is the Lieutenant always riding him so hard? The sarge says he doesn't know.
On assignment Carter falls asleep and has to be awakened. Back in his bunk the Lieutenant sends him out again. At night the Lieutenant comes to check on Carter. As he jumps into the trench, Carter almost sticks the Lieutenant through with his bayonet, telling the Lieutenant: "You got it in for me. . . . Why don't you leave me alone? Why don't you put someone else on patrol?". The Lieutenant starts to move as Carter looks like he is going to fall asleep standing up, but Carter pushes the Lieutenant back against the wall with the bayonet. Now Lt. Smith explains that Carter is the best man in his unit; he trusts him; and that's why he keeps sending him out. Smith tries to move the rifle away from him, but this just results in Carter bayoneting the Lieutenant in the gut.
Carter sleeps in his bunk. He is awakened by Sgt. Dunning who asks him wasn't he supposed to be on patrol with Lt. Smith last night? Carter tells the sarge that the Lieutenant never came for him. Sarge tells Carter that the Lieutenant must have gotten careless and the Germans must have got him. Then sarge just tells Carter to go back to sleep.
Company K catches some Germans and takes them prisoner. Captain Terence Matlock tells Sgt. Dunning to take the prisoners out to the ravine and shoot all of them. Sarge tells Joe that this is wrong! Joe says soldiers are not supposed to think. Sarge sends Joe back because he doesn't want Joe to see or do this terrible thing. The Lieutenant told the sarge to get Corporal Foster to do the job and sarge will use Foster.
Corporal Clarence Foster. The sarge may have qualms about executing the prisoners, but Foster has none. He thinks the Germans are virtual savages and deserve everything they get.
Private Al Nallett. Private Archie Lemon tells Private Al Nallett that he won't shoot the prisoners. Nallett says Lemon has to do it. "Just do what they tell you to do." So the squad marches the prisoners out to the ravine. Lemon suddenly throws down his weapon and runs away. He hides in a busted down shed. The prisoners are lined up and shot down.
Private Bernie Glass. The private starts searching the bodies of the prisoners for any valuable items. The sarge tells the private to put that stuff back. Glass tells the sarge that someone else is just going to take the stuff from the bodies. Sarge holds himself back from slamming his fist into the private's face. He tells the private to shut his God-damned mouth and get back to his unit.
The corporal asks Nallett what's wrong with him? Nallett says: "Nothing."
Corporal Richard Mundy. Mundy goes to look at the execution site. He says: "I will never hurt anything again as long as I live. I swear to God."
October 1918. Eve of Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Private Joseph Delaney. Delaney knows that something big is coming. Captain Matlock tells Delaney to deliver some reports to Divisional right away. Delaney starts walking through the woods. He sees a German soldier sitting on a low stone fence. The German shoots his weapon in the air to notify his comrades. Delaney starts charging him. The enemy is scared and falls down as he tries to move back. He tries to get a pistol out, but Delaney reaches him first and sticks his bayonet right into the man's throat. Afterwards, Delaney feels sick and vomits a bit.
Delaney makes it to Divisonal and tells his story about the man he killed. As new men come in, they would ask Delaney to tell them the story. On his way back, Delaney stops by the body of the dead German. He reasons that he is in no way to blame for this. He takes a ring off the the dead man's right hand and tries it on, but then throws it away because he doesn't want to be tied to the man forever.
When Delaney returns he tells the sarge he killed a German in the woods. Sarge says: "Well, that's what we're trained to do."
October 3, 1918. The attack is at 0700. The Allied barrage begins. Private Emil Ayers tells Joe that he has never gone over the top before and asks: "What if I turn and run? What if I'm yellow? Are you going to shoot me?" He tells Joe that he doesn't look scared at all and Joe answers: "The only thing I'm scared of is how I'm going to feel when this is all over."
The barrage is over and the men go up and over. A lot of men get wounded. Joe puts a wounded man in a bomb crater. He then attacks the German trench. The marines take the trench.
Joe writes a notice of death letter to Mrs. Carter the way he wishes he could really write a death notice: "Dear Madam, your son Edward died needlessly on the field of battle. You'll be interested to hear that at the time of his death he was crawling with vermin and weak from diarrhea. His feet were swollen and rotten and they stank. He lived like a frightened animal, cold and hungry. He had learned long ago that with you, his mother who loved him, had taught him to believe under the meaningless names of honor, courage, patriotism, were all lies." Of course, he burns the letter.
November 1918. All of a sudden the barrage stops. "The war's over."
1919. Emil Ayers comes home. Emil is welcomed by his brother, but Emil is mad at him. His brother didn't make it to the war until three days before the Armistice and three weeks later he got to go home.
1926. In jail the priest tells Eddie to give himself over to God for killing that policeman. He hates the cops. Eddie tells the priest of having to kill German prisoners of war. This is the last night of Eddie's life. He tells the preacher to get out.
Joe is haunted by the memory of the death of that one German soldier. He writes about it on his typewriter. He has the felling that the ring he took from the dead man is still on his finger. He feels the presence of the dead man in his room, but can't see him. He tells the dead man to go away, that he has nothing to be ashamed of. He couldn't shake the memory of the man, started drinking and lost his job. He changed his address to get away from the man. But the memory of the man found him anyway.
Joe has a conversation with the dead man. The German asks "Why did you kill me?" Joe says if he had to do it over, he never would have killed the man. He screams: "I can't answer your questions. I don't know!"
Joe goes back to where he went for basic training in the Marine Corps. There he runs into Sgt. Michael "Pig Iron" Riggin. He opens up the old barracks for Joe. Joe sees his name on a list of men that came through this particular barracks. He tries to bring up the faces of the men, but cannot.
"William Edward Campbell, who wrote under the name William March, received three citations for bravery at the battle of Blanc Mont in October 1918. Although he suffered a nervous breakdown in the 1940s, he completed six novels and three volumes of short stories from 1928 to 1954, the year of his death. His last and most famous novel was The Bad Seed, about an eight year old girl with no sense of right and wrong who commits a series of murders. After writing Company K, he never spoke of the war again."
Good movie. I enjoyed watching it. The film says that Joe Delaney the soldier was trying to tell the story of each of the men in turn and then blend them all together. But the film goes in a nice chronological order. We don't learn the story of each man. We see the soldiers one by one in a dramatic scene and we learn something about their personality, but not their full story. The film really didn't have to have the subtitles telling each of the men's names and then showing them in a scene or two. The names could have been interwoven directly into the dialogue. But the technique did help me keep the characters straight. The acting was good all around, but no one really stood out in my mind. One thing the author William Edward Campbell was right about was that every man's story was different. There were men paralyzed by fear and men who earned citations for their bravery, men who fought the injustices as they occurred among the marines and those who carried out the orders to commit the injustices, there were men who were brutal and cruel and others that were super sensitive about how they acted during the war, etc.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
Return To Main Page
Return to Home Page (Vernon Johns Society)