Cross of Iron (1977)
Director: Sam Peckinpah.
Starring: James Coburn (Unteroffizier / Feldwebel Rolf Steiner), Maximilian Schell (Hauptmann Stransky), James Mason (Oberst Brandt), David Warner (Hauptmann Kiesel), Klaus Löwitsch (Unteroffizier Krüger), Vadim Glowna (Gefreiter Kern), Roger Fritz (Leutnant Triebig), Dieter Schidor (Anselm), Burkhard Driest (Schütze Maag), Fred Stillkrauth (Gefreiter Schnurrbart. 'Private Mustache'), Michael Nowka (Dietz), Véronique Vendell (Marga), Arthur Brauss (Pg. Zoll), Senta Berger (nurse Eva).
German soldiers at the eastern front with an arrogant Prussian Captain Hauptmann Stransky who claims the Iron Cross for something that another leader did
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
Southernmost corner of Russia. This is Regiment 2 headquarters calling Corporal Steiner. Steiner and his men are busy killing the sentries around a mortar emplacement. The fellows then sneak up and throw a hand grenade into the emplacement. After it explodes they rush in with automatic weapons and kill anyone still alive. They find a very young boy with the Russian soldiers. They take him with them. Steiner tell his radioman to call and tell them they will need transport from checkpoint seven.
Captain Stransky reports to Colonel Brandt. Brandt welcomes the captain and says that this is hs adjutant Captain Kiesle. And then there is Stransky's adjutant Lt. Triebig. Colonel Brandt asks why did Stransky ask to be released from duty in France? Stransky jokingly says he wants to get the iron cross. He says he volunteered because he felt men of quality are needed at the eastern front. Brandt says the morale is low because defeat has followed defeat and they can only expect more defeat.
Lt. Meyer calls Brandt and says that Steiner is on his way back. Brandt tells Stransky that Steiner could be a problem, but they look the other way because he is such a first rate soldier. Stransky only says: "We'll see." He leaves. Russian artillery is ripping the hell out of the German position. Stransky is knocked into the mud. Lt. Meyer introduces himself to the muddy-faced Stransky. His bunker is over there guarded by the second platoon, he says. Steiner is in charge of the men. Stransky asks why Steiner is so special and Meyer says: "Early in the Novorssysk attack Corporal Steiner saved Colonel Brandt's life and mine, too."
Steiner gives something to Lt. Meyer and walks right past Capt. Stransky. Stransky stops him and introduces himself as his new commander. He tells Steiner that there are to be no prisoners taken. Stransky wants Steiner to kill the Russian boy. Steiner says: "You do it, sir!" Stransky draw his pistol saying he will and then he'll handle Steiner. The fellow with the boy, however, says he will do it. But he just finds a hiding place for the boy and gives him some food. Stransky tells Steiner to see him in one hour with a full report ready.
Steiner goes to his bunk. He throws his stuff down and his Lugar lands on the hiding boy. The boy picks up the pistol but decides not to do anything with it. When Steiner looks for it, the boy puts the Lugar in its holster and throws the holster to Steiner.
Brand new Private Dietz with a very clean uniform reports for duty to Corporal Steiner. One of the soldiers says they're sending them babies now. EDetz says he's been soldiering for six week. He volunteered. Steiner tells him not to volunteer for anything around here. And if he just does exactly what he, Kern and Kruger tell him to do, he'll be wearing his boots up to his ass for a long time.
Steiner turns in his report. Stransky says he and Brandt have decided to recommend Steiner to promotion to Senior Sergeant effective at once. Steiner is not impressed, so Stransky asks about casualties. Steiner report two killed, one missing. Steiner did not look for the missing man because he did not want to risk the entire platoon. Stransky scolds him for this. He dismisses Steiner.
Lt. Meyer tells Steiner he had better watch out for Stransky. He is pure Prussian military aristocracy and he doesn't live in the world of the ordinary soldier. Steiner says, yeah, he lives in my world! Steiner brings Meyer into his bunker. The men have a surprise birthday party for the Lieutenant. They drink a lot of vodka and even bring out a cake.
Stransky talks with Lt. Triebig and his orderly Keppel. Knowing they are homosexuals he warns them both that if they are caught they will be hanged, slowly. Together!
Steignr takes off the German clothes the Russian boy wears and strips him down to his Russian uniform. He takes the boy out past the trenches and tells the boy to go home. But the Russians are approaching the German position and the boy is shot dead by a Russian soldier.
The Russians are virtually over running Stransky's position. Brandt tells him to prepare for a counter-attack. The Germans get their act together and a mortar and a machine gun start doing real damage to the Russians. Brandt asks Stransky where his counter-attack is and he says: "We are attacking! We are defending! We are counter-attacking!"
Steiner goes out to save a comrade. He gets him up and starts to go back to the trenches when an explosion hits nearby and he is knocked out. Steiner wakes up in a hospital. He has been in a state of concussion for a week. He is to stay in the hospital for another three weeks.
General Fontessel comes to the hospital. He says he wants 65% percent of these men returned to active duty in three days. They have a lot of food for the General and the men, but Steiner goes over to the table and starts smashing the dishes and the champagne. He takes a couple of bottles and goes off by himself. He has been seeing his buddies in the faces of the hospitalized men. He dances with his pretty nurse. He also sleeps with her.
He does find one of his buddies who is being send back to fight. Rolf Steiner decides go go with him. The nurse thought that Rolf would go with her to her home. He says virtually nothing to her in response. He jumps on the back of the truck.
Back with his unit, the guys are very glad to see their sergeant. Steiner is told to go see Stransky. He is putting in for the iron cross and needs two witnesses. He needs two witnesses to testify that he led the counter-attack and threw the Russians out of their positions. Steiner asks Stransky why does he want the iron cross so badly? If he went back without the iron cross, he could not face his family. Steiner says personally he does not feel that Stransky deserves the iron cross. Just then Russian aircraft bomb the bunkers and trenches. Steiner rushes out to get to his men. But when he gets to a section of his men he can only find one alive. The others are dead.
Brandt calls over to Stransky and tells him to sent Steiner over to him. Steiner reports to Brandt and Brandt asks him if Captain Stransky lead the counter-attack the day Lt. Meyer was killed? Steiner says that Lt. Meyer led the attack. Stransky was nowhere in sight. Next Brandt calls in Triebig. He asks Steiner to stay and listen. The Colonel had an investigation done and every man in Meyer's company says that it was Meyer who led the counter-attack. Triebig says he never actually saw Stransky lead a counter-attack.
Now the Colonel wants Steiner to help him go after Stransky, but Steiner has a bad attitude. He tells the Colonel that he hates all officers, even the more enlightened ones like Brandt. He hates the German army uniform and all that it stands for. Brandt tells Steiner to please just get out!
General Von Canik from ammunition headquarters calls Brandt. Brand tells the General that he didn't know it was as bad at that. The Germans are pulling back to the bridgehead in Kuban. There is to be no rear guard, not even Steiner's second platoon. Captain Kiesle calls Stransky to tell him no rear guards, including Steiner's. But Stransky decides not to tell Steiner and leaves him out there.
Russian tanks and troops are attacking. Steiner's men try to contact the other units but everyone is gone. Steiner sends his men down the tunnel. The Germans have to keep using the tunnel system to fall back. A Russian tank stalls and Steiner and his men put land mines on the tank tracks. When the tanks moves again it explodes. Steiner tells his men to retreat to the factory. But again they have to move down the tunnel to get away from the Russians. A Russian tank comes right into the factory. The Germans come out of the other end of the tunnel and their way is clear.
Brandt tells Captain Kiesle that Stransky is to report to Paris within a week. Brandt also says without Steiner to contradict him the arrogant Stransky will get his iron cross. Now Steiner and his men have to walk to get to Annaville. Brandt wonders if Steiner will get through. Steiner and his men walk under a bridge held by the Germans. Steiner and two other men eliminate the guards on the bridge silently. The guard house now only contains Russian female soldiers. The Germans capture most of them, while killing a couple. Some of the German soldiers are lured into sexual traps by the women. One soldier is knifed to death and another has his penis bitten off. Steiner and his men dress in the Russian uniforms of the women. Steiner leaves the man without a penis with the women and he and his men leave. The women finish the German soldier off.
Brandt decides to save Captain Kiesle. Kiesle doesn't want to go, but Brandt insists. He goes.
Steiner gets through one trench area by pretending they are Russian soldiers with two German POWs. When they are inside the camp, they mow down the Russians. Steiner has a message sent in code that Steiner is coming in with some Russian POWs. Kransky is there and wants Triebig to kill Steiner and his group.
Steiner and his men are ready to come into the German lines, but one of their guys steps on a landmine and is gone. Triebig gets his men ready to open fire on them. But the Russians are right behind them. Russian artillery opens up and hits the German trenches. Steiner's men keep coming and Triebig has a machine gun open up on them. Some of the Germans soldiers realize that there are Germans with the Russians and they stop firing. This gives Steiner enough time to reach the German trench. Now he has Triebig in his sights. Triebig says it was Stransky's orders. He had not part in it. Steiner keeps seeing the faces of his men he saw die. He shoots Triebig many, many times. He then turns the platoon (which consists of one man) over to Kruger. Steiner says he's doesn't care anymore. He's going for payback now.
Steiner seeks out and finds Stransky. He tells Stransky: "Your Triebig is dead. It didn't work, Captain. I live and you are dead." He makes Stransky his one-man platoon and they "counter-attack". Brandt gathers some last remnants and attacks too. Stransky kills some Russians but when he runs of of bullets he doesn't know how to reload. Steiner starts laughing. heartily.
Good war movie, but not much history here. You might enjoy seeing the German get the hell beat out of them, but the Germans do a lot of killing too. James Coburn was good as the corporal/sergeant who hates all officers. He also hates the German army uniform and all that it stands for. I prefer action set in a particular historical battle or campaign. This film is set in the general push-back of the German units by the Soviet troops.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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