Director Sam Peckinpah’s only war film Cross of Iron was characteristically and ironically enough a fierce anti-war film – declared by no less an authority than Orson Welles to be the finest anti-war film he’d ever seen. Also, at a time when the Allies were still very much considered to have been the only people with a war record worth capturing on film, Peckinpah concerned himself with the Germans.
Based on the novel by Willi Heinrich, Cross Of Iron looks at the nature of a soldier loyal to his country, but not to the ideologies that are causing the war. James Coburn stars as a corporal who believes in Germany but is decidedly not a Nazi or a Nazi sympathiser. Caught on the Russian front, loyalties are only to the men in his command.
However, when a new commanding officer, Maxmillian Schell, arrives on the scene, Coburn finds that he is suddenly fighting a war for survival on two fronts – one ahead of him with the attacking Russians and the second behind him with a commanding officer determined to send him into danger. Schell is prepared to do anything (with anyone else’s life) to win a coveted Iron Cross (the highest military honour offered by the wartime German Reich). After Schell has ordered a course of action that leads to the death of many of the people in Coburn’s company, he then puts in for an Iron Cross. However, Coburn refuses to back up Schell’s claim and the two men head for a fatal clash…
Cast: James Coburn, Maximillian Schell, James Mason, David Warner, Klaus Lowitsch, Vadim Glowna
Director: Sam Peckinpah
Producer: Wolf C. Hartwig
Cinematography: John Coquillon
Composer: Ernest Gold
Screenwriters: Walter Kelley, James Hamilton, Julius J Epstein, based on the book by Willi Heinrich
UK – West Germany / EMI – Rapid – Terra Filmkunst / 133 minutes / 1976