Based on true events, Battleground tells the story of a group of men in the Siege of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II. Surprisingly realistic for the time, none of the men are heroic and without fear, but human and relatable. While each man wants to serve their country, at one point or another, they all consider different ways of leaving the brutal conditions of the Belgian winter.
It’s a week before Christmas 1944 and the soldiers of the 101st Airborne are looking forward to some R&R in Paris. Those plans change when they receive orders to move to the Belgian countryside in response to a German counterattack. Told through the eyes of Pvt. Jim Layton (Marshall Thompson), a new arrival, the rest of the platoon includes Pfc. Holley (Van Johnson) who tries to make the best out of a bad situation; hard-nosed Sgt. Kinnie (James Whitmore); Roderigues (Ricardo Montalban) A religious Latino from California; Donald Jarvess (John Hodiak) A journalist from Kansas; Kipp Kippton (Douglas Fowley) who can’t keep track of his false teeth; Bettis (Richard Jaeckel) A soldier clearly suffering from combat fatigue and Ernst J. “Pop” Stazak (George Murphy), though he’s been granted a hardship discharge to be with his I’ll wife, as the the oldest man in the platoon, “Pop” finds it impossible to leave the battlefield.
The cast is terrific from top to bottom. Van Johnson is the symbolic lead, in that he gets the most screen time, but Battleground really is an ensemble picture. Each man has a distinct personally that is well developed throughout the film. James Whitmore earned a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor and an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his work as Kinnie, the tough sergeant who continues to trudge through the snow, despite frostbitten feet that continue to get worse. As the new guy, Marshall Thompson’s Layton undergoes the biggest change. He starts out slightly naive, nervous and unsure of himself. By the end of the film, he’s battle tested and as weary as everyone else.
Even without the blood and gore elements of modern war films, Battleground is able to effectively telling story about the horrors and heroism of war. Director William Wellman brings his usual no-nonsense approach to the material. With help from cinematographer Paul C Vogel (who won an Oscar for Best Cinematography, Black-and-White) there’s an unforgettable realism; the difficult terrain, hellish weather conditions and the spectre of death at any moment.
Presented in the 1.37:1 aspect ratio, Warner Archive has delivered another excellent transfer. The picture has a pleasing amount of grain and the level of detail is impressive, particularly considering the age of the film. Contrast and black levels are perfectly dialed in and there are no age-related issues to interfere with the viewing experience.
The DTS-HD Master 2.0 Audio soundtrack offers up a nice amount of depth throughout. The action sequences come through convincingly and the score by Lennie Hayton has been given a sense of separation. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout.
English SDH subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Little Rural Riding Hood (SD, 6:18) Ported over from the DVD, this Texas Avery cartoon short has the wolf on Riding Hood’s heels after receiving an invite to visit his cousin in the city.
- Let’s Cogitate (SD, 8:00) Also ported over from the DVD, this Pete Smith comedy short has him asking, “Have you ever wondered?”
- Theatrical Trailer (HD, 1:58)