wed 10/08/2022

DVD: Fixed Bayonets! | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: Fixed Bayonets!

DVD: Fixed Bayonets!

Samuel Fuller's second Korean War movie honours the dogfaces

The big white one: Gene Evans (left) and Richard Basehart in 'Fixed Bayonets!'Eureka Entertainment

From The Steel Helmet (1951) through The Big Red One (1980), Samuel Fuller has shown more empathy for US Army infantrymen in combat than any other filmmaker, including Oliver Stone.

During the making of Fixed Bayonets!, Fuller’s second gripping Korean War film of ’51, he had Lucien Ballard’s camera pore so closely over the grimy, unshaven “dog faces", it’s clear he was memorialising the real soldiers they represent and those he fought alongside in World War II. 

The film is set in the winter of 1950 shortly after Mao had mobilised the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army to protect North Korea from UN forces. The GIs in question are part of a 48-strong platoon detailed to fight a rearguard action at a “choke point” as their division of 15,000 retreats south and the “Reds” (or “people” in the movie’s parlance) advance from the north. Occupying a hill in a terrain of snowladen ridges and outcrops, they trade fire with enemy positions; plant mines; eat and sleep in a cave; rub their feet orgiastically to prevent trench foot; and reveal their personalities and psychological states. Their young lieutenant and a fearless sergeant are killed. Though Richard Basehart’s Corporal Denno has guts, he dreads the thought of leading the men should the grizzled Sergeant Rock (Steel Helmet’s Gene Evans) also die.

Liverpudlian John Brophy's novel Immortal Sergeant (filmed as a 1943 Henry Fonda vehicle) suggested the story to Fuller, but equally influential were infantryman Bill Mauldin’s Pulitzer-winning World War II cartoons depicting a pair of bedraggled dogfaces and John Huston’s The Red Badge of Courage, released eight months earlier. Mauldin acted in Huston’s film of Stephen Crane’s American Civil War novel about a young Union soldier overcoming his cowardice, as Denno must overcome his fear of responsibility. Fuller’s and Huston’s films, each evocatively photographed in black and white, are virtual companion pieces. War is hell in both, though gruff soldierly fellowship touchingly limns the plight of Fuller’s grunts.

Look out for James Dean’s rookie delivering a message near the end of Fixed Bayonets! The outstanding 4K restoration makes the film grain dance, an apt look for Fuller’s remorselessly tabloid cinema. The meagre disc extras on this dual format edition include a commentary by ace Aussie film scholar Adrian Martin.

Look out for James Dean's rookie delivering a message


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

Explore topics

Share this article

Add comment


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters