The Big Red One (1980)

PG | 113 mins | Drama | 18 July 1980

Director:

Samuel Fuller

Writer:

Samuel Fuller

Producer:

Gene Corman

Cinematographer:

Adam Greenberg

Editor:

Morton Tubor

Production Designer:

Peter Jamison

Production Company:

Lorimar Productions
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HISTORY

The print viewed for this record is The Big Red One: The Reconstruction and contained forty-seven minutes of footage not included in the 1980 release.
       The following statement appears after the opening credits: “This is a fictional life based on a factual death.” The film ends with the statement, “Samuel Fuller 1912-1997.”
       A 18 Jan 1955 HR news item announced that writer-director Samuel Fuller would
film an independent feature based on his experiences during WW II, serving as a rifleman
in the U.S. Army First Division. The screenplay would include amphibious campaigns
in Sicily, Italy, Normandy, France, and Oran, Algeria, as well as depict the advance of troopsfrom Belgium and Germany to Czechoslovakia. Production notes in AMPAS library
files revealed that director Peter Bogdanovich encouraged Fuller to turn his war
experiences into a screenplay after sharing story details with family and
friends for years.
       A 13 Oct 1978 DV article reported it was “twenty years to the month” that
entertainment trade publications announced Fuller’s film as a Warner Bros. project
with John Wayne attached to star. However, the project was in limbo until Lorimar
Productions agreed to a distribution deal in 1976.
       A 20 Jul 1977 Var article reported that after completion of his screenplay, Fuller had written a 823-page companion novel to be sold to Bantam Books and published to coincide with the release of the film. In addition, Bogdanovich was being considered for an acting role as one of the soldiers in Lee Marvin’s platoon, but Bogdanovich received no onscreen credit. However, a 13 Aug 1978 LAT article stated that Fuller’s actress wife, Christa Lang, and Samantha, their three-year-old daughter, were cast in ... More Less

The print viewed for this record is The Big Red One: The Reconstruction and contained forty-seven minutes of footage not included in the 1980 release.
       The following statement appears after the opening credits: “This is a fictional life based on a factual death.” The film ends with the statement, “Samuel Fuller 1912-1997.”
       A 18 Jan 1955 HR news item announced that writer-director Samuel Fuller would
film an independent feature based on his experiences during WW II, serving as a rifleman
in the U.S. Army First Division. The screenplay would include amphibious campaigns
in Sicily, Italy, Normandy, France, and Oran, Algeria, as well as depict the advance of troopsfrom Belgium and Germany to Czechoslovakia. Production notes in AMPAS library
files revealed that director Peter Bogdanovich encouraged Fuller to turn his war
experiences into a screenplay after sharing story details with family and
friends for years.
       A 13 Oct 1978 DV article reported it was “twenty years to the month” that
entertainment trade publications announced Fuller’s film as a Warner Bros. project
with John Wayne attached to star. However, the project was in limbo until Lorimar
Productions agreed to a distribution deal in 1976.
       A 20 Jul 1977 Var article reported that after completion of his screenplay, Fuller had written a 823-page companion novel to be sold to Bantam Books and published to coincide with the release of the film. In addition, Bogdanovich was being considered for an acting role as one of the soldiers in Lee Marvin’s platoon, but Bogdanovich received no onscreen credit. However, a 13 Aug 1978 LAT article stated that Fuller’s actress wife, Christa Lang, and Samantha, their three-year-old daughter, were cast in the film. Production notes stated Samantha appeared in a farmhouse picnic scene along with American soldiers during a respite from combat, but she is not credited on screen. Also, many Israeli extras, recently discharged from the army, lent an air of authenticity to the movie. A Sep 1979 Season Ticket on TV article reported that the 110-degree heat in Israel required actor soldiers to swallow salt tablets to keep hydrated, while the Israeli government preferred not to publicize that former soldiers were hired to play Nazis.
       A brief in the 6 Dec 1977 HR, and the 20 Jul 1977 Var blamed
filming delays on producer Gene Corman’s heavy schedule and prolonged
location scouting logistics, respectively. Originally, filming was planned for seven
countries including France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and
North Africa. Instead, some preliminary shooting was done winter 1977 in CA,
as reported in a 14 Jun 1978 Var article. The Season Ticket on TV stated that
winter sequences were filmed in CA’s Sierra Madre mountains, and production notes
reported that the snowy terrain was filmed in Big Bear, CA.
       A 15 Jun 1978 HR brief stated that principal photography would begin 25 Jul
1978 in Tel Aviv, Israel, and would complete filming in Dublin, Ireland. As reported in
the 5 Jul 1978 HR, six weeks of filming was scheduled for Israeli locations
including an area nearby Kibbutz Givat-Olga, an hour away from Tel Aviv, as well as
Caesarea, Tiberias, Ashkelon, and the Eilat area. The 13 Aug 1978 LAT article reported that the coastline between Tel Aviv and Caesarea was varied enough to be used to recreate the invasions of Sicily, Normandy, and North Africa. According to production notes, the Rosh Ha’ayin quarry near Tel Aviv provided the backdrop for the conflict at the Kasserine Pass in Tunisia, while a Roman amphitheatre in Beit Shean was used to film a cavalry charge at the El Djem Coliseum in Tunisia.
       Prime Minister Menahim Begin gave permission for a Jerusalem orphanage turned army base to be used as a concentration camp, and as an Aachen, Germany, street corner. Production notes identified the property as Schneller Army Base, where pottery kilns were used to represent Nazi gas chambers. Older sections of Haifa stood in for Sicilian villages, while St. Peters Monastery near Jaffa was used to film an asylum taken over by the Germans. The production also filmed in Ashdod at an Israeli high security naval base, as well as aboard an L.S.T. or landing ship, tank, used for transporting troops, cargo and vehicles.
       A news item in the 20 Sep 1978 Var stated that the production spent eight days filming in castles around Dublin to double for locations in Germany, France, and Czechoslovakia. According to production notes, the Irish locations included Trim Castle, Castletown House mansion, and the privately-owned Dunsany and Slane Castles.
       The 2 Aug 1978 Var article stated that Israel Defense Forces provided tanks and other military equipment to the production. In various sequences, Russian-made Egyptian tanks captured by Israeli forces were covered with iron crosses to resemble German WW II tanks, according to production notes. A company based in London, England, supplied whatever authentic weapons could not be found in Israel. Actors were issued WW I British Hotchkiss machine guns used by Vichy infantrymen, and era-appropriate French weapons carried by the Goums.
       A brief in the 16 Sep 1976 DV stated the film’s budget was $3 million. However,
the 20 July 1977 Var article referred to the film’s budget as $6 million. According
to a 20 Feb 1980 Var article, Corman later claimed the budget was originally $12
million, but he was able to complete the picture for less than $4.5 million.
       A 25 Feb 1980 Village Voice news item reported that although the film was
scheduled for a May 1980 release, the date was pushed back after Fuller’s final cut
had a four-hour running time. Although he edited the film down to an hour and forty
minutes, the general consensus was that too many good scenes were left out, so Fuller
handed over the film to Erica Flaum, a thirty-year-old editor, to be re-edited.
       According to the 18 Jan 1955 HR, Fuller originally planned to donate a
percentage of the film’s profits to assist veterans from the celebrated combat division.
Four U.S. Army First Division generals – Terry Allen, Clift Andrus, Clarence J. Huebner and George A. Taylor - agreed to manage the fund.
More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
16 Sep 1976.
---
Daily Variety
13 Oct 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
18 Jan 1955.
---
Hollywood Reporter
6 Dec 1977.
---
Hollywood Reporter
15 Jun 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
5 Jul 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
14 May 1980
p. 3, 7.
Los Angeles
Aug 1980
p. 310.
Los Angeles Times
13 Aug 1978
p. 1, 26, 29.
Los Angeles Times
18 Jul 1980
Part VI, p. 1, 8.
New York Times
18 Jul 1980
p. 6.
Newsweek
28 Jul 1980
p. 68.
Season Ticket on TV
Sep 1979
p. 32-33.
Time
21 Jul 1980.
---
Variety
20 Jul 1977.
---
Variety
14 Jun 1978.
---
Variety
2 Aug 1978.
---
Variety
20 Sep 1978.
---
Variety
20 Feb 1980.
---
Variety
14 May 1980
p. 14.
Village Voice
25 Feb 1980.
---
Village Voice
2 Jun 1980.
---
Wall Street Journal
21 Jul 1980.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Lorimar presents
A Samuel Fuller Film
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
Asst dir
2d asst dir
Israeli prod mgr
2d unit dir
PRODUCER
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Key grip
Best boy
Gaffer
Still photog
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
SET DECORATOR
Prop master
MUSIC
Mus comp and cond
Mus supv
Mus ed
SOUND
Sd mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
MAKEUP
Makeup & hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Loc auditor
Unit pub
Gunsmith
Prod asst
Scr supv
2d unit cont
Casting in France
Horse stunt coord
DETAILS
Release Date:
18 July 1980
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 18 July 1980
Production Date:
winter 1977 in CA
resumed 25 June 1978 in Tel Aviv, Israel
Copyright Claimant:
Lorimar Productions, Inc.
Copyright Date:
30 July 1980
Copyright Number:
PA75255
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Duration(in mins):
113
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In November 1918, the sergeant named Possum barely avoids being injured by a shell-shocked horse on a French battlefield. When a German soldier surrenders, the sergeant kills the soldier with a knife then reports to his captain in a makeshift bunker, located in an abandoned trench. As they talk, the sergeant recalls that he ignored the German soldier’s claim that the war is over, and learns that an armistice was signed four hours earlier. He is haunted by the realization that he accidentally violated the soldier’s code by fighting after peace was declared. The year is now 1942. A red “number one” is the insignia of the U. S. Army First Division, known as “The Fighting First,” and “The Big Red One,” during World War II. On a ship bound for an invasion of North Africa, the sergeant commands a First Division four-man rifle squad with Griff, a sharp shooter, Johnson, a farmer, Vinci, a jazz-playing street kid, and Zab, a writer. The soldiers reach the Algerian beach while a ship loudspeaker issues warnings to Vichy soldiers not to open fire. As the American soldiers take cover, a French colonel gives an order to commence fighting, but one soldier refuses and is shot dead. Griff panics during the battle, while Captain Chapier surrenders due to the death of a French general. Over the loudspeaker, an American commander suggests that the French join the Americans, while saving their surrenders for the German enemy. Afterward, Griff confesses that he is unable to murder people, but the sergeant explains that the army’s philosophy is to kill as animals are killed. Later, the squad engages in a skirmish when they are ... +


In November 1918, the sergeant named Possum barely avoids being injured by a shell-shocked horse on a French battlefield. When a German soldier surrenders, the sergeant kills the soldier with a knife then reports to his captain in a makeshift bunker, located in an abandoned trench. As they talk, the sergeant recalls that he ignored the German soldier’s claim that the war is over, and learns that an armistice was signed four hours earlier. He is haunted by the realization that he accidentally violated the soldier’s code by fighting after peace was declared. The year is now 1942. A red “number one” is the insignia of the U. S. Army First Division, known as “The Fighting First,” and “The Big Red One,” during World War II. On a ship bound for an invasion of North Africa, the sergeant commands a First Division four-man rifle squad with Griff, a sharp shooter, Johnson, a farmer, Vinci, a jazz-playing street kid, and Zab, a writer. The soldiers reach the Algerian beach while a ship loudspeaker issues warnings to Vichy soldiers not to open fire. As the American soldiers take cover, a French colonel gives an order to commence fighting, but one soldier refuses and is shot dead. Griff panics during the battle, while Captain Chapier surrenders due to the death of a French general. Over the loudspeaker, an American commander suggests that the French join the Americans, while saving their surrenders for the German enemy. Afterward, Griff confesses that he is unable to murder people, but the sergeant explains that the army’s philosophy is to kill as animals are killed. Later, the squad engages in a skirmish when they are joined by the Goums, native Berbers on horseback assigned to the First Division. The sergeant warns his squad not to trade cigarettes for German ears because the Goums are also known to cut off the ears of Americans. Meanwhile, the American squad receives orders to head to the Kasserine Pass, a backdoor route aimed at derailing General Erwin Rommel’s attack on the city of Sbiba, Tunisia. The Americans digs individual foxholes in the road to hide, and later, Germans tanks roll over them. After fighting begins, the sergeant is captured and regains consciousness at a temporary hospital in Tunisia set up by the Germans. A German male nurse compliments the sergeant’s hearty constitution, kissing him on the face but when he goes for the lips, the sergeant grabs his throat and nearly kills him. The sergeant urges the patient in the next bed to leave but the soldier is dead. When an American soldier arrives at the hospital, asking all First Division soldiers to identify themselves, the sergeant asks about the outcome at the Kasserine Pass, and the soldier tells him that the Americans have forced Rommel out of Africa. In spite of the news, a skirmish erupts between American and German soldiers in the hospital. The sergeant escapes from the fighting disguised in Arab clothing, and returns to his squad in retreat at the beach. In July 1943, a ship transports the squad to Sicily, Italy, where a heavily defended beach awaits them and chances of survival are poor. When Shep, a replacement soldier, needles the Italian Vinci about not having the guts to fight against his homeland, Vinci thrusts the butt of his rifle in Shep’s mouth, while he and his squad members sing “ O Sole Mio.” Later, on the Sicilian beach, the squad runs out of ammunition, and use the grenades of Smitty, a replacement soldier, to destroy enemy supply trucks. They soon earn a reputation as the “Sergeant’s Four Horsemen.” When Smitty trips a land mine and loses a testicle, the sergeant reassures him that he only needs one to live. The squad takes refuge in a cave, where they watch German panzer tanks roll by, while the squad kills the intruders. Soon, the Americans find a native boy dragging a wooden cart with his mother’s decomposing body who knows where the Germans have hidden a “S.P.” or self-propelled gun with wheels, and they negotiate with him to be their guide. However, the cart travels with the squad because the boy will not leave his mother behind. Through binoculars, the sergeant sees the S.P. protruding from the wall of a building with peasant women farming out front. When a sneak attack by the squad kills several German soldiers, the grateful women cook the soldiers a feast, and a girl decorates the sergeant’s helmet in a garland of flowers. German soldiers spot the sergeant kiss the girl in thanks and a new skirmish begins. The squad survives to be transported to Omaha Beach, in Normandy, France, on D-Day 1944. However, a barbed wire-tank trap blocks the squad’s maneuvers, and they are forced to manually lay down a special weapon in pipe-like sections. Griff completes the job and Zab climbs over dead bodies to deliver the good news to a colonel. Afterward, the squad regroups in a town to catch up on their sleep, play ball and read. Zab notices Kaiser, a replacement soldier, reading a copy of his book, but Kaiser is skeptical that Zab is the author. The sergeant and squad return to the same battlefield, where the sergeant killed the surrendering German soldier during WW I. This time, Schroeder, a German officer, has ordered several of his soldiers to play dead. The sergeant kills three men in a stationary tank, then learns by radio that no reinforcements are available. As the squad walks away, he explains that they are in the middle of a trap with live soldiers. Kaiser shoots a fidgeting German soldier and additional fighting kills several more Germans. Afterward, a wounded Frenchman falls off his motorcycle in the middle of the battlefield, leaving his pregnant wife in labor. The squad moves the Frenchwoman inside the tank, where Johnson uses condoms for gloves and delivers her baby. Schroeder watches and decides not to strike. In September 1944, the squad patrols Belgium with orders to destroy a railway gun housed in a sanitarium. After the sergeant kills the gun operator, the squad shoots more German soldiers eating in the dining hall. Later, Zab encourages Griff to make love to an older redheaded patient whom he desires. Their passionate moans drift over the sleeping soldiers and civilians at night. By October 1944, the squad is stationed in Germany’s Hürtgen Forest. Zab receives word that his novel will be made into a movie with Humphrey Bogart and Edward G. Robinson for $15,000. Shelling interrupts the soldiers’ talk and the sergeant gathers the squad to patrol the area when Kaiser is wounded and dies. The squad is furloughed at a Belgian inn, where Zab organizes a party with girls, but the festivities are cut short as the squad receives orders to go back to France. When they meet up with a People’s army for Hitler, civilians who will not let them pass, a soldier translates the sergeant’s order to move or the army’s leader, Herr Green Shirt, will be shot. Refusals continue until a few shots fired in the air clear a path. Meanwhile, at the countess’s castle, Schroeder wires the property with explosives in hope that Americans will be killed when they establish a headquarters. Later, the countess offers an alternative plan to save her property in which she wounds Schroeder so that he is taken prisoner of war, rewarding him handsomely after the war is over. His response is to kill her. Elsewhere, the American squad unanimously elects to kill a boy, who is a Hitler youth, but when the sergeant orders them to shoot, they back down. Instead, he hits the boy’s bare backside until his cries of “Heil Hitler” turn to cries for his father. In May 1945, the squad is sent to Czechoslovakia, where they liberate a concentration camp with emaciated, Jewish prisoners. Griff opens the iron door of a gas chamber and sees human skeletons covering the dirt floor. Beyond a second door, he finds a German soldier staring at him with a loaded machine gun, and shoots repeatedly. When the gun jams, Griff closes the door. The sergeant offers water to a starved child, who is too weak to eat a piece of cheese. When the boy eats an apple after following the sergeant to a stream, he dies as the sergeant carries him on his shoulders. Schroeder surrenders to the sergeant after reading a flier announcing the war’s end, but the sergeant knifes him not knowing a peace agreement has been signed. When the squad announces the news that the war has been over for four hours, they tend to Schroeder’s wounds and keep him alive. As the sergeant carries Schroeder on his back, Zab vows to dedicate his next book to the survivors who represent the true glory of war. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.