In 1977, Sam Peckinpah directed his only war movie – Cross of Iron – starring James Coburn as German Sergeant Rolf Steiner. Two years later, Andrew V. McLaglen was handed the reins of a sequel, and Richard Burton takes over the role of Steiner. This time out Steiner is prowling around a German village on secret orders of General Hoffmann (Curt Jurgens) – awaiting word that Hitler has been assassinated so they can make a surrender of the entire German army. On the other side of the line, Col Rogers (Robert Mitchum) is prowling around near that German village, working hard to find out what kind of anti-tank capabilities his tank corp is likely to encounter when they invade that village under orders from General Webster (Rod Steiger).
I haven’t seen Cross of Iron, so I have nothing to compare Breakthrough to, but there’s every indication that Cross of Iron is the better of the two movies. Breakthrough combines a fine cast with a production that might have been a little low budgeted for its aspirations. The war action is well handled for all of that – director McLaglen can be depended on for that at least - but the dramatics don’t really go anywhere. Burton makes a pretty game try, but he is too old for the role of Sgt. Steiner. Reports indicate his drinking problem was so heavy here that he periodically had to be carried to set – but I honestly saw no signs of him being drunk on camera – so if he was toodling he hid it well. He has one standout scene where he finds a wounded German soldier left by his squad and not helped to safety as an artillery strike decimates their surroundings – Burton scoops the guy up and carries him down to the relative safety of the cellar the rest of the squad is hiding in. It’s a really nice moment, and if more of the movie could have been like this single scene this might have been a gem of a movie. Of the other actors, Mitchum is stoic as usual – which could be interpreted as quiet cool or paycheck indifference – and honestly, I’ve never been able to figure out which it is. I like him either way, though, so maybe it doesn’t matter. Steiger manages to make a hearty dinner out of his three scenes – chewing the scenery as usual, which is par for the course for him at this stage in his career. The German performers fare better, though most are given one dimensional roles. The two actors who manage to make their time on camera shine are Curd Jurgens as the ill fated General Hoffmann and Michael Parks as Mitchum’s sidekick. The Austrian location shooting works pretty well, though maybe not to those more familiar with German geography.
I’m also confused by the running time here – listed in every resource as 115 minutes – but my VHS tape ended at about 93 minutes – no idea what was edited out – but in the end, the movie seemed long enough and there were no noticeable missing chunks. If you’re looking for some generic WWII action this movie will serve – lots of machine gun fire, tank action, and explosions – but if you require dramatic suspense along with the booms you might want to look elsewhere.
Until next post, you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!