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The Battle of Neretva was originally released in Yugoslavia in 1969 under the Yugoslavian title Bitka Na Neretvi, which had a running time of 175 minutes. After extensive editing, a 102 minute American version in the English language was released in the U.S. by American International Pictures and opened in Los Angeles on April 30, 1971. That version was produced by Steve Previn with a new score by Bernard Herrmann, which was played by The London Philharmonic Orchestra. The print viewed was a video release of the American version. Most American reviews combined credit information for the Yugoslavian and American versions; the credits above reflect onscreen credits for the American version.
According to news items, working titles for the American version of the film included The Battle of the Neretva, The Battle on the River Neretva and The Battle of the River Neretva. Many of the names credited onscreen were spelled differently in other sources. Several of the main characters are shown briefly in the beginning of the film in battle scenes and conferences with officers, but do not figure into the story until later in the film.
Although the film's credits include a 1970 copyright statement for Commonwealth United Entertainment, Inc. and Yugoslavia Film, the picture was not registered for copyright at the time of its release. However, Commonwealth United Entertainment's video edition of the film was registered for copyright on October 14, 1994 under the number PA-769-128.
During the opening credits, Partisan troops and innocent civilians are being slaughtered by dozens of bombs. The battle scenes continue as voice-over narration explains that the Partisan forces led by Marshal Josip Broz Tito are attempting to prevent the German invasion of the Balkans during World War II. The narration adds that Nazi forces supplemented their 200,000 troops with Italian soldiers and Serbian Chetniks and other pro-Nazi Bolsheviks, outnumbering the Partisan forces ten to one.
Although Tito is not pictured onscreen, his orders for the Partisan forces are referred to throughout the film. At the close of the film, voice-over narration dedicates the film to all of the people who made the defeat of the Nazi forces possible, explaining that out of the thousands of deaths, the new nation of Yugoslavia was born.
As described in the film's narration, Marshal Josip Broz Tito (1892-1980) ruled over Yugoslavia, a country formed out of various independent states, during World War II. The Partisan guerrilla tactics and maneuvers lead to the defeat of Nazi forces after several battles, including the battle at the Neretva River, which lies in southwestern Yugoslavia.
The Battle of Neretva had a long and complicated production and distribution history that resulted in variations of running times and credits for the two different versions. Because of the difficulty in obtaining funding for such a large-scale film, initial funding was provided by United Yugoslavia Producers Film Production Organization, a consortium of Yugoslavian film production companies including Jadran Films of Zagreb and Bosna Films of Sarajevo. According to a November 16, 1968 Variety article, six Yugoslavian film production companies were involved in the consortium, each one representing a different republic in the country; however, no additional Yugoslavian film companies were listed in reviews and news items. Additional funding was provided by Eichberg Films of Munich and Igor Films of Rome.
An August 11, 1967 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that the film was to be directed by Veljo Bulajic with the advice of Italian screenwriter and director Elio Petri and Italian screenwriter Sergio Amidei; however, no additional information about the involvement of Petri and Amidei has been determined. The article also noted that Kirk Douglas, Ugo Tognazzi, Curt Jurgens and Romy Schneider were to star in the film, but Douglas, Tognazzi and Schneider were not in the completed version.
On November 27, 1967, Daily Variety reported that Bulajic had also originally considered Van Heflin for a role in the film and planned to begin shooting that Dec. According to a August 14, 1968 Variety article, Columbia Pictures was considering U.S. distribution of the film, which had been shooting throughout 1968, with Yugoslavian and American versions being made simultaneously. On November 13, 1968 Hollywood Reporter reported that Commonwealth United Entertainment, Inc., a company owned by Henry T. Weinstein and Anthony B. Unger, had secured U.S. distribution for the film and was involved in its production. According to the December 10, 1969 Variety review, Commonwealth was responsible for increasing Yul Brynner's participation in the film. Hollywood Reporter reported on December 8, 1969 that Brynner and other members of the cast were in dubbing and looping sessions for the American version of the film.
Along with Brynner, the film featured an international cast that included Russian director and actor Sergei Bondarcuk, Italian actor Franco Nero, Yugoslavian actress Silva Koscina, American director and actor Orson Welles, British actor Anthony Dawson and German actor Hardy Kruger. The August 14, 1968 Variety article noted that more than 150,000 extras were used in the making of the film, along with 6,000 Yugoslavian troops. Modern sources add the following persons to the cast: Faruk Begolli, Vasa Pantelic, Bozidar Smiljanic, Abdurrahman Shala, Demeter Bitenc, Ranko Gucevac, Milos Kandic, Zaim Muzaferija, Tomaz Sarc, Goran Smigic, Risto Siskov and Antun Tudic. An AMPAS document found in AMPAS Library file on the film lists Studio Barrandov, a Czechoslovakian film studio located in Prague, as a participant in the film's production, but the exact nature of the studio's involvement remains undetermined.
The Battle of Neretva was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film in 1969, but lost to the Algerian film Z. For more information about the Chetniks during World War II see the entry for the 1943 film Chetniks!