Cast & Crew
In Europe, during World War II, three U.S. Army infantry soldiers--leader Carter, Small and Ferguson--who are trying to return to their squad's camp, are pinned down by an enemy machine-gun nest. Coke, another soldier who has become separated from the squad, arrives at the camp, which is in the basement of an abandoned building, and as sporadic gunfire continues outside, frets about the others. Soldier Collucci awakens from dreaming of a beautiful woman and advises the nervous Coke to remain calm. Near the machine-gun nest, Carter, Ferguson and Small make a planned dash, but Small goes the wrong way and becomes trapped in a huge crater just in front of the nest. Coke anxiously greets the other members of the squad, Sgt. Mooney, Sapiros and Muller, and Mooney complains about the squad having been split up during their patrol.
Walsh, a messenger from the main camp, brings a package for Muller and reveals that rumors are circulating that after seventeen days the division will be pulling out that evening. The squad greets Muller's fruit cake from home with enthusiasm, then grows serious when Carter returns with Ferguson and reports that Small is trapped in the shell hole. The men reflect on why Small, a clumsy, well-meaning man, married with children, volunteered for the Army, and Muller insists on saving a slice of cake for him. Coke presses Mooney to return to rescue Small, but Carter explains that he and Ferguson tried to provide Small with ample cover, but his position was too precarious. Carter suggests that Small will have a better chance to escape at nightfall and can then easily catch up with the division. Unconvinced, Mooney reports to Lt. Crane to request permission to send out a rescue party. Unaware of the division's new orders to pull out, Crane tells Mooney that he must confirm the orders with Capt. Trelawny, and will then advise Mooney.
Back in the squad's basement, Collucci falls into another reverie imagining himself irresistible to numerous beautiful women while Muller continues to guard the remaining piece of fruit cake. When an impatient Coke lunges outside, intending to go after Small, Mooney intervenes and Carter attempts to placate them both. A sudden burst of machine-gun fire in the distance quiets the bickering men. Crane sets off for Trelawny's headquarters but is shot down by an enemy sniper. As the afternoon wears on, Coke grumbles about their inactivity and the bad luck of breaking up the original squad, until Carter offers to go to Trelawny directly. Carter returns to inform the men of Crane's death and Trelawny's refusal to allow them to go after Small. Incensed, Mooney then goes out to confront the captain. Trelawny informs Mooney that he must consider the safety of all the men under his command, not just one, and refuses the rescue request again. Frustrated by the decision, Mooney nevertheless returns to camp, where he and Coke replace Sapiros and Ferguson on guard duty.
While Collucci continues to eye the remaining piece of fruit cake, Ferguson falls asleep and dreams of marrying his hometown sweetheart. Mooney and Coke continue arguing about Trelawny's orders until they realize they have not heard the machine-gun in some time and wonder if Small is dead. Hunter, another messenger from the main camp, arrives to advise the men that they have thirty minutes before the official pull-out. Suddenly the men hear a burst from the machine-gun and, galvanized, Mooney orders Muller to get the mortar. Mooney places Sapiros and Ferguson back on guard duty, orders Collucci and Carter to remain in camp and goes after Small with Muller and Coke.
A short time later, Trelawny hears the mortar and machine-gun fire and angrily goes to Mooney's camp. When an abrupt silence falls, Carter and Collucci listen anxiously. Trelawny arrives and demands to know why Carter allowed Mooney to disobey orders and risk more men to rescue Small. Carter admits he agrees with Mooney's decision and when Trelawny presses him, Carter declares that the men are bound closer than a family and feel an overwhelming necessity to remain together, whether dead or alive. Mooney and the others return to report that despite their efforts they were unable to get near Small. Coke is unconvinced that Small is dead, but Mooney wearily orders the men to pack, as they are already late for the pull-out. Unknown to the others, Collucci decides to go out to look for Small.
When he kills the sniper, the others hear the shot and realize what has happened. Collucci throws several grenades at the machine-gun nest until, climbing atop an abandoned tank, he gets clear aim and hurls a grenade directly into the nest. Back in the camp, the other men stand about expectantly until Trelawny returns, furious, to order them to pull out. Collucci then arrives with a limping Small and, to the men's amazement, reveals that Small suffered a twisted ankle and slept the entire day in the shell hole, oblivious to the gunfire and excitement around him. Trelawny departs without further comment as the squad members grow infuriated at Small's passivity. As the incredulous men gather their equipment and prepare to leave, Collucci eats the last piece of fruit cake.
Eight Iron Men
The exact time and place of this story is not defined - it's an unspecified location in war-torn Europe - and the result is a film more focused on philosophical and moral issues than combat. As producer Stanley Kramer wrote in his memoirs years later, "What made Eight Iron Men attractive to me, what made it more than a war picture, was the undercurrent of a search for such elusive qualities as right and wrong, loyalty and honor." The movie furthermore tries to make the audience sense the day-to-day banality and tedium of war - always a tricky subject in the movies because the last thing anyone wants is for the audience to simply be bored.
Casting was a big problem for Kramer. He had assurances that Lancaster and Lovejoy would be willing to reprise their stage roles for the movie. "What I didn't anticipate," he later wrote, "was that by the time I was able to get a shooting date and hire a cast, both Lovejoy and Lancaster were committed to other projects. There went my chance to make a picture with a certifiable star, Lancaster, and an excellent, well-known costar."
Director Edward Dmytryk was also none too thrilled at having a cast of essentially unknowns, but Lee Marvin made up for a lot - in front of and behind the camera. Dmytryk wrote in his autobiography, "Lee was fresh from the Marine Corps - almost. He [had] a highly developed observational ability. He re-dressed our entire squad until it really looked like a group of working GIs. He could imitate the sound of every type and caliber of shell, and he showed me the way men really died on the battlefield and how their bodies looked in death."
The machine gun, Dmytryk continued, "was authentically German, and...it always jammed when we needed it most. The gun experts who had rented it to us could do little with it. After two or three frustrating days, Lee, who had served only in the Pacific, said, 'Let me take a look at it.' He spread out a sheet, took the gun completely apart in a few minutes, then reassembled it. It never jammed again. Some men have a way with dogs, some with kids. Lee had a way with war."
Taking on another main role was Bonar Colleano, a U.S.-born actor who grew up in England and spent almost his entire career there. Traveling to Hollywood for this movie, he did not make a dent and returned to the U.K. He made more British movies and died in a car accident six years later. He was popular enough in England that his death was front-page news.
Much to Kramer's and Dmytryk's disappointment, Eight Iron Men never found an audience. Dmytryk noted wryly, "[It] was well liked by the critics. Unfortunately, they get in free."
Some final notes: Lee Marvin would make four more movies for Stanley Kramer. Weirdly enough, Eight Iron Men's working title was The Dirty Dozen. Look for former child actor Dickie Moore as one of the soldiers.
Producer: Edna Anhalt, Stanley Kramer
Director: Edward Dmytryk
Screenplay: Harry Brown
Cinematography: J. Roy Hunt
Film Editing: Aaron Stell
Music: Leith Stevens
Cast: Bonar Colleano (Pvt. Collucci), Arthur Franz (Carter), Lee Marvin (Sgt. Joe Mooney), Richard Kiley (Pvt. Coke), Nick Dennis (Pvt. Sapiros), James Griffith (Pvt. Ferguson).
by Jeremy Arnold
Eight Iron Men
The working titles of the film were The Dirty Dozen and The Sound of Hunting. The film was based on Harry Brown's 1945 play A Sound of Hunting, which featured Burt Lancaster in the Broadway production. Although the play ran for only three weeks, Lancaster received attention from Hollywood and made his screen debut the following year in The Killers (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50). According to an April 1949 New York Times news item, Franchot Tone was to appear in and direct the film, which would star Glenn Ford and Lew Ayres. RKO was mentioned as a possible distributor at that time. Bonar Colleano, an American actor who had appeared in a number of British film productions, made his American film debut in Eight Iron Men. Alan Nichol, Paul Gilbert and Gene Reynolds starred in the Lux Radio Theatre version of Eight Iron Men, broadcast on May 12, 1955.