Cast & Crew
During the Korean War, a beleagured American Army division is forced to retreat, and the general in charge decides to station a 48-man platoon in a strategic mountain pass to prevent the enemy from learning about the move until after it is completed. The "rearguard action" is headed by Lt. Gibbs and sergeants Rock and Lonergan, who march their men toward the pass. During the march, Corp. Denno, a well-trained yet fearful soldier, is unable to kill a single enemy, despite past successes in shooting at a large number of oncoming men. Upon reaching the pass, the soldiers plan their fortifications, including laying a mine field on the pass ground and establishing lookout posts. The men bemoan the lack of dry socks and warm food, while Denno converses with Rock, who cautions him that despite his fear of leadership, there are only three men above him, and he will have to take command of the platoon if they are killed. The enemy attacks but the platoon responds quickly, and discovers a cave large enough for all the men to take cover in. Soon after, Gibbs is killed by a sniper, and Denno is haunted by the thought that now only two men stand between him and command. That night, Denno confesses to Rock that when he was in officers' training school, he twice gave unsafe orders that resulted in serious injuries to his men. Rock reassures Denno that he will be able to cope and advises him that the only thing he should rely on is his gun. In the morning, the men are awakened by the loud bugle calls of the enemy, and Whitey, a soldier christened "Mr. Belvedere" by his comrades because of his know-it-all attitude, explains that the Chinese are attempting to cause the Americans psychological distress. Rock sends Whitey and another soldier to steal one of the bugles, and although they succeed, Whitey's companion is injured. As the medic tends to the wounded man, Lonergan searches for soldier Bigmouth, who was not at his post. Lonergan soon finds Bigmouth, who has slipped into unconsciousness due to the cold, but as he is bringing him back, Lonergan is shot by a sniper. When the medic tries to cross the minefield to rescue Lonergan, he steps on a mine and is killed. Desperate to save Lonergan and avoid coming closer to command, Denno risks his life to traverse the minefield and retrieve the sergeant, but Lonergan is dead by the time Denno carries him back. The next day, the Chinese ambush one of the lookout posts and force the rest of the Americans into hiding in the cave. With only an hour to go before they can follow the main company and retreat, the men grow edgy and worry about ricochets within the cave. Their fear is realized when Rock is hit and killed by a sniper's ricocheting bullet, and Denno must face his worst fears and assume command of the platoon. Denno orders the men to wait until the appointed hour, but as they are about to decamp, they hear an approaching tank. Realizing that the enemy has figured out the rearguard strategy, Denno decides to blow up the tank in the pass so that the Chinese cannot follow the retreating troops. The men succeed in blowing up the tank with a bazooka, but are soon embroiled in a major battle with the enemy. Meanwhile, the main division succeeds in their retreat and blows up the bridge leading to their new position. As the soldiers set up camp, they see some men swimming across the river. Holding their fire, they recognize the battle-tested Denno and his remaining men, who have triumphed over their opponents. With his confidence restored, Denno remembers Rock telling him, "You ain't a corporal for nothing, corporal."
Captain Raymond Harvey Congressional Medal Of Honor, United States Army
Harry M. Leonard
Fred J. Rode
Fixed Bayonets - Samuel Fuller's FIXED BAYONETS on DVD
That's the setup for Fixed Bayonets! (1951), an exceptional combat movie from the great writer-director Samuel Fuller. A gruff, colorful, cigar-chomping combat veteran of World War II, Fuller made noirs, westerns and war movies, but really they were all war movies in the forceful approach of their visuals and the bluntness of their dialogue - no matter the subject.
The credits declare that this film is "suggested by" a John Brophy novel. Technically, this refers to The Immortal Sergeant, which was made into a solid Henry Fonda movie by Fox in 1942, but the only remnant of Brophy's tale here is the inclusion of a character who fears greater responsibility in combat. Fixed Bayonets! is essentially a Sam Fuller original.
Fuller himself later wrote: "My yarn included stuff I'd lived through on the front lines, such as the risk of frostbite in freezing weather, an officer's misgivings about having to order his men into danger, and a soldier's fear about pulling the trigger. 'You take care of her,' says one of my characters, looking at his M1, 'and she'll take care of you.' I'd heard my sergeant say that again and again.
"I firmly believed that the only way to honor GIs at war was by showing the truth. There's nothing romantic about the infantry. If you survive, you'll be proud of having been a foot soldier until the day you die. As it turned out, the army would request permission to show Fixed Bayonets! in their own training schools."
Sure enough, while the plot of this movie is well designed and absorbing, it's the little details of the grunts' existence which prove most memorable. A scene which reveals one man to have frostbite is unforgettably chilling because of the way Fuller sets up the reveal. Another turns out to be surely the best "rescuing-a-man-in-a-minefield" scene ever shot - hugely suspenseful and, in the end, ironic.
There's also humor in unexpected places, and a captivating performance by Gene Evans, who was a favorite of Fuller's. He plays the third-in-command, but he's really the most seasoned and knowledgeable guy in the platoon. He's gruff, forceful, and instantly likable. The fourth-ranking soldier is played by Richard Basehart, who is perpetually fearful that the top three men will die and he will have no choice but to assume command. Basehart must also overcome his fear of killing: "You're not aiming at a man," Evans tells him. "You're aiming at the enemy. Once you're over that hump, you're a rifleman."
The idea of tricking the enemy through staged combat, as in this movie, is always a provocative device in that it asks the audience to consider that combat itself is in many ways like a game. The device pops up in other war movies as disparate as Beau Geste (1939), Hell is For Heroes (1962), Play Dirty (1969) and A Midnight Clear (1992), and often it carries a movie to the realm of metaphor. Fixed Bayonets! remains pretty straightforward, with the focus on the terror of being so outnumbered and on doing what is necessary to simply survive.
That said, the movie does possess an almost ethereal quality, something film historian Jeanine Basinger has labeled "magic and eloquence... a kind of mystical presence." It's expressed in moments such as the larger company's departure, when they leave the rear guard behind as "On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away" plays faintly on the soundtrack. It's also in the film's overall conceit of concentrating on an arena completely cut off from the larger Korean War as a whole; for much of the film we're only in a cave. Some of this was undoubtedly the result of the film's low budget, but Fuller was an intelligent filmmaker who knew how to channel his limitations into powerful strengths.
As Fuller recalled in his autobiography, he told Fox studio chief Darryl Zanuck, "I want to shoot the entire picture on one goddamned hill covered in snow." Zanuck agreed. Fuller's previous movie, the combat classic The Steel Helmet (1951), had been such a gigantic independent hit that every studio in town now wanted Sammy Fuller on its payroll. 20th Century-Fox won the battle because Fuller took an instant liking to Zanuck, whom Fuller later wrote was "the only mogul who didn't talk about money."
Lucien Ballard's gorgeous black-and-white cinematography has been well-transferred to DVD by Fox Home Entertainment, and the soundtrack is clean. Extras include a trailer (in good technical shape) and a gallery of production stills. Fixed Bayonets! is part of the ongoing "Fox War Classics" series of DVDs, which are reasonably priced and are now starting to include lesser-known but very worthy titles like this one. Others on the way in spring 2007 include Tonight We Raid Calais (1943), Hell and High Water (1954) and Sailor of the King (1953).
Making his first feature film appearance in Fixed Bayonets!, in a tiny uncredited role at the end of the picture, is James Dean. Fuller remembered him as "a young, sensitive kid in his first movie. I liked his face and gave him a crack. I hoped it would bring him luck."
For more information about Fixed Bayonets, visit Fox Home Entertainment To order Fixed Bayonets, go to TCM Shopping.
by Jeremy Arnold
Fixed Bayonets - Samuel Fuller's FIXED BAYONETS on DVD
The working titles of this film were Old Soldiers Never Die and Rearguard. Before the picture's opening credits, a written prologue states: "This is the story of American troops in Korea early in 1951. It is dedicated to the Queen of Battles-the United States Infantry. We give our grateful thanks to the Department of the Army for its encouragement, advice and active cooperation in the preparation and production of this picture." According to contemporary sources, the working title Old Soldiers Never Die was inspired by the 1951 speech made by General Douglas MacArthur before a Joint session of Congress upon his retirement. In the speech, he quoted words from the "barracks ballad" asserting that "old soldiers never die, they just fade away." Several news items noted that a number of film companies were interested in using the title, while a May 14, 1951 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that the Twentieth Century-Fox picture would not be directly based on MacArthur's life, despite the use of the title. In July 1951, Time reported that Twentieth Century-Fox "dropped" the title Old Soldiers Never Die, which it now claimed was "not suitable."
Although the onscreen credits state that the picture was "suggested by" John Brophy's novel The Immortal Sergeant, a modern interview with director and writer Samuel Fuller reports that the screenplay was based on Fuller's original story. Fuller asserted that the stories had nothing in common, and that studio production head Darryl F. Zanuck decided to credit the Brophy novel because it also dealt with a timid soldier. [In 1943, Twentieth Century-Fox released Immortal Sergeant, which was based directly on Brophy's novel, directed by John M. Stahl and starring Henry Fonda. For more information, see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50.]
According to a May 1951 Hollywood Reporter news item, the film was originally to star Gary Merrill, Rory Calhoun, Robert Wagner and Jeffrey Hunter. A July 16, 1951 Daily Variety news item reported that Merrill was replaced by Gene Evans at the request of Fuller, who had recently worked with Evans in the 1951 film The Steel Helmet (see below). An August 1951 New York Times article claimed that Fuller "coaxed" technical advisor Capt. Raymond Harvey into taking an acting role in the picture, but Harvey's appearance in the film has not been confirmed. Hollywood Reporter news items include the following actors in the cast, but their appearance in the released picture has also not been confirmed: Dudley Ross, Frank Belt, Patrick Holmes, Steve Wayne, Greg Rogers, William Lundmark, Jack Morrow, Tommy Walker, Bill Hickman and Kaine Shaw. An August 1951 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that Fuller specially wrote a part for actor Patrick Fitzgibbon, who served with him during World War II. Fixed Bayonets marked the screen debut of Paul Richards.
Released in United States August 6, 1991
Released in United States Winter December 1951
Released in United States August 6, 1991 (Shown in New York City (Film Forum: Sam Fuller Retrospective) August 6, 1991.)
Released in United States Winter December 1951