Red Ball Express


1h 23m 1952

Brief Synopsis

A racially integrated platoon fights to overcome their differences during World War II.

Film Details

Genre
Action
Adventure
War
Release Date
May 1952
Premiere Information
Los Angeles opening: 24 May 1952; New York opening: 29 May 1952
Production Company
Universal-International Pictures Co., Inc.
Distribution Company
Universal Pictures Co., Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Fort Eustis, Virginia, United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 23m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
7,501ft

Synopsis

In July 1944, the United States Army launches a massive invasion to break through German lines into France. At the forefront of the assault, General George Patton's swift moving combat forces outrun Allied supply lines, forcing the Transportation Corps to devise a new method to supply Patton's tanks. Dubbed the "Red Ball Express," a new outfit is formed to truck gasoline and ammunition to the front. When Lt. Chick Campbell is put in charge of the outfit, his subordinate, Sgt. Red Kallek, seethes with resentment because he holds a personal grudge against Campbell. As the men climb into their trucks, Kallek confides to his driving partner that Campbell killed his brother. Campbell teams up with Andrew Robertson, a young black corporal, but when Robertson tries to strike up a conversation, Campbell rebuffs him. As the convoy races to reach Paris, Kallek declares that the company is comprised of misfits and challenges Campbell's authority. After driving for two solid days, the men reach their objective and are ordered to unload the trucks, prompting them to complain about performing manual labor. Without any sleep, the convoy heads back, and one driver, suffering exhaustion, crashes his truck into a tree, forcing the outfit to stop. While they are waiting, Antoinette Dubois, a French girl, peddles her bike along the roadside, and after Private Ronald Partridge greets her, she invites him home to meet her family. Upon discovering that the Dubois have been subsisting on meager crusts of bread and watery soup, Partridge promises to bring them some food. Before Partridge can return, however, his partner, Taffy Smith, a black soldier, is ordered to join the convoy, leaving Partridge behind. Peddling furiously on Antoinette's bike, Partridge finally rejoins Smith. The outfit then continues on to a relief camp. There, Pvt. Wilson calls Robertson a "black boy," sparking racial tensions that result in a fistfight. After Campbell stops the fight, Robertson visits him in his tent and requests a transfer. Declaring that he has not been schooled in race relations, Campbell denies his request. Upon returning to his tent, Robertson complains to his black tentmates, Smith and Pvt. Dave McCord, that Robertson is a racist, but McCord defends the lieutenant. Continuing their mission, the trucks approach a heavily mined area, and although aware of the danger, McCord forges ahead into certain death. After McCord's truck is blown up, Campbell stops to conduct a funeral service for the slain soldier, thus earning the respect of his men. Soon after, the convoy meets a company of armored tanks, and when the tank sergeant derides the truckers as the "Foul Ball Express," the company of misfits finally coalesces to defend their honor. Later, the returning convoy passes Antoinette's house, and Partridge returns her bike and delivers a package of food. When the company pulls out without him again, Partridge is once again forced to peddle his way back. Upon reaching their base, the truckers unload their supplies and Campbell informs Robertson that he has approved his transfer. Robertson, who has developed respect for Campbell, replies that he wants to stay. At the base canteen, Kallek tells Joyce McClellan, a Red Cross worker, that Campbell killed his brother Al. Kallek claims that Campbell and Al were driving a rig through the Rockies when the truck jackknifed, trapping Al in the cab. Finding Campbell standing next to him at the bar, Kallek disparages Campbell's story that he was knocked unconscious and therefore unable to help Al. When Kallek challenges Campbell, the lieutenant orders his arrest. Soon after, the convoy is dispatched on a dangerous mission through German lines and Campbell orders Kallek's release. Along the road, they are pinned down by a German tank and Partridge sacrifices himself by crashing his truck into the tank. Upon discovering that the only road to their objective, a convoy of stranded tanks, runs through a city engulfed in flames, Campbell orders Kalleck to drive the lead truck into the inferno. Losing control of his truck, Kallek crashes his vehicle into a building. Risking his own life, Campbell stops to pull Kalleck from the flames, finally earning his esteem. As the convoy reaches the tanks, it is greeted with cheers. Its mission completed, the convoy begins its trek back to the base. As they near the Dubois house, Smith braces to give Antoinette the sad news about Partridge when he sees Partridge standing along the roadside with Antoinette. After being warmly greeted by his friends, Partridge explains that he was only knocked unconscious in the crash and peddled his way back to Antoinette.

Film Details

Genre
Action
Adventure
War
Release Date
May 1952
Premiere Information
Los Angeles opening: 24 May 1952; New York opening: 29 May 1952
Production Company
Universal-International Pictures Co., Inc.
Distribution Company
Universal Pictures Co., Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Fort Eustis, Virginia, United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 23m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
7,501ft

Articles

Red Ball Express


The U.S. Army was segregated until 1947, with perhaps the most significant exception being the Army Transportation Corps, which allowed black soldiers to work alongside whites during WWII. (Very few blacks ever fought on the front lines.) Red Ball Express (1952) depicts the most famous Army Transportation Corps mission of the war: an emergency around-the-clock plan to supply Gen. George Patton's tanks with gas and ammo as they raced toward Paris with lightning speed. The tanks moved so quickly, in fact, that they outran their supply lines more than once.

In real life, the so-called "Red Ball Express" was organized by Maj. Gen. Frank Ross. In the movie, for which Ross served as technical advisor, the Red Ball Express' commander is Lt. Chick Campbell, played by Jeff Chandler, and he must whip into shape his mix of jaded veterans and raw recruits as they carry out the operation. As if the job itself isn't difficult enough, Chandler must also deal with a spiteful sergeant (Alex Nicol) and a black corporal who feels he is being discriminated against (Sidney Poitier). This was only Poitier's third film appearance, after No Way Out (1950) and Cry, the Beloved Country (1951), and he was singled out by critics for his forceful portrayal. ("A standout," Variety declared.)

Red Ball Express may be a routine 'B' programmer, but it adroitly combines action, drama and humor, which is a hallmark of Budd Boetticher, the director. Boetticher had recently made his first personal film, Bullfighter and the Lady (1951), on which he had finally been able to put his own stamp, and now he was churning out a quick run of impersonal though accomplished genre films at Universal. Red Ball Express was one of the few non-westerns of this period, though like all the others it was a male-oriented adventure. Still a few years away were Boetticher's most famous movies (Seven Men from Now [1956] and The Tall T [1957] among them), and they, too, managed a masterful mix of action and humor.

Red Ball Express was one of Alex Nicol's first movies. He'd go on to play more supporting roles as tough guys in television and feature films (most prominently The Man from Laramie, 1955, with James Stewart), and he later directed some television episodes as well for such series as Daniel Boone, The Wild, Wild West and The D.A..

For Sidney Poitier, Red Ball Express marked a significant turning point in his career even though it was a supporting role. In his biography This Life, he recalled, "When the details of the contract that guaranteed me four weeks of employment were finalized, off I went to Hollywood for the second time. As unbelievable as it seemed to me, there was no escaping the fact that I was even more excited the second time around. I was in Hollywood, and more to the point, I was working in front of a camera. After the assistant director had called for quiet on my first morning of work, I became suddenly aware of something very special happening inside of me. It seemed as if an unknown valve had opened up somewhere down in my gut, sending juices rushing to my brain and from there filling my whole body with an exhilaration that somehow appeared to be completely in sync with the gentle humming sounds coming from the activated cameras. Before that morning was over, I realized how much I have missed acting in the movies; I was hooked deeper than I had allowed myself to admit. By the end of those four weeks there was no denying that I had gotten as used to moviemaking as a duck to water."

Producer: Aaron Rosenberg
Director: Budd Boetticher
Screenplay: Billy Grady, Jr., John Michael Hayes, Marcy Klauber
Cinematography: Maury Gertsman
Film Editing: Edward Curtiss
Art Direction: Bernard Herzbrun, Richard H. Riedel
Music: Milton Rosen, Frank Skinner
Cast: Jeff Chandler (Lt. Chick Campbell), Alex Nicol (Sgt. Kallek), Charles Drake (Pvt. Ronald Partridge), Judith Braun (Joyce McClellan), Sidney Poitier (Cpl. Andrew Robertson), Jacqueline Duval (Antoinette Dubois).
BW-83m.

by Jeremy Arnold
Red Ball Express

Red Ball Express

The U.S. Army was segregated until 1947, with perhaps the most significant exception being the Army Transportation Corps, which allowed black soldiers to work alongside whites during WWII. (Very few blacks ever fought on the front lines.) Red Ball Express (1952) depicts the most famous Army Transportation Corps mission of the war: an emergency around-the-clock plan to supply Gen. George Patton's tanks with gas and ammo as they raced toward Paris with lightning speed. The tanks moved so quickly, in fact, that they outran their supply lines more than once. In real life, the so-called "Red Ball Express" was organized by Maj. Gen. Frank Ross. In the movie, for which Ross served as technical advisor, the Red Ball Express' commander is Lt. Chick Campbell, played by Jeff Chandler, and he must whip into shape his mix of jaded veterans and raw recruits as they carry out the operation. As if the job itself isn't difficult enough, Chandler must also deal with a spiteful sergeant (Alex Nicol) and a black corporal who feels he is being discriminated against (Sidney Poitier). This was only Poitier's third film appearance, after No Way Out (1950) and Cry, the Beloved Country (1951), and he was singled out by critics for his forceful portrayal. ("A standout," Variety declared.) Red Ball Express may be a routine 'B' programmer, but it adroitly combines action, drama and humor, which is a hallmark of Budd Boetticher, the director. Boetticher had recently made his first personal film, Bullfighter and the Lady (1951), on which he had finally been able to put his own stamp, and now he was churning out a quick run of impersonal though accomplished genre films at Universal. Red Ball Express was one of the few non-westerns of this period, though like all the others it was a male-oriented adventure. Still a few years away were Boetticher's most famous movies (Seven Men from Now [1956] and The Tall T [1957] among them), and they, too, managed a masterful mix of action and humor. Red Ball Express was one of Alex Nicol's first movies. He'd go on to play more supporting roles as tough guys in television and feature films (most prominently The Man from Laramie, 1955, with James Stewart), and he later directed some television episodes as well for such series as Daniel Boone, The Wild, Wild West and The D.A.. For Sidney Poitier, Red Ball Express marked a significant turning point in his career even though it was a supporting role. In his biography This Life, he recalled, "When the details of the contract that guaranteed me four weeks of employment were finalized, off I went to Hollywood for the second time. As unbelievable as it seemed to me, there was no escaping the fact that I was even more excited the second time around. I was in Hollywood, and more to the point, I was working in front of a camera. After the assistant director had called for quiet on my first morning of work, I became suddenly aware of something very special happening inside of me. It seemed as if an unknown valve had opened up somewhere down in my gut, sending juices rushing to my brain and from there filling my whole body with an exhilaration that somehow appeared to be completely in sync with the gentle humming sounds coming from the activated cameras. Before that morning was over, I realized how much I have missed acting in the movies; I was hooked deeper than I had allowed myself to admit. By the end of those four weeks there was no denying that I had gotten as used to moviemaking as a duck to water." Producer: Aaron Rosenberg Director: Budd Boetticher Screenplay: Billy Grady, Jr., John Michael Hayes, Marcy Klauber Cinematography: Maury Gertsman Film Editing: Edward Curtiss Art Direction: Bernard Herzbrun, Richard H. Riedel Music: Milton Rosen, Frank Skinner Cast: Jeff Chandler (Lt. Chick Campbell), Alex Nicol (Sgt. Kallek), Charles Drake (Pvt. Ronald Partridge), Judith Braun (Joyce McClellan), Sidney Poitier (Cpl. Andrew Robertson), Jacqueline Duval (Antoinette Dubois). BW-83m. by Jeremy Arnold

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

The film opens with a voice-over narration delivered by Charles Drake as "Pvt. Partridge," outlining the 1944 Allied invasion to free Europe. The title credit does not appear until Partridge's narration is completed, about fifteen minutes into the film. The onscreen production and cast credits are withheld until the end of the film. The picture closes with the following written acknowledgment: "We gratefully acknowledge the cooperation of the Department of Defense, the Transportation Corps of the Army and the Virginia National Guard in the making of this motion picture."
       As depicted in the film, the Red Ball Express, formally known as the 371st Quartermaster Truck Company of the Army Transportation Corps, was a division of 6,000 trucks formed by Major General Frank Ross, the film's technical adviser, to rush ammunition, gasoline and other supplies through enemy held territory to General George Patton's tanks. The division included many African American soldiers. According to the Hollywood Reporter review, location scenes for this picture were shot at Fort Eustis, VA, the headquarters of the Army Transportation Corps. Although a Hollywood Reporter production chart places Susan Cabot and Richard Garland in the cast, their participation in the released film has not been confirmed.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States on Video May 14, 1996

Released in United States Spring May 1952

Released in United States Spring May 1952

Released in United States on Video May 14, 1996