Cast & Crew
Near St. Lo, France, in 1944, the soldiers of the 3rd Armored Division set out on their mission to pierce the Siegfried line. Lt. Rawson's platoon of five tanks, the best in Capt. Horner's Company C, ride at the head, leading off with the tank California Jane , commanded by Master Sgt. Joe Davis. Although the mission begins successfully, a German Panzer ambushes them, and in the battle, Joe is seriously injured and his driver killed. That evening a replacement for Joe arrives, cocky staff sergeant Francis Aloysius "Sully" Sullivan, who immediately alienates both superiors and subordinates with his tactlessness. Claiming to need a driver with whom he is familiar, Sully gets Horner's reluctant permission to assign the intemperate Sgt. Tucker to be his driver, passing over the platoon's assistant driver, Danny Kolowicz. Before reporting to Rawson as Horner orders, Sully abruptly introduces himself to the men and begins a heartless lecture meant to kick them into shape. He taunts the German-born gunner, Heinrich "Heinie" Weinburger, but is interrupted by Rawson, who dresses him down for disobeying protocol, calling him "a glory-chasing showoff who will get his men killed." Unmoved by the rebuke, Sully claims that ninety-eight percent of deaths are the result of mistakes, which he never makes. The next day, as Horner keeps a distrustful eye on Sully, the company continues its push through France, with Sully in the lead. The men reach Belgium after traveling ninety miles a day, with little rest or praise from the exacting Sully. Germans attack them with a superior tank while they are fording a river, but the men are victorious under Sully's leadership. However, Rawson reprimands Sully for ignoring his orders for information during the battle until Col. Matthews rides up and praises Sully for thinking on his feet. After witnessing the near invincibility of the German tank's armor and cannon, a sensitive mechanic's assistant, George "Ike" Eisenhower, runs away after the battle and shows up at the general's camp wanting to discuss the American tanks' shortcomings. The amiable general of the 3rd Armored Division, who shares Ike's frustration, intimates that a newer tank is expected soon and promises to send the first one he gets to Ike. Satisfied that his concerns were heard, Ike returns to his platoon, where no one believes his story. During the night, the men capture a German general, Von Kolber, who has in his possession the Germans' strategic plans, which Heinie is able to translate. To keep the Germans in the dark about his capture, Sully personally escorts Von Kolber to the general, who, after seeing the papers, reroutes every available man and vehicle to intercept the Germans and thwart their impending attack. When Sully returns to his men, they have scattered to the nearby village, frustrated with his unrelenting harshness. Ordered by Rawson to round them up, Sully rescues Tucker from a bottle of whiskey, finds Heinie on a mysterious personal mission and interrupts Kolowicz and radio man Jerry "Marconi" Whitehouse as they spend time with Belgium village girls. Of the men, Kolowicz is the most resentful and fights Sully, but he makes little impression on the sergeant, who sends them back to their duties. As ordered, Rawson's platoon races to set up a roadblock, and Marconi is assigned to an observation post to report the location of the Germans' approach. However, when the Germans slip through the tankers' cannon fire, Marconi suggests that they shoot closer to his location, risking his own demise from friendly fire. During the shooting, Sully saves Kolowicz, then rescues Marconi, and coincidentally captures several Germans. Impressed by Sully's selflessness and their own growth as combat soldiers under his training, the men find their resentment turning to respect. Later, they are surprised to learn that Sully has recommended Marconi for a medal and then a second surprise arrives in the form of a new tank, which is sent to Ike by the general, as promised. The tankers drive on to liberate several Belgian cities until they reach the "dragon's teeth," where German artillery awaits them. Sully takes the new tank and, while under fire, heroically drives over the line. With the help of Rawson and the other men, the opposing tanks and machine gun artillery are shot down, and the Germans are forced to retreat. Although Sully is now showing signs of warmth and humor, he is suspicious when Heinie goes off alone. Following him to a village, Sully discovers that Heinie has been searching, successfully, for his grandparents. He and Heinie then return to camp with a dog Sully has befriended. As Sully and his men celebrate with a bottle of whiskey, Rawson and Horner show up with news that they have recommended Sully for a promotion. Sully turns it down after considering that the promotion would mean reassignment. Hiding his feelings for the men with his customary bluster, he orders them to load the tank for their next move, but the men no longer resent his gruffness, knowing that Sully takes care of them in his own way.
Robert Hardy Andrews
Lt. Col. Jack Boulger
Maj. Vasco J. Fenili
Leo K. Kuter
D. Ross Lederman
James C. Moore
The Tanks Are Coming
When The Tanks Are Coming went into production in June of 1951, none of these names appeared on the studio call sheet although Paul Picerni, who had enjoyed a supporting role in Breakthrough, was among the contract players flown by Warners to the shooting location at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Also returning was director Lewis Seiler, though the film's original story was credited now to Sam Fuller, a former journalist who would turn his experiences as a rifleman in the US Army's 1st Infantry Division during WWII into a string of hard-hitting combat films, among them The Steel Helmet (1951), Fixed Bayonets! (1951), Merrill's Marauders (1962) and The Big Red One (1980). Replacing Eve Miller as the film's fleeting source of sex appeal was Lithuanian actress Mari Aldon, while Steve Cochran and Philip Carey provided the requisite testosterone as career soldiers who must overcome their personal differences to lead their men to victory.
The only feature film to focus on the wartime accomplishments of the 3rd Armored Division (to which Elvis Presley would be assigned in 1958), The Tanks Are Coming was drawn in large part from the exploits of Sherman tank commander Lafayette G. Pool (1919-1991), who had led Spearhead in Normandy during the war and lost a leg in combat. (The story goes that Pool, a notorious "hard charger" who hated the enemy more than he feared death, tried to cut off his own shattered leg in the field.) As an instructor at Fort Knox's Armored Force School in 1949, the Texas-born Pool had already signed a contract with Universal for the rights to dramatize his wartime experiences when he was approached by Warner Brothers to act as a technical advisor on the set of The Tanks Are Coming. Knox not only turned down Warners but sued to the tune of $1 million for infringement on his intellectual property. The court ruled in favor of the studio, which had protected its asset by changing the names of the dramatis personae. Universal eventually scrapped its plans for its own project, leaving Lafayette Pool soured more by his experiences with Hollywood than he had been by his interaction with the Nazis.
Producer: Bryan Foy
Director: D. Ross Lederman, Lewis Seiler
Screenplay: Robert Hardy Andrews, based on a story by Samuel Fuller
Cinematography: Edwin B. DuPar, Warren Lynch
Art Direction: Leo K. Kuter
Music: William Lava
Film Editing: James Moore
Cast: Steve Cochran (Francis Aloysius 'Sully' Sullivan), Philip Carey (Lt. Rawson), Mari Aldon (Patricia Kane), Paul Picerni (Danny Kolowicz), Harry Bellaver (Lemchek), John McGuire (Col. Matthews).
by Richard Harland Smith
A Third Face: My Tale of Writing, Fighting and Filmmaking by Samuel Fuller, with Christa Lang Fuller and Jerome Henry Rudes (Applause Books, 2004)
The Films of Sam Fuller: If You Die, I'll Kill You by Lisa Dombrowski (Wesleyan University Press, 2008)
Death Traps: The Survival of an American Armored Division in World War II by Belton Y. Cooper (Presidio Press, 2003)
The Tank Killers: A History of America's First World War II Tank Destroyer Force by Harry Yeide (Casemate Books, 2010
"Call Me Spearhead...!: The Association of 3rd Armored Division Veterans," www.3ad.org
The Tanks Are Coming
Voice-over narration is heard intermittently throughout the film. An acknowledgment at the end of the film thanks the Department of Defense and the United States Army for permitting actual combat film to be used, and for aid and cooperation which made the production of the picture possible. According to a November 1950 Los Angeles Times news item, after producer Bryan Foy's success with the 1950 Warner Bros. film Breakthrough, which was based on a story by Joseph Breen, Jr. (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50), Foy was assigned The Tanks Are Coming, another story by Breen. Although Breakthrough cast members David Brian, John Agar and Frank Lovejoy were reportedly reuniting for The Tanks Are Coming, none of those actors were cast.
A December 1950 Daily Variety news item announced that Steve Cochran would play the lead and stated that Samuel Fuller had adapted Breen's story. However, Breen is not credited onscreen and the extent of his contribution to the final film has not been determined. According to May and June 1951 Hollywood Reporter news items, Eve Miller was cast as the female lead, but she did not appear in the final film. A July 1951 Hollywood Reporter news item adds John Bradford to the cast, although his appearance in the film has not been confirmed. Most of the film was shot on location at Fort Knox, KY, according to reviews and Hollywood Reporter news items. According to the Variety review, actual war footage was included in the battle scenes.
Released in United States Fall November 17, 1951
Released in United States Fall November 17, 1951