Thursday, September 30, 2010

Fixed Bayonets!

Samuel Fuller's second film on the Korean War, Fixed Bayonets! (1951) was his first studio film, the studio being Twentieth Century-Fox. Fuller was on great terms with Darryl F. Zanuck, Vice President in Charge of Production at Fox. Despite being a big studio production, Fixed Bayonets! is still a low budget film with a personal touch. Like I Shot Jesse James and The Baron of Arizona, this is the story of an anti-hero, a coward, Corporal Denno (Richard Basehart) who is afraid to shoot and afraid to lead, yet he becomes the commander of the platoon in charge of desperate rearguard action on a mountain in the winter war of Korea. Revisiting Samuel Fuller's films I watch them less and less as action films and more and more as films about psychology under extreme pressure. Here again the extreme close-ups of the men in mortal danger are very moving. I also realize that Fuller's films are not about action but about ideas dramatized in action. In this film the idea is the dubiosity of heroism. There is a Biblical quality in Fuller's films. He has experienced things, he has something to tell, there is a sense of urgency in the way he tells it, and somehow it all has to do with redemption.

The Finnish writer Väinö Linna wrote the definitive Finnish war novel The Unknown Soldier. Matti Salo was the first to have the insight that American war movies may have had a strong influence on Linna. I don't know if Linna saw Fixed Bayonets!, but it was released in Finland in 1952, just when Linna was writing his novel. Denno's monologue about his fear of shooting has an affinity with Kariluoto in a memorable episode where he fights his own fear in frontline action. There is even a certain affinity of Richard Basehart's performance as Denno with Matti Ranin's interpretation of Kariluoto in the film version of The Unknown Soldier (1955).

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