Battle of the Bulge (1965)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Battle of the Bulge</strong> (1965)

(On Cable TV, January 2019) I wonder if there’s an arc to the amount of historical accuracy we expect from real-life events depending on the proximity to those events. Anything made in the ten years following the event must be reasonably exact given that most of the principals (and audiences) are still there to compare notes. (Although this close to the action, things can be slanted toward a specific ideological purpose, or limited by rights issues and/or classified information.) Then there’s a lengthy period in which accuracy is not deemed as important, as memories fade and the era becomes an increasingly loose storytelling playground. Then there’s the longer-term “reverence” period when following the historical record is deemed respectful, especially given the work of professional historians with some detachment. In this progression, Battle of the Bulge would squarely belong to the second, less accurate era. While it does tackle real-life events such as the Ardennes offensive and the logistical challenges of that stage of the war (as opposed to more fanciful WW2 adventures à la Where Eagles Dare or Kelly’s Heroes), the film does so by outrageously compressing events in an unrealistic time period and being shot in a place that looks nothing like the Ardennes. The Wikipedia entry about the film’s historical inaccuracies is a mile long, but you only need a cursory knowledge of the Ardennes counteroffensive (where the forest environment and the cold and sudden snow all played a role, hence the famous anecdotes about Allied forces using white bedsheets as impromptu camouflage) to be taken out of the film’s ambitious but flawed depiction of the events as being in a wide-open plain. This being said, historical accuracy isn’t the ultimate determinant of a film’s worth, and The Battle of the Bulge does fare better when considered as a reality-adjacent WW2 adventure. The Nazis are deliciously devious, the allied are fine folks and the battle (one of the few rare post-Normandy successes for the Axis side) does offer some opportunity for tension and tank engagements. Actors such as Henry Fonda and Robert Shaw add to the appeal, and director Ken Annakin keeps things moving. It’s not a classic war movie but it is a decent one, and should appeal to WW2 buffs even—perhaps especially—given the historical inaccuracies.

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