Battleground (1949)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Battleground</strong> (1949)

(On Cable TV, February 2019) Hollywood produced a lot of war movies during WW2, and most of those movies were a conscious propaganda effort to raise morale and justify support for the troops. Predictably, this drive almost vanished as the war wound down. (1946’s The Best Years of Our Lives was a sobering capstone to that period.) Hollywood soon turned to other matters, but within a few years the drive to portray the sometimes-heroic, sometimes-frightening experiences of World War II was once again a moneymaker. Battleground, freed from the constraints of propaganda, was ready to explore a slightly more nuanced territory. While it’s clearly from the “war is an adventure” school of thought rather than the “war is hell” viewpoint, it’s free to have soldiers being occasionally less than heroic—expressing fear, a desire to run away or simply slack off in the face of the enemy. Still, this is an old-fashioned war movie, and frankly charmingly so: characters die, but most of our protagonists make it through, and the level of violence and trauma is definitely on the lighter side. Don’t think of this as a bad thing: in historical context, Battleground is actually fun to watch: its ground-level portrayal of the Siege of Bastogne from a soldier’s point of view is sympathetic and somehow appropriate. While not nihilistic to the degree we’d see in the 1970s, it does acknowledge soldiers as vulnerable and scared. While there are obvious comparisons to be made through subject matter between Battleground and the much better-known Battle of the Bulge, this early lower-budgeted effort comes out ahead in several areas—most notably in more accurately depicting the bad weather and forest backdrop to the events. In other words, it’s still worth a look today, both as a link in the evolution of WW2 in film, but also as a now-stylized portrayal of men in combat.

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