The Big Red One: The Reconstruction
Lee Marvin, Mark Hamill, Robert Carradine, Bobby Di Cicco,
The Big Red One was, for thirty years, Fuller’s dream project, based on a nightmare. It reflects his own experience of combat in World War II, and that very intimacy made it a difficult project to sell: Hollywood’s defiant one would be war correspondent and dog soldier in one. John Wayne was to play the lead in a 1957 version that was never made, but in 1980 Lee Marvin was the only choice for the grizzled and war-worn Sergeant. Sergeant is one Fuller incarnation; the other is Zab (Robert Carradine), the young cigar-chomping writer who envisions himself the Ernest Hemingway of Brooklyn and thereby distances himself from the horror of war. It’s all grist for the mill. Maybe he’ll write a novel; maybe, years later, make a genre film. Zab is one of Fuller’s most ironic characters, and he wears his cynicism like he smokes his cigar—as though trying it on for size. Despair is concentrated in Sergeant, who knows about the irony of killing versus murdering and understands what Zab thinks he’s made up—that the only glory in war is surviving. To this end, the film is shot from the infantryman’s perspective, a decidedly inglorious one typified by hiding in a hole in the ground while a German tank rolls over. The film follows the First Infantry Division (the Big Red One) on campaigns in North Africa (“sand and rocks”) and Sicily (“rocks and sand”) and while landing at Omaha Beach, pushing the Germans back into Germany, and liberating a Czech concentration camp. Richard Schickel’s 2004 reconstruction used Fuller’s script and notes to repair and reinstate scenes missing from the truncated version released in 1980.