Sam Peckinpah is without a doubt, one of my favorite movie directors (and screenwriters) of all time. If you have not seen it already, I highly urge you to watch the 2004 Documentary “Sam Peckinpah’s West: The Legacy of a Hollywood Renegade.” It is a fitting tribute to a true artist.-SF
‘Cross of Iron’ Depicts the Brutal Collapse of the Wehrmacht
Officers and ideals will get you killed in Sam Peckinpah’s forgotten masterpiece
During a reconnaissance patrol on the outskirts of their territory, a German platoon discovers a gunner’s nest with Soviet soldiers lingering inside. The Germans creep forward, unleashing gunfire and grenades that make quick work of them.
“Look at that,” one of the victorious Germans says. He nods at a dead child soldier, his body mutilated by combat. The kid’s arms end in a mess of viscera and his eyes stare dumbly at the sky.
“Nothing we haven’t seen before,” platoon leader Sgt. Rolf Steiner tells his men. There’s a rustle and another Russian child soldier stumbles before them. His hair is blonde and his eyes bright blue. He’s terrified.
The German soldiers stare as the boy — no older than 10 years old — pulls a harmonica from his pocket and blows an awkward note. The noise is awful but it breaks the spell, and the German platoon decides to keep him.
Back at camp, the brass protests. They don’t have enough food to feed their own soldiers … let alone a prisoner. Steiner and his men take care of the child for a while, but they know what has to happen. The officers want Steiner’s platoon to execute the kid, but they can’t bring themselves to do it.
Steiner takes the boy to the edge of camp and pushes him into the wilderness. The boy turns and tosses his harmonica to the sergeant before fleeing into the woods. He doesn’t make it far. The Russian army has arrived, and Steiner watches the boy take a few tentative steps toward his comrades before they destroy the child in a burst of indiscriminate rifle fire.
The year is 1943 and the German army is being destroyed on the Eastern Front. The Wehrmacht will soon flee the Taman Peninsula. In Cross of Iron, every moment may be a soldier’s last.
Cross of Iron is a World War II film from 1977 directed by Sam Peckinpah. If you’re not familiar with Peckinpah, he’s the director Quentin Tarantino wanted to be when he was a kid. Peckinpah made The Wild Bunch, Straw Dogs and The Getaway. His movies are nihilistic, gore-soaked films filled with grim humor and hard men.
Cross of Iron is his only war film and it’s a masterpiece. The story follows Steiner and his platoon during the German army’s retreat in the latter half of the war. Steiner is a legend. He’s a gruff survivor who doesn’t play by the rules. His men love him and he loves his men. The officers give him a wide berth and grant him leniency on small infractions … because he gets results.