Cult Movie: Fixed Bayonets a gutsy film from maverick Sam Fuller

Fixed Bayonets! is the tale of a small group of US soldiers left to slow down communist forces as their comrades retreat in the Korean War
Ralph McLean

DIRECTOR Sam Fuller made some truly powerful movies. Gutsy, courageous and routinely unafraid of facing down some of the grimmest sides of the human condition, his best work blazes across the screen in a brilliantly uncompromising fashion.

Scattered throughout his cinematic CV are low-budget gems like Shock Corridor (1963), The Naked Kiss (64) and The Big Red One (1980).

Fixed Bayonets! might not be right up there with his very finest work but it's still an explosive piece of film-making from a true maverick operating pretty darn close to the very peak of his creative powers.

It tells the tale of a small group of American soldiers who are given the grim task of trying to slow down the oncoming Korean/Chinese army to facilitate the rest of the army to make their retreat. Faced with the belief that few, if any, of these brave souls will survive the job, it swiftly becomes a case of just digging in and waiting for the inevitable slaughter to commence.

Made early in the former journalist and screenwriter's directing career, it appeared on cinema screens in 1951 and has just been reissued on Blu-ray by Eureka. While never quite packing the punch of Shock Corridor, a study in mental breakdown that's still distressing to watch today, it remains one of the finest war movies of the 1950s.

Fuller had served in the army during the Second World War and appreciated war's devastating impact better than most. He'd also made the first proper film about the Korean War with The Steel Helmet in 1951, a production that won him a seven-film contract with Darryl F Zanuck of 20th Century Fox. Keen to head off the glut of imitators that were circling in the wake of that first film's deserved success, he charged immediately into Fixed Bayonets!

The powers that be were so keen on authenticity they assigned US Army Medal Of Honor recipient Raymond Harvey as Fuller's technical advisor. The result is a film steeped in the very male world of 1950s warfare.

Everything is as tight as a drum. From the camaraderie of the soldiers to the clipped, economical dialogue they spit out, this is a film that wastes nothing. In an echo of his journalistic background Fuller seems to self-edit as he goes along, making for a lean, mean viewing experience. There is none of the tacked-on sentimentality that marks out many a modern war movie. This is about human conflict in all its grim macho glory.

It's a cheaply funded affair, of course, like just about every Sam Fuller epic, and sometimes the studio-bound sets fail to convince but there's no denying the power and natural urgency of the story. The cast is led by Richard Baseheart and Gene Evans at the front of a reliable bunch of mostly forgettable B-movie actors although there is a “blink and you'll miss it” appearance from a very fresh faced James Dean.

Eureka's Blu-ray package does the film proud, providing a splendid print and an impressive booklet that puts Fuller's work fully in context.


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