FF123 - Fixed Bayonets!

Intro by John Roderick

Last week the trusty green 120-sided die of Friendly Fire selected a film so superficially improbable that a small minority of faithless listeners cried out: "Foul!". "Impossible! Incroyable!" they exclaimed in the signature fake-French accents of faithless people. (in a French accent) "Surely a random dice roll could not and would not deliver the second of Sam Fuller's 1951 Korean War films hot on the heels of the first?"

Well, let me reply plainly in a language everyone understands, the fake British accent of science: (in a British accent) "You see, the probability that two events will both occur can never be greater than the probability that each will occur individually. So, if two possible events, let's say A and B, are independent, then the probability that both A and B will occur is equal to the product of their individual probabilities. If an event can have a number of different and distinct possible outcomes A, B, C, and so on, then the probability that either A or B will occur is equal to the sum of the individual probabilities of A and B, and the sum of the probabilities of all possible outcomes A, B, C, and so on is 1, that is 100%."

In other words: "The die don't lie!" and a lovely little diptych the two films together are! Both starred Gene Evans as a gruff sergeant, both filmed in the first year of the Korean War by the same writer and director. Last week's The Steel Helmet surprised us all with its backyard production-quality and beatnik script, so we went into Fixed Bayonets! prepared for weirdness. Will it be The Crucible, performed by the Apple Dumpling Gang? Maybe Gunsmoke meets A Raisin in the Sun, produced by Arthur Miller, starring Charles Bronson? Well, it was anybody's guess!

Instead, Sam Fuller surprised us with a war movie! You want to talk about probabilities, there are an improbable number of exhausted, stubbled, ambiguously-ethnic-while-still-being-white wet stogie-chompers in this picture, enough to suggest that Bill Mauldin's 1944 cartoons reflected World War II Army life so accurately that they were made manifest in the army of 1950, just as surely as 1985's The Breakfast Club created 1989's generation of Benetton-clad, Clove-chomping neo-marxism dweebies where they might never have existed otherwise.

Here we have a classic platoon on a suicide mission, left behind to obscure the withdraw of a larger force by giving the advancing Chinese and North Koreans the impression that a whole division is defending the snowy valley during the first winter of the war. They look bedraggled, but they accept their fate because "God Damit!", they are GI's! Then: "Bang!" Shooting and stuff and vignettes and set pieces. We have soldiers standing in freezing puddles just long enough for us to kind of like them before seeing all the good ones killed.

The platoon attempts to hold their position, pinned down by relentless foreshadowing and a hail of third-act voice-overs. Standing center is the super improbably named Sgt. Rock, all but bulletproof, and slightly off-center, a reluctant and cowardly Corporal Denno, gradually elevating in rank as all the better men die. Heavy lies the crown and Denno doesn't even like his helmet. It is a good old fashioned war romp that does it all with grit and imagination. Plus, it has James Dean dancing by uncredited.

"Put this title on the shelf with your Tropic of Capricorn, you smarty-pants'! You are not aiming at a man, you are aiming at the enemy! Once you are over that hump, you are a rifle-man!" Today on Friendly Fire: Fixed Bayonets!

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