U.K.-W. GERMANY • 1977 • COLOUR • 35MM • 133 MIN

Few films evoke the waste and destruction of war as powerfully as Cross of Iron, which follows the exploits of a German platoon in retreat from the Russian army in 1943. The unit’s new commander (Maximilian Schell), an aristocrat with a yellow streak, is intent on being awarded the Iron Cross, Germany’s highest award for valour, and attempts to enlist the support of the genuinely courageous but dangerously rebellious Sergeant Steiner (James Coburn), who refuses to play ball.

Superbly photographed by John Coquillon and brilliantly acted by its cast (which also includes James Mason and David Warner), the film has sometimes been compared to Robert Aldrich’s Attack! (1956) in its depiction of the cruelty of combat and the craziness of command; and the film’s concluding comment on war is a lethal combination of derisive ironic laughter and dark Brechtian prophecy. This seriously undervalued film warrants urgent rediscovery.

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