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October 04, 2004

Sam Fuller, A Third Face

by Ron Hogan

Watching The Big Red One reconstructed the way Sam Fuller had meant for it to be seen sent me back to his memoir:

See, there's no way you can portray war realistically, not in a movie nor in a book. You can only capture a very, very small aspect of it. If you really want to make readers understand a battle, a few pages of your book would be booby-trapped. For moviegoers to get the idea of real combat, you'd have to shoot at them every so often from either side of the screen. The casualties in the theater would be bad for business. Such reaching for reality in the name of art is against the law. Hell, the heavy human toll is just too much for anyone to comprehend fully. What I try to do is make audiences feel the emotional strife of total war.

The original cut of the film, the one butchered by the studio, did that in a rudimentary fashion. The real film, as I'll be thinking of it from now on, drives the point home in a way that, to my admittedly non-comprehensive viewing, only Fuller can--with the exceptions of M*A*S*H and maybe The Big Parade, though my memory of that one's a bit sketchy, and Saving Private Ryan if I'm feeling generous. Lee Marvin already had an Oscar, of course, but it's hard not to feel that he should have at least been nominated for his performance...and if audiences then had seen this version, I'm positive he would have been.

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