The Big Red One is a 1980 epic war film starring Lee Marvin and Mark Hamill. It was written and directed by Samuel Fuller.

It was heavily cut on its original release, but a restored version, The Big Red One: The Reconstruction, premièred at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival, seven years after Fuller's death. Fuller wrote a book, with the same title, which was more a companion novel than a novelization of the film, although it features many of the scenes that were originally cut.


File:USArmy First Inf Patch.jpg

Patch of the United States Army's 1st Infantry Division.

Fuller was a World War II veteran and served with the 1st Infantry Division, which is nicknamed The Big Red One for the red numeral "1" on the Division's shoulder patch. He received the Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart during his service. He was present at the liberation of the Falkenau concentration camp.[1]


The film begins in black and white in November 1918 at the end of World War I. A private (Marvin), using his trench knife, kills a German soldier who was approaching with his arms raised and speaking in German. When he returns to his company's headquarters, the private is told that the "war's been over for four hours." The 1st Division patch is shown in color.

The film then moves to November 1942, when the soldier, now a sergeant in the "Big Red One", leads his squad of infantrymen through North Africa, where they are initially fired on by a Vichy French general, who is then overpowered by his French troops who are loyal to Free France. Over the next two years the squad serves in campaigns in Sicily, where they are given intelligence by a peasant boy, and are fed by grateful women, Omaha Beach at the start of the Normandy Campaign, the liberation of France where they battle Germans inside a mental asylum, and the invasion of western Germany.

Throughout the film, the sergeant's German counterpart, Schroeder, participates in many of the same battles and displays a ruthless loyalty to Hitler and Germany. At different times he and the sergeant express the same sentiment that soldiers are killers but not murderers.

During the advance across northern France the squad crosses the same field where the sergeant killed the surrendering German at the start of the film, where a memorial now stands.[2] The following short conversation takes place:

Johnson: Would you look at how fast they put up the names of all our guys who got killed?
The Sergeant: That's a World War One memorial.
Johnson: But the names are the same.
The Sergeant: They always are.

The squad's final action in the war is the liberation of Falkenau concentration camp in Czechoslovakia. Shortly after this, the sergeant is in a forest at night, having just buried a young boy he had befriended after liberating the camp. Schroeder approaches, attempting to surrender, but the sergeant stabs him. His squad then arrives and informs him that the war ended "about four hours ago." This time, as the squad walks away, Pvt. Griff (Mark Hamill) notices that Schroeder is still alive; the sergeant and his men work frantically to save his life as they return to their encampment.



Warner Bros. was interested in filming The Big Red One in the late 1950s, sending Fuller on a trip to Europe to scout locations. Fuller directed Merrill's Marauders as a dry run for the film. When Fuller argued with Jack L. Warner and his studio over cuts they made to Merrill's Marauders, the plans for The Big Red One were dropped.[1]

Originally, John Wayne was to play the sergeant, but Fuller felt that he was not right for the role.[1]

Peter Bogdanovich helped set up the film at Paramount Pictures, which paid Fuller to write a script. However, when Paramount head Frank Yablans left the studio, the project was in turnaround. It shifted over to Lorimar with Bogdanovich to produce (he says Fuller wanted him to play the Robert Carradine part) but then Bogdanovich pulled out and brought in Gene Corman to produce.[3]


The Big Red One ranks 483rd on Empire magazine's 2008 list of the 500 greatest movies of all time.[4] Terry Lawson of the Detroit Free Press called it the greatest war movie of all time.

The film was entered into the 1980 Cannes Film Festival.[5]

In his review of the original, theatrical version of the film, Roger Ebert wrote:

While this is an expensive epic, he hasn't fallen to the temptations of the epic form. He doesn't give us a lot of phony meaning, as if to justify the scope of the production. There aren't a lot of deep, significant speeches. In the ways that count, "The Big Red One" is still a B-movie – hard-boiled, filled with action, held together by male camaraderie, directed with a lean economy of action. It's one of the most expensive B-pictures ever made, and I think that helps it fit the subject. "A" war movies are about War, but "B" war movies are about soldiers.[6]

In November 21, 2004, Roger Ebert added The Big Red One to his list of "great movies".[6]

It is currently listed "Certified Fresh" by the critical website Rotten Romatoes, with a 91% rating and aggregate score of 7.7 based on 44 reviews. On the re-edited version of the film, Rotten Tomatoes' consensus states: "The reconstruction of Samuel Fuller's epic account of his days in North Africa in World War II elevates the film into the pantheon of great war movies."[7]

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Fuller, Samuel. A Third Face. Alfred A. Knopf (2002)
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  3. John Gallagher, "Between Action and Cut", August 2004 accessed 3 June 2013
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  • The Fighting First: The Untold Story of The Big Red One on D-Day by Flint Whitlock – 2004. ISBN 0-8133-4218-X
  • The Big Red One (novel version) by Samuel Fuller – 1980; republished in 2004.

External links

Template:Operation Overlord Template:Samuel Fuller

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