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"Wild Bill" Wellman's "Battleground"


CarlDenham
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So...what do y'all say? This has to be one of my very favorite war movies. Wellman does an excellent job of isolating those characters in an eerie, snow-covered fog of uncertainty. Behind every corner could be a potential enemy movement. It's expertly well-written as well. Very few war films of the time have Battleground's brand of gritty realism. Steven Spielberg must have watched this film a few times while preparing for Saving Private Ryan. The "Band of Brothers" quality of his film is very similar to the chemistry shared by Van Johnson, James Whitmore, John Hodiak and company, and obviously, the concept of being surrounded and digging in to defend themselves must have appealed to him immensely, as must have the actual historical event. Another thing that is extremely effective is the lack of a proper musical score. It really serves to drive home the fact that these men are completely isolated.

 

 

 

 

 

Anyway, what is the general consensus among classic movie fans about William Wellman's Battleground?

 

 

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Everything about this movie surprised me by how authentic it seemed! Even though the Bastogne forest is a set, Wellman did an excellent job of obscuring that fact, as did the performers. This film must have been such a feather in MGM's proverbial cap. To my knowledge, Louie B. Mayer and company weren't necessarily in the habit of making war films such as this. But yes, I agree, this film looked and sounded very realisitc.

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Jody was there when you left..

 

You're Right..

 

Your Baby was there when you left..

 

You're right

 

Sound Off

 

One Two

 

Sound Off

 

Three Four

 

Cadence Count

 

One, Two >>Three Four

 

Dory Schary made "Battleground" over the objections of L.B. Mayer. Mayer said the public in 1949 was tired of war films. It turned out to be the highest grossing film of MGM in five years.

Mayer had made the same statement to Irving Thalberg in 1925 when Thalberg wanted to make "The Big Parade".

With the success of "Battleground", Schary was elected to the MGM board and within a few years L.B. Mayer was out and Schary was in the drivers seat.

Two of the greatest films on WW2 were directed by William Wellman:

"The Story of G.I.Joe" and "Battleground"

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> {quote:title=fredbaetz wrote:}{quote}

>

> Two of the greatest films on WW2 were directed by William Wellman:

> "The Story of G.I.Joe" and "Battleground"

>

Absolutely, Fred. If ever there were a director of WWII-themed films who was able to generate to the audience of what possibly Stars and Stripes cartoonist Bill Mauldin's "****" characters of Willie and Joe went through during that conflict, it certainly was "Wild Bill" Wellman in those two movies.

 

Speaking of which, I've always particularly liked this Mauldin cartoon here...

 

6[ishoot[/i]jeep.jpg]

 

I remember seeing this one years ago as a kid in my Dad's copy of a book of Mauldin's collection of Wille and Joe cartoons.

 

Btw, my Dad was a member of Patton's Third Army Artillery Forces during the counter offensive and rescue of the American forces caught behind the German lines during The Battle of the Bulge.

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James Whitmore stated in an interview that he based his appearance on the famous "Willie and Joe" characters from Bill Mauldin's cartoon series for his role in "Battleground"

Bill Mauldin appeared in John Huston's film "The Red Badge of Courage" with Audie Murphy. He was the "Loud Soldier" that befriends Murphy's character.

Like on "Battleground" L.B.Mayer and Dory Schary , fought with both taking the same sides they did with "Battleground". But this time Mayer was proven right with the film losing over a million dollars. Huston lost control of the editing and over 20 minutes was cut without Huston's permission..... Also "Wild Bill" Wellman didn't do bad with WW1 masterpiece "Wings"......

 

Edited by: fredbaetz on Jan 17, 2012 5:17 PM

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Just out of curiosity, did this film redeem itself with Mayer? It is a good movie and of course Wellman was a terrific director. I am sure Mayer did his best to always put a negative spin on it with Huston, but doesn't he ever have to admit that a movie was good? I guess it was always about the money - that's all that mattered to him. What a shame!

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I never heard of Mayer changing his mind regarding "Battleground". I'm sure he was very pleased that it made a ton of money for the studio, but he most likely would never publicly admit that he erred. He wouldn't give Schary the satisfaction that he was wrong. He knew what Schary was after his job....

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Roy,

 

I'm with you on Wild Bill. I've been a big fan of his for more years than I can count. I saw *The Ox-Bow Incident* on the late show when I was much, much younger and have been on Team Wellman ever since.

 

I still say he, Michael Curtiz and Raoul Walsh got a raw deal from the auteur theory lovers back in the 1960s. They were very talented directors that deserve more credit than they are usually given.

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> Just out of curiosity, did this film redeem itself with Mayer? It is a good movie and of course Wellman was a terrific director. I am sure Mayer did his best to always put a negative spin on it with Huston, but doesn't he ever have to admit that a movie was good? I guess it was always about the money - that's all that mattered to him. What a shame!

Mayer was, by then, largely a professional horse-breeder who sometimes dabbled in making movies. The person whose notice BATTLEGROUND 's smashing success did not escape was Nicholas Schenck, chairman of Loew's, Inc., MGM's parent company. There'd never been any lovel ost between him and Mayer and, as the years passed, it became more and more apparent to Schenck at the home office in New York that Mayer, with his penchant for an Andy Hardy America that was fading fast in the wake of World War II, was, at best, an adiministrator and not a filmmaker, which Oscar-winning screenwriter Schary (hired away from RKO, where'd he'd been head of production) was.

 

BATTLEGROUND was probably a sizeable nail in Mayer's coffin vis-a-vis where he stood in Schenck's estimation, but the process that led to Schenck's accepting Mayer's intemperate It's-either-me-or-Schary ultimatum had begun decades earlier.

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> {quote:title=lzcutter you wrote:

> }{quote}I'm with you on Wild Bill. I've been a big fan of his for more years than I can count. I saw *The Ox-Bow Incident* on the late show when I was much, much younger and have been on Team Wellman ever since.

{font:Arial}Perhaps the most incredible story surrounding “The Ox Bow Incident” was how the whole idea for the movie came to be. This is just one of several versions to the story:

Upon hearing about and reading the 1940 novel by Walter Van Tilburg Clark, Bill Wellman went wild (to pun a line!) and crazy, definitely wanting to create a film version of the story. However, the rights to the book were in the hands of a {font}{font:Arial}Hollywood{font}{font:Arial} outsider, who wanted desperately to break into the motion picture business. This guy had what turned out to be one of those hysterical, legendary plans to make the movie version. He envisioned and I kid you not, none other than voluptuous Mae West to star in the motion picture! He went all over {font}{font:Arial}Hollywood{font}{font:Arial}, from one major studio to the next, trying to sell his idea of having Mae at the opening of the film, riding a horse down a hill to the scene of a group of cowboys having an open-pit barbecue! The rest of the storyline would be anybody’s guess!

{font}

{font:Arial}It was all too obvious to Bill Wellman that this fool or idiot wasn’t going to get anywhere with this idea of making a huge mockery of a finely written novel of the decade. Bill had to simply wait and bide his time for a chance to get his hands on the rights to the novel. The big opportunity came one evening, at a party in the {font}{font:Arial}Hollywood{font}{font:Arial} hills. There, Bill found this hopeless scatterbrain of a guy, drinking heavily and still having made useless rounds at the various studios. Only by this time, he now had given up on his idea for “The Ox Bow Incident” and was trying to sell other zany ideas; all his attempts weren’t getting him anywhere near or into a studio front office. Bill politely approached the guy and struck up a delusive conversation that led right into Bill asking if he still had the rights to “The Ox Bow Incident.” Perhaps it might have been the liquor, mixed in with a bit of frustration that resulted towards a complete turn-around on the attitude of this hopeless wannabe movie-maker. Both cut a deal that evening to meet at 20th Century-Fox and the rest is without doubt, merciful, rewarding, inspiring, classic movie history. There are some situations in {font}{font:Arial}Hollywood{font}{font:Arial} that do turn out to make sense and circumstance reaches a reasonable reality.

 

If there is anything grand and wonderful to say about Bill Wellman, he strived to be as realistic about his career as possible. The only exception to this rule came in 1944, when Bill directed a moderately fictitious account of showman William Cody, entitled "Buffalo Bill." The film-bio was originally the idea of writer Ben Hecht. The talented and popular Hecht, conceived the motion picture as an expose' on the real "Buffalo Bill," who was nothing more than an entrepreneur, with no actual experience of having been such a daring adventurer of the wild west. Hecht simply wanted to give an observation of how a show business figure can deceive the general public into creating what essentially turned out to be an early 20th Century, urban myth. Everything seemed simple enough for Bill to comprehend on what Hecht had placed into the script. However, Hecht was for all intended purposes one of the biggest and most grandiose alcoholics of show business. Hecht had strange and outrageous, unpredictable habits. After finishing the script and ready for consideration for 20th Century-Fox, Hecht showed up at Bill's home, script in hand and tore it to pieces! During the shredding of the script, Hecht drunkenly remarked, "We can't do it to him Bill . . . We just can't do it."

 

Bill Wellman went ahead with the project anyway, casting one of his favorite actors in the lead role, Joel McCrea, opposite lovely Maureen O'Hara and Anthony Quinn in the role of the indian war chief, "Yellow Hand." It was one of the few major western films, shot in Technicolor. The movie did manage to covered some of the so called controversies surrounding William Cody, but stayed pretty much on an upbeat atmosphere. The motion picture was a success, having achieved a generally good box-office response. Yet, Bill Wellman would be forever haunted by the initial, formative script of Hecht that would have shed a totally different light over the whole imagery and perhaps history of a major entertainment celebrity. It turned out to be one of those events that the legend had to win out over the reality and that's so typical show biz. William Cody would have completely understood and have been thankful for keeping alive his myth! B-) {font}

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Dale,

I had the pleasure of meeting "Wild Bill" Wellman in 1974. I was directing a interview show on Ch. 52 in Hollywood called "The Movie Makers"and he was a guest promoting his autobiography "A Short Time for Insanity". He talked about the Mae West/Ox Bow Incident. How he talked the producer who had the film rights to the book into selling them. How he had to make a 2 picture deal with Zanuck at Fox in order to make the "Ox Bow" film.Buffalo Bill was one of those films. How he and Ben Hecht had wanted to do a real story on Buffalo Bill, but realized that they could never get it made and went with the version that we all know. He said at the preview when the little boy stands up at the end of the film when an old Buffalo Bill announces this is his final show and yells "God Bless you Buffalo Bill", he and Ben Hecht wanted to vomit.He spoke of some of his other films, but the one he wanted to talk about most was "The Lafayette Escadrille" How it was such a labor of love for him to do. How Jack Warner took charge of the editing and cut it and the way it ended. He said he was so irate that he walked out of Warner Bros and never directed another. I think if Jack Warner had been there Wellman would have killed him.

Henry Fonda said the the films he was most proud of making was "The Grapes of Wrath" and "The Ox Bow Incident"

You are 100% correct about Curtiz and Walsh. God, I do miss their type and style of films. They have gotten lost in the shuffle, but maybe someday....who knows... ?:|

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