The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Monday, June 10, 2013

Breakthrough (1979)

Released in 1977, Sam Peckinpah's Cross of Iron is a forgotten masterpiece, a war movie that doesn't get the credit it deserves. Not necessarily remembered as a classic, it ends on a particularly downbeat if effective ending, making the news that there's a sequel kinda hard to believe. I'm a big fan of Peckinpah's original so here goes with the unlikely follow-up, 1979's Breakthrough.

Under a withering Russian attack, German forces are retreating all along the Western Front. Among them is Sgt. Rolf Steiner (Richard Burton), a hardened veteran who's seen all the fighting can offer throughout the war. Amidst the fighting, he's granted a 14-day leave in Paris, but just as he settles in, the Allies attack at Normandy with his division transferred to the fighting. Upon catching up with his men, Steiner is given a dangerous mission that could ultimately bring the war to an end, but at minimum could save thousands of lives. In between Allied and German lines, Steiner meets an American officer, a tanker, Col. Rogers (Robert Mitchum), who isn't sure whether he can believe what Steiner is telling him. A decision must be made though quickly with an Allied offensive imminent.

In terms of original to sequel, this 1979 WWII flick from director Andrew V. McLaglen bears little resemblance to its predecessor. The ending in 'Iron' is open for interpretation as to whether certain characters survive, but this sequel answers that question (They make it by the way). And other than character names and that this too is a World War II movie, there are no real unifying links. It seems an odd movie and storyline to continue, but whatever, it happened so here we sit. It's not a particularly good movie -- most reviews rip it pretty mercilessly -- but I managed to get some enjoyment out of it. Then again, I'm a sucker for basically any western and war movie. You've been warned!!!

So now that I've established that I liked this movie, let's move ahead with ripping the movie some! While I like many of McLaglen's films (The Wild Geese, The Devil's Brigade), I can admit he was far more a workmanlike director than a master filmmaker. To say the story drifts a little bit would be a vast understatement. It starts in Russia, moves to Paris, jumps to Normandy and involves German and Allied knowledge of assassination attempts on Hitler. Oh, and Steiner's commanding officer, Major Stansky (Helmut Griem), is power hungry and doesn't care who gets caught up in the killing, civilians and innocents alike. The budget is obviously pretty limited with a fair amount of stock footage used from other war movies of the era. The score is atrocious, an oddly horrific mix of spaghetti western tones, country music, odd rock and roll notes, and hippie-psychedelic noises. It's not just bad, it's distracting, and that's significantly worse.

Here's the issue that I'm noticing in a lot of reviews. The cast here has some pretty impressive name recognition -- more than Peckinpah's original -- but it's not necessarily good performances. It's a fair criticism that most of the big names gathered are clearly phoning it in. On the other hand....oh, Richard Burton and Robert Mitchum! Replacing James Coburn, Burton does a decent job as war-weary Steiner. Mitchum is clearly not too interested in the part, but I like Mitchum so there. Also look for Rod Steiger, pissed off as usual and screaming orders as an American general, Webster. Michael Parks has a good supporting part as Sgt. Anderson, Mitchum's assistant and jeep driver. Klaus Lowitsch returns from 'Iron' as Cpl. Kruger, Steiner's fellow NCO and close friend. Curd Jurgens also plays a familiar role, an aristocratic German general frustrated with Hitler's leadership.

Schizophrenic story with far too much going on, aging stars with less than spectacular acting jobs, and a budget that's limited in basically all aspects. The action is okay, including the finale as Maj. Stansky attempts to set up an ambush for an attacking American tank battalion, but that's really the only memorable set piece. Why did I even remotely like this movie? I have no freaking idea. I was entertained throughout -- maybe because of the badness -- and that's all I'm looking for. Also worth mentioning, do a shot every time Mitchum asks about the anti-tank emplacements. You'll be drunk in minutes.

Breakthrough (1979): ** 1/2 /****  

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