The Big Red One (1980)

Film and Plot Synopsis

“The Big Red One” is a war film directed by Samuel Fuller, released in 1980. Set during World War II, the film follows the journey of a group of soldiers in the 1st Infantry Division, known as “The Big Red One,” from their initial landing in North Africa to the end of the war in Europe. The story is loosely based on Fuller’s own experiences as a soldier in the war. Spanning various theaters of operation, the film explores the camaraderie, sacrifices, and horrors of war through the eyes of its main characters.

‘The Big Red One’ Movie Summary

The summary below contains spoilers.
The Big Red One (1980)The film begins in November of 1918 during World War I. Private Possum (Lee Marvin) is the sole survivor of his unit that was attacked by German forces near a giant roadside cross in France. As Possum attempts to return to the safety of his trench, a German soldier approaches him intending to surrender, stating that the war is over. Possum uses his knife, the only weapon he has, to kill the German. When he returns to his barracks, Possum’s sergeant informs him that the German was not lying, that the war ended four hours earlier. Possum looks disturbed by the fact that he killed an innocent man.

The film then jumps to North Africa in 1942, where the now Sergeant Possum leads a squad of men known as the Big Red One. The squad consists of Possum and four infantrymen: Private Griff (Mark Hamill), Private Vinci (Bobby Di Cicco), Private Zab (Robert Carradine), and Private Johnson (Kelly Ward). The squad begins their adventure by “fighting” the Vichy French forces who willing support the American army against the German. The French forces quickly surrender after firing only a few shots. However, the mild skirmish causes a crisis of confidence in Griff who has trouble taking the life of another human being.

The squad is then sent into the desert to battle German forces. They encounter a tank unit where the squad is hopelessly outnumbered. The squad hides in fox holes before revealing themselves and taking on the overwhelming forces. During the fight, Possum is stabbed in the back by a German bayonet and ends up in a prison hospital. However, the allied forces soon arrive and liberate the hospital allowing Possum to return to his men, who all survived the tank battle.

Next, the squad is sent to assist in the liberation of Sicily. The squad is constantly replenished with additional men. However, the replacement soldiers are constantly being killed or injured, leaving the same five men to continue on. In Sicily, the squad is tasked with locating and destroying a hidden Tiger tank. The squad is assisted by some of the Sicilian locals, who are forcibly used as camouflage for the tank’s location. After destroying the tank and liberating the town, the squad is treated as heroes and provided with an elaborate home cooked meal.

You know how you smoke out a sniper? You send a guy out in the open and you see if he gets shot. They thought that one up at West Point. Private Zab (Robert Carradine)

Several months later, the squad participates in the invasion of Normandy after spending months preparing in Great Britain for the fight. When the squad lands on the beach, they, along with most of the Allied forces, face strong resistance from the German forces. Griff is forced to deal with his cowardice when he is tasked with building a Bangalore Torpedo to destroy the German barb-wired barricades. Possum has to threaten to shoot Gritt to keep him moving forward but ultimately, Gritt is successful and overcomes his fear of death.

Next, the squad comes across the same location where Possum killed the innocent German soldier at the end of World War I. At the giant cross, the Germans, led by their commander Feldwebel Schroeder (Siegfried Rauch), attempt an ambush by posing as dead soldiers. However, Possum and his men detect the ruse by noticing that the “dead” soldiers don’t all have the same unit insignias on their uniforms. Possum’s unit kills the German soldiers before they spring their ambush. Almost immediately afterwards, a French couple arrives on a motorcycle and sidecar. The woman is pregnant and in labor while her husband dies from injuries that he has sustained. The squad helps the pregnant woman give birth to her baby inside a damaged German tank. The still hidden Schroeder cowardly sneaks away while the American soldiers are preoccupied.

The squad’s final mission finds them liberating the Falkenau concentration camp in Czechoslovakia. Once inside the camp, the soldiers are shocked when they discover the horrors that have occurred in the camp. The once hesitant to kill Griff pursues a German solider into the crematoriums where thousands of bodies were burned by the Germans. Griff kills the unarmed soldier and continually empties multiple clips of bullets into the German’s body, indicating that he is forever changed by what he has experienced. Not long after, Possum befriends a young Jewish boy that he finds in the camp. The two spend the afternoon together with Possum providing a meal for the boy that he likely has not had in days. While carrying the boy on his shoulder, the boy dies.

That night, Possum buries the boy in the forest. After completing his somber task, he is approached by Schroeder who attempts to surrender to him. Possum stabs him with his knife, not believing the German soldier’s claims that the war is over. The rest of the squad arrives a few moments later and informs their sergeant that the war is indeed over. The squad begins to walk away, but Griff realizes that Schroeder is still alive. The entire squad frantically work together to save Schroeder’s life, indicating that they have not lost their humanity despite what they were required to do during the war.

The film ends with a voice over by Zab, who has narrated the entire film. Zab remarks that he and the rest of his unit had more in common with Schroeder because they had all been through the war and survived, when compared with all the American replacements that they fought alongside during the war because they were all dead.

Rate the Film!

Our Rating

United Artists released The Big Red One on July 18, 1980. Samuel Fuller directed the film starring Lee Marvin, Mark Hamill, and Robert Carradine.

User Rating: 4.05 ( 2 votes)
Show More
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Back to top button
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x