Being there . . . not to read about combat this time, but to watch, listen, absorb, and emotionally feel it in one of the three best World War II feature length films ever made . . .
“A Walk in the Sun”, nay, a footslogging march into hell Reviewed and highly recommended by Don DeNevi Success in Sicily and the fall of Benito Mussolini and his Fasciasti in 1943 led the Allied Army commanders to believe that campaigning up the Italian mainland would be a race and romp to the French, Swiss, and Yugoslavian borders. Of the opening gambits before invading Italy-proper, one meant having Major General Mark Clark’s Fifth Army secure a toehold on the beaches of Salerno Bay. That accomplished, his divisions were to simultaneously capture the city and seize the southern German-held Foggia airfields before pivoting north to encircle Naples and seize the ultimate prize, the harbor’s deep-water port. Thus begins one of the most extraordinary storylines in cinematic war history. As thousands of American infantrymen decanter their troop ships and pour freely into DUKWS, new amphibious trucks for the assault, the camera zooms in on a dozen rapturing combat ready soldiers, under fire with heads down, about to hit the beach. It is September 9, 1943, and the maelstroms of death and destruction, disastrous defeat and exhilarating victory, have begun. Producer and Director Lewis Milestone, who won the 1930 Academy Award Oscar for Best Director of “All Quiet on the Western Front”, proudly says, “I have faithfully followed Robert Rossen’s screenplay based on journalist Harry Brown’s novel written in 1944 based upon a true incident of one platoon’s special mission. His book was my personal script for all details, including photographing sequentially all the complex tensions that develop during their ‘walk’ to destroy a farmhouse packed with elite German troops, and, beyond it, a strategically important bridge.” Instead of listening to the usual crescendo of blazing rifles, machine guns, and mortars, and witnessing deaths on all sides, as convoluted, untenable plots unfold, “A Walk in the Sun” is tenaciously real, in the sense the farmhouse fight is plausible, not artificial, counterfeit, or imagined. After all, Harry Brown was there, in the vicinity, and most certainly heard about it. The actors, Dana Andrews especially, perform so brilliantly they become “real”. There is not a hint among them of factitiousness. Hollywood felt the need to go to war, too, to lift the spirits and morale of Americans at home and in the factories as the nation’s fighting men were assigned overseas. Despite hairpin rationing on the sets, Hollywood filmed 1,700 features that year, over 600 of them about the war in Europe and the Pacific, from “Casablanca” to “Winged Victory”. Three of those 600 plus are acknowledged as true motion picture masterpieces. “A Walk in the Sun” is one. You, reader, are challenged to name the other two.
Starring Dana Andrews, Richard Conte, George Tyne , Norman Lloyd, John Ireland, Lloyd Bridges, and a host of others, the film was first released in 1945. On January 18, 2022, the film will be rereleased in 4K Definitive Restoration 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD collector’s edition, for $29.95. It will be available in from Amazon and other sellers. Fully restored with superior picture and sound, three additional documentaries will trigger smiles from appreciative World War II buffs: “Zanuck Goes to War: The World War II Films at Fox”; “The Battle of San Pietro”; “World War II Fox Movietone Newsreels”, among other items