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Blu-ray & DVD Review

DVD cover

Fixed Bayonets! (1951)
(Blu-Ray & DVD Dual Format)


Starring: Richard Basehart, Gene Evans and Michael O'Shea
Distributor: Eureka / The Masters of Cinema
RRP: £TBC (Blu-Ray & DVD Dual Format)
Certificate: PG
Release Date: 15 February 2016

At the height of the Korean War the American army are on the retreat, being closely chased by the Chinese. In order to give fifteen thousand men the chance to get across a vulnerable bridge, a platoon is ordered to defend a choke point, even if it means they will all die...

Fixed Bayonets (B&W. 1951. 1 hr 31 min 46 sec) is a war film written and directed by Samuel Fuller. Because of Fuller’s personal aversion to war, this is not a film which glorifies the action, but rather takes it time in examining the negative effects of war on the men involved.

The story revolves around Captain Denno (Richard Basehart) who, according to his fellow soldiers, is a hero. But Denno hides a secret; he has an inability to kill a man who he can see. It is not that he is without courage, his attempted rescue of his commanding officer from a mine field demonstrates that he is willing to put his life at risk for his comrades, also he appears to have little problem with the type of impersonal killing which long range combat allows.

Fuller fills his films with representations of soldier types, from the wise guy, the sort that would make a buck out of the war if they could, to the grizzled Sergeant, whose example Denno take on for his journey towards being a successful leader. Oddly enough for a director who was anti-war, the message of the film seems to be that to be a good leader, in war you must lose some of your humanity and learn to kill your enemy as if they are no longer human and to be able to switch off any emotional context while watching your friends die.

Within the single set piece Fuller was able to explore both the sudden and random violence which is an element of war as well as the boredom and bickering with fills in the silences. Fuller’s close framing shows us the often intimacy of combat in a terrain which lends itself more to close encounter fighting than anything else. It is here in one such encounter that Fuller puts us in the place of Captain Denno. When faced with a Chinese soldier, who is almost close enough to touch, we have to make the same decision as Danno. Can you shoot a man in the face?

The film is well acted and Fuller makes good use of his single set. The film has been released on a dual format, but as only the DVD was provided I cannot discuss any of the merits of the Blu-ray. The restoration of the film has resulted in a very fine print, with an aspect ratio of 1.37:1.

The DVD disc contains the theatrical trailer (2 min, 32 sec), a stills galley as well as a full length commentary by film scholar Adrian Martin, a thoughtful piece defending both Fuller and the film. This is complemented by the booklet featuring a new essay by critic Glen Kenny and excerpts from Fuller’s autobiography, A Third Face.

It’s difficult to determine whether the politics of the film were confused or not that well demonstrated. Fuller disliked war films, believing that you should leave the theatre with a feeling that it was madness to fight. Had Danno lost more of his humanity, or had he not fulfilled his destiny then maybe the film's message would have been clearer.


Charles Packer

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Blu-ray & DVD