The World War II film, “A Walk in the Sun” (1945-Twentieth Century Fox) directed by the masterful Louis Milestone, is my subject today. A highly praised entry in the war/military genre, WALK has been said to be representative of the US Army infantry soldier that fought in the European theater. Specifically in this film, the battle for Italy, beginning with the Allied invasion on a beach near Salerno. To note, I will be giving you my opinions on the film with a first hand, “was there” interpretation of the WALK, as my Father was part of the army that liberated Italy. Father was a medic of the 45th Infantry Division, American Fifth Army, under Lieutenant General Mark Clark. The 45th had participated in the battle for Sicily and this invasion of Salerno his 3rd action, with the landing in North Africa first. He would continue to make stops with the 45th until injuries forced him out of the war, a day before his Division crossed the Rhine River into the Fatherland.
Before my Dad died, we were able to view Milestone’s film together, as we often did with regard to WAR films. This is the first time I have written an article on this flick, but have mentioned my thoughts on the Net earlier.
Like many veterans of war, my Dad did not suffer any significant mental issues after the fact. His experiences as a member of the US Army during the war was the most memorable thing he had ever encountered. His participation was his most important experience in his life and he was as proud as anyone getting to serve his country. He could have had problems with who he was, the son of a German immigrant from East Prussia. He was a proud first generation American young man that was 23 when he joined up, not getting to be a paratrooper as of “bad feet”. He told me he cried when all his friends were accepted but he was left out. (They all died in the war). The Army took him to be a medic just after Pearl Harbor, passing up a his college career as a two sport athlete at Centenary College in Shreveport, Louisiana. It took almost two years before he saw “action” on the battlefield, yet he enjoyed learning the trade of being a medic, as he had no problem with “blood and guts”. I always noticed how calm he was when dealing with injured people while I was in his presence, and he was always helpful to assist when needed.
Being fluent in German, he was one of a few US Army medics that could give a calming word to the wounded enemy when needed, telling me he had heard the last words of more than a few German’s that would soon die where they lay. A common thread was the dying man, both armies, calling out for their mother. That was what he told me. He did mention that he would not assist any German with the SS on his uniform, as the 45th Division had a thing against that sort of German soldier. (Fact of matter, the 45th was the only Division of the US Army that had members brought up on charges of shooting enemy prisoners during the war. My Dad would not talk about that subject on my questioning). The charges did not stick.
He was never fearful of the enemy and felt that if he was to be killed, let it happen. Not a religious man, he had a healthy view on “staying alive” and was well trained to keep himself safe from injury as best he could. Plus, he always did his work to save his fellow soldiers and keep them from further harm. The rule on the battlefield was that the most injured, no matter of the army, got first treatment. That is, if a German was needing assistance as of a critical wound and the American could wait and his life was not in jeopardy, he would help the German first. I believed him. He told me that the to save lives was his first duty, always.
I often think of the medic in “Saving Private Ryan” that spilled his life blood after being shot. Medics were always under fire as many died from various ways, usually getting shot, shelled and hit with shrapnel, or through accident, as my Dad was. He was in a roll over ambiance accident as his driver of the vehicle ran up a bank of dirt on the road as they were leaving the front line. at night, with the lights off, as of the enemy near by.. The wreck broke his back.
Now to the film. The acting is really good in this one. Not always a Dana Andrews fan, he gets it done here. The others are good also. That is about all I can praise this film on. That is it.
The first part, as the men were on the landing craft, talking, talking, talking…..a monotonous bore. Actually nothing of significance was actually being said and the scene lasted far to long. I did not question my Dad on this part of the flick, yet as we watched the movie on DVD, he seemed interested. The scenes of the beach that followed, with the action actually being out-of-sight told me that the production values that Milestone was dealing with were very low. Again, a lack of “real” action and wordy chit chat if you want my opinion. Once the actual “walk” in the sun began, the stories of the men were somewhat interesting but not for the length of the film as they again talked about nothing of actual importance. My Dad said that it was realistic in that they did a lot of walking around with nothing really happening. And the talk of the men was like that in some ways.
He also said the dialogue was unrealistic as many of the men would use profanity constantly, unlike the film. Soldiers, many soldiers, cussed up storm in describing anything. Some did not use curse words, as of my Father, most of the time. But he told me that even if the subject matter was, in his opinion, realistic, the words used in the screenplay were not. Many men used “god damn”, “son-of-a-bitch” and that was the norm. Not as many used “fuck” or “fucking”, as I never heard my Dad use the F word in his life. But he did use the first two curses often, everyday. The men that took the WALK were not school boys that said darn. He told me that the film was off here and it was put offish for him in that respect.
He also said the action scenes in this film were phooey, and I agreed with him. Milestone, unlike some of his other works, must have had a budget problem with this film and it showed. This movie did not represent what battle actually looked like and that comes from a veteran that was there.
In the final analysis, my Dad would not praise this film for two reasons. It was unrealistic in the screenplay (and I get it as back in 1945 cursing on film was not allowed). The banter between the men was spot on, (family, back-home, girlfriends), but the actual words coming from the mouths of the men was hogwash to him. Secondly, the war/battle scenes, to him, were laughable. That does not lend to a great war/military film.
My Dad did not buy the emotional state of the men in this flick either. This is one area where Milestone has been really good at displaying in his war films. Cowardly men, not into the fight, was not going to happen with the men he was with. Injured or not, they wanted to do their job, without excuse. My Dad was in the George Patton mold, and he loved being a part of Patton’s Army under Omar Bradly and Mark Clark. He would have slapped a man that was not doing his job, or wanted out of a fight. He did not recognize “battle fatigue” when he served. He did understand it later in life. His fellow soldiers were all in, everyday, every second.
My Dad told me the most realistic thing about “A Walk in the Sun” was that, like his walk, the movie shows that the walk was a long, mostly forward and no retreating, hot and unconformable, and not much to do but talk with your fellow soldier. When the fire fights happened during the walk, they were short, could be deadly, and over within a minute or two. When they were up against an entrenched German company, such as in a town, city, fortified position, all shit broke loose and that was like being in HELL. To him, this film failed in that respect, and MIlestone made something worth only one viewing. (I have viewed this one three times and it is difficult getting through it.)
(I thank God to this day my Father was not alive to view SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. I do not think he would have liked it in any way.)