All this and World War II
The director’s fifth collaboration with Michel Legrand, it’s the least memorable as far as the music is concerned, lacking the verve of Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (1967) or any haunting themes like the ones found in Lola (1961) or Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (1964). All things considered, however, this is a minor quip. Peau d'âne balances a delicate childhood idyll with sharp adult satire, to say nothing of its barefaced Oedipal issues.
The DVD is overpriced at $34.95—Koch Lorber is taking an unfortunate cue from Criterion—but the print is good and bonus features include a round robin with psychoanalysts underlining the metaphysical ramifications of the picture, notably the ass whose booty shits booty.
Now restored to 158-minutes, it’s easily among Fuller’s best work, a solid b-film approach to the broad canvas of war, conflict and emotion. Lean and economic, Fuller packs his frames tight (wide-angle panoramas are very few and far between), to draw us in with a platoon of young GIs and the World War II battlegrounds of North Africa, France, Belgium and Czechoslovakia. It’s based on the director’s own exploits on the front lines, which he later related with punchy exuberance in A Third Face : My Tale of Writing, Fighting, and Filmmaking, his posthumously-published autobiography. (Fuller died in 1997, at the age of 85.)
With Lee Marvin heading a cast of largely forgotten newcomers, The Big Red One is less concerned with melodrama and narrative than the experience itself, an overnight maturation process based on the ability to separate killing from murder. While the theme has been explored in the intellectually elevated regions of Apocalypse Now (1979) and Full Metal Jacket (1987), Fuller has no aspirations to create high art, especially out of such carnage. This is storytelling at its most basic level. And if he occasionally succumbs to the convenience of lumbering, broad comedy (the baby delivery scene) or transparent metaphor (a schizophrenic firing a gun at random, screaming “I’m normal! I’m just like you!”), I’d still take this feverish memoir over the lofty Coppola and Kubrick films any day of the week.