Battleground is a classic World War 2 combat movie, made in 1949, about the Battle of the Bulge; in specific, the defenders of the city of Bastogne, made famous by General McAuliffe's reply to the German surrender demand, "Nuts!". A pet project of studio head Dore Schary when he came to MGM, it became a huge hit, both commercially and critically, garnering many Oscar nominations, and winning 2 (Cinematography and Writing). While it feels more dated than other WW2 era combat movies I've seen, it is still a good film to watch.
The movie opens with two new recruits showing up at an American base in the woods of Ardennes. Pvt. Jim Layton (Marshall Thompson) and his buddy are afraid they've missed all the good battles, and are upset they got split up. Layton has an uncomfortable evening in the tent for his squad, as the veterans pretty much ignore him. They are all getting ready for some well earned R&R in Paris, but then an early morning wake-up call ruins their plans, as they head off to Bastogne.
It seems the Germans have made a big push in the Ardennes forest, which became known as The Battle of the Bulge, Germany's last great offsensive of World War 2. The 101st Airborne has been asked to hold the critical crossroads town of Bastogne, and hold it they must, as the Germany Army swarms around them. The film follows Layton's squad as they are involved in various small battles that make up the grand picture.
Van Johnson plays Pfc. Holley, a bluff, loud guy who gets promoted to squad leader after Sgt. Walowicz is (Bruce Cowling) is wounded early in the picture. He also gets involved with a local French woman (Denise Darcel, who parlayed this part into her own small bit of Hollywood fame) whose house is used as a bivouac. He is more bluster than bravery, but does come through in the pinch, with some unknowing help from Layton.
Pvt. Ernest J. 'Pop' Stazak (George Murphy) is due to be sent home, but the paperwork comes through too late and they are surrounded before he can get out. Pvt. Johnny Rodriguez (Ricardo Montalban) is his main buddy, the happy go lucky kid who tries to do the right thing. And there are several other typical combat movie characters as well.
The squad gets involved in a couple of firefights, although it is pretty amazing just how little fighting they actually do in the movie. And then there is the annoying Hollywood "snow", which they still can't get right today. And without seeing their breath, it is also hard to imagine just how cold it must've been on the front. But finally, the weather clears and the air support can come in, freeing the men up from the siege.
I watched this on the Turner Classic Movie channel, but as it is a 40s film, I don't think it suffered much from the presentation; at least it is commercial free. It does feel more stilted than some later combat movies, although it does get credit for being one of the earliest "realistic" portrayals of men in war. And I was surprised by just how little combat was involved. There was a lot of talk about fighting, but only 2 firefights happened, and one of those was fairly short. And the men were mostly just caricatures, with no in depth character studies here. But still, an interesting movie to see, at least as an ancestor of the more realistic movies to come (like the earlier The Story of GI Joe or the much later Hell is for Heroes). It is available on VHS, and is "Coming Soon" on DVD. I hope there are some nice extras on the DVD!