William Wellman’s “Battleground”

World War II is one such event in the history of this planet that not only shook and bewildered everyone across the globe, it also presented us with millions of stories from millions who were affected either directly or indirectly. We are now approaching 75 years since the war had ended but we hear and learn about a new story from some corner of the world popping up and none of them are just about the war itself.

William Wellman’s “Battleground” was released in 1949 and probably the first mainstream significant American film released since the World War ended. It narrates the story of a company of 101st Airborne Division in Bastogne during the Battle of Bulge. The movie was awarded two Academy Awards for – Best Cinematography to Paul C.Vogel and Best Screenplay to Robert Pirosh.

Bastogne’s significance during the World War II was explained in simple words during the movie – as a city that is the main intersection of seven main highways, one of them straight leading to Antwerp. Antwerp is the key connecting point for 20 Allied divisions and the Germans are after it to cut supply to it. With fog, thick and intense which makes it worse conditions for any aerial communication, it is a very crucial camp for Allied forces.

War is often represented as an act of bravery and soldiers are the embodiment of sacrifice and dedication. This movie never undermines these skills of 101st Airborne Division but also brings into fore some of the elements of basic human emotions. The vulnerability, desire for comfort and escapism driven by tiredness, fatigue, and medical conditions. It draws our attention in regarding them as one of our own who is out there fighting for a cause.

The performances of everyone was very well orchestrated. I call it orchestrated because none of the individual performances stand out as better over others. It is not a negative thing – every performance, when analyzed in collaboration with others, makes it much more beautiful. The dig between Pop (Geroge Murphy) and Kipp (Douglas Fowley), the transformation of young Jim Layton (Marshall Thompson), funny episode of Holley (Van Johnson) and his eggs, Hansan (Guy Anderson) and his watch – everything is beautifully composed and arranged.

But the most brilliant episodes in the movie happens whenever there is a confrontation with the Germans – either internal digs or letters dropped down or face off with the representative for surrender.

Two episodes that are absolutely delightful to watch:

$64 Question:

Closing Scene:

Overall, William Wellman’s “Battleground” almost gives us the closest learned story of World War II with performances and screenplay that would be remembered for the years to come. It is not a story just about bravery and dedication but a story about fighting all odds for a cause despite many vulnerabilities.


Release: 1949 (B&W) | Runtime: 118 Mins |

Direction: William Wellman |

Screenplay: Robert Pirosh |

Cinematographer: Paul C Vogel |

Editor: John D Dunning |

Music: Lennie Hayton |

Production: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer |

Cast: Van Johnson, John Hodiak, Ricardo Montalban, George Murphy


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