Written & Directed: Robert Altman
Released: 04 Dec 1962
After having to dig-in while getting hit with artillery fire, Hanley sees Sgt. Saunders comes back through the lines while carrying a soldier on his soldier. He had been out on reconnaissance patrol and him and the soldier were the only two left alive.
Hanley orders Saunders back to headquarters to get debriefed and Saunders is then ordered to go out once again with another patrol with Sgt. Jenkin’s patrol. Played by Albert Salmi, he creates an immediately dislike-able character when he rebuff’s Saunder’s initial greeting. We’ve can all relate to having been thrown together with somebody that we can’t stand and the feeling is mutual.
Jenkins purposely goads Saunders with wise cracks which Saunders continually let’s slide. They encounter a sniper that kills one of his men and then Jenkins kills. He then proudly proclaims that is how to fight a war and that he didn’t know what Saunders was doing before this.
Jenkins refuses to listen to Saunders advise on the route until one of Jenkins’ men steps on a landmine and gets killed.
Now Jenkins has lost two men on his patrol.
They arrive at a water mill which they enter to inspect to use as an OP.
While Saunders and Jenkins are inside, they see some Germans approach Jenkins’ men waiting outside and they shoot them. Here’s the thing, the Germans kill two G.I., they had to know that there were others around. Why didn’t they do a more thorough check in the mill for Jenkins and Saunders?
Jenkins and Saunders now have to quickly find a hiding spot, which they do in the lower part of the mill.
While hiding, the Germans move in and right before Jenkins’ and Saunders’ eyes, they are making a German command post with a full Colonel commanding, complete with communications equipment and everything else that goes with it.
Saunders is adamant about trying to reach their headquarters with their Walkie Talkie but Jenkins says it beyond range. Saunders tries but is unsuccessful in making contact. Here’s another example of why didn’t they bring the big field radio, the SCR-300? They clash at this point because Jenkins “orders” Saunders to get off the radio and Saunders refuses by telling him that he’s through taking orders from him. That’s when Jenkins goes into a tirade about having to fight this war surrounded by nothing but “Shoe Clerks”, since he’s a career Regular Army soldier. When Jenkins asks Saunders what he did before the way, Saunders says “Me? I sold shoes.”
They wait until nightfall before making a break for it. Saunders thinks that Jenkins is going to follow him but what happens is that Jenkins pulls a ruse where he gets himself captured and while captured, pretends to be giving the Germans information about troop movements, all the while Saunders is spotting the German map locations from above. Also, Saunders learns that Jenkins used to be a 2nd Lieutenant from an old picture in his possession that the German Colonel was questioning him about.
I noticed that Ted Knight was playing the part of the German Haupmann.
Jenkins then yells at Saunders to get out of there and surprises a German holding a pistol and he shoots off a couple of times at the other Germans. It’s not clear whether any were shot but Saunders then grabs his Tommy gun and shoots the rest. I counted 5 Germans that got it but it wasn’t sure if they were killed or only wounded.
Saunders makes it back to American lines while exhausted, to make his report. Saunders is dismayed when his report is dismissed since they already had the information. He was adamant that the brass hear his report since Jenkins sacrificed his own life so that Saunders would be able to get back with the information. Here we have the moral anti-war message about the futility of war as he gets lectured about it by his Captain and how many small pieces combine to make a greater whole and that his effort wasn’t in vain even though it may have seemed like it. The Captain says to him: “It really doesn’t make much difference who got it first… you understand?”
Saunders learned that the reason Jenkins was made an officer then had it taken away was because a couple of boys died during a training exercise that Jenkins was responsible for from heat exhaustion.
One thing that Saunders said that was pretty poignant: “You know, it’s a funny thing Major. I’ve never had an easier time hating a man and I’ll never have a harder time forgetting one.”
I think we’ve all felt that way about somebody at one time.