Cross of Iron (1977)

Cross of Iron is a 1977 drama war film directed by Sam Peckinpah and starring James Coburn, James Mason, Maximilian Schell, and David Warner.
Directed by Sam Peckinpah
Produced by Wolf C. HartwigArlene SellersAlex Winitsky
Written byNovel:Willi HeinrichScreenplay:Julius J. EpsteinJames HamiltonWalter Kelley
Starring: James CoburnMaximilian SchellJames MasonDavid WarnerSlavko ŠtimacSenta Berger

As with most of Peckinpah's films, the on-screen action includes a substantial amount of very realistic combat utilizing his characteristic slow motion gunshot scenes.
Set in 1943 on the Eastern Front of World War II, the story revolves around the conflict between a newly-arrived, aristocratic officer who covets the Iron Cross and a cynical, battle-hardened platoon leader in a Wehrmacht regiment during the German retreat from the Taman Peninsula in the Crimea.
The movie was based on the book The Willing Flesh, written by Willi Heinrich and published in 1956. The book may be loosely based on the true story of Johann Schwerdfeger. More recent printings of the book have been titled Cross of Iron to tie in with the film. There are several major differences between the book and film versions.

The movie tells the story of a platoon of German soldiers fighting in the Kuban bridgehead, on the WWII Eastern Front in 1943, led by Corporal Steiner (James Coburn). At the beginning of the movie, footage of Hitler, Hitler Youth boys and Stalingrad are shown with the German children's song Hänschen klein in the background.
While the platoon is on a reconnaissance mission, in which the platoon captures a young Russian boy soldier, a new officer, Captain Stransky (Maximilian Schell) arrives at their base. Showing his cold-bloodedness, Stransky orders that a German field order requiring the German soldiers to take no prisoners is carried out by shooting the boy. When Steiner refuses Stransky readies himself to perform the act himself but at the last minute the boy si saved by Schnurrbart. In a conversation with the base commander, Colonel Brandt (James Mason) and his
adjutant, Captain Kiesel a less than enthusiastic man sick of the war, Stransky claims that he applied for transfer from occupied France to frontline duty in Russia so he can win the Iron Cross, a bravery medal and the movie's namesake, surprising the other officers for his naïveté.

Stransky is then introduced to the experienced and battle-weary Steiner upon his return. Steiner is a myth within his German comrades, highly regarded and decorated despite his rather comptemptuous attitude.
During a Soviet attack to their base, newly-promoted Sergeant Steiner is wounded and a certain Leutnant Meyer (Igor Gallo) is killed while leading the defense. The young boy soldier is also killed by his own sie as Steiner tries to release him. Steiner is sent to a military hospital, where he is haunted by the faces of the dead men and the boy, to recover and has a romantic liaison with a nurse (Senta Berger). Upon returning, he is informed that Stransky, who had not participated in the combat, is claiming to have led the base defense and therefore entitled himself to receive the Iron Cross. He named his aide, Leutnant Triebig (whom he blackmails due to his homossexuality) and Steiner as witnesses. Stransky hopes to persuade Steiner to corroborate his claim, by promising to financially aid him after the war.
Brandt summons Steiner and question him about Stransky's allegations. Brandt hoped that Steiner would expose Stransky lies, but he does not cooperate. When questioned why, he states that he hates all officers, even if "enlightned" as Brandt and Kiesel, and asks a few days to give his answer.
When his company is ordered to retreat, Stransky does not pass the order to Steiner's unit, effectively abandoning him behind Soviet lines. Steiner and his men set off towards the German lines, fighting their way through the Soviets. They manage to escape and reach the German lines, setting a password by radio so he can cross no man's land.
Stransky learns about Steiner's return and orders Triebig to have him killed. Triebig orders Steiner's unit to be shot while approaching the German trenches, but fails in killing Steiner himself. The Sergeant kills Triebig and looks for Stransky. At this moment the Soviets launch an assault on the German positions.
Steiner finds Stransky and confronts him. Instead of shooting him, he invites the officer to fight alongside him and prove his alleged valour.
The movie closes with a reprise of Hänschen klein and Steiner laughing hysterically as Stransky reveals his military inadequacies in battle. The closing credits include a slide show of civilian war victims, and a final quote by Berthold Brecht from his play The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui.
From Wikipedia

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