Fixed Bayonets! (Fuller, 1951)

Fixed Bayonets! represents Sam Fuller at his roughest and most restrained. His war picture follows an Army platoon, entrenched in the middle of the snow packed Korean War, ordered to decoy and fend off the advancing Chinese army so a large division of soldiers can retreat. Richard Baseheart plays Cpl. Denno, fourth in command of the platoon and Fuller’s anxious and reluctant hero. The soldiers reach a snowy pass, set up a barricade, gun positions, and shelter, and await the advancing Communist army and imminent death. Fuller crafts some brilliant long takes using a crane to dolly up and down the steep mountain pass, creating a sense of unity between the men and a realistic sense of space, even though the entire film is shot in a studio. With each Chinese advance, another commanding officers falls, drawing Denno closer to taking control of the outfit. Denno even goes out of his way to heroically rescue one officer just to prolong his lower status. This breathtaking scene, where Denno navigates an icy minefield, creates a central mode of tension, showing the lengths one man can go to stave off the responsibility of military leadership. Fuller makes sure to stress Denno’s not a coward, nor stupid, just adverse to the psychological load of sending men to their deaths. Fuller eventually gives him no choice, and the final battle sequence shows how leadership is born through brutal circumstances, no matter if you like it or not. Fuller keeps close to the soldiers, his fluid camera rarely veering off to the Chinese perspective. This adds even more emphasis on Denno, as if Fuller, nor the viewer can let him off the hook when so many lives are at stake. Fixed Bayonets! might showcase the harsh mental and physical conditions of men in battle, but in typical Fuller fashion, it also reveals a concern for humanity within times of collective horror.

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