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World War II drama where the action centers around a single maneuver by a squad of GIs in retaliation against the force of the German Siegfried line. Reese joins a group of weary GIs unexpectedly ordered back into the line when on their way to a rest area. While most of the men withdraw from their positions facing a German pillbox at the far side of a mine-field, half a dozen men are left to protect a wide front. By various ruses, they manage to convince the Germans that a large force is still holding the position. Then Reese leads two of the men in an unauthorized and unsuccessful attack on the pillbox, in which the other two are killed; and when the main platoon returns, he is threatened with court-martial. Rather that face the disgrace, and in an attempt to show he was right, he makes a one-man attack on the pillbox. Written by
During production a number of actors, including Steve McQueen and Fess Parker, frequently arrived on set late and shot a number of scenes with little or no rehearsal and without make-up. Apparently they were working on other film projects at the same time they were shooting this one. See more »
During the final battle, a German gives the order "Achtung, Fire". In addition to mixing German with English, the use of "fire" as in "fire when ready" in German "Feuern Sie, wenn vorbereitet" is meaningless. "Fire" in this context is an American term. See more »
Sgt. Jim Larkin:
[after the squad is fired on by a German machine gun]
You guys are covered here, but walk carefully beyond this point.
Pvt. Dave Corby:
Walk? Are you out of your mind? I'm gonna dig a subway.
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One of Steve McQueen's better roles is one that is modeled on one that James Cagney played in The Fighting 69th. If you'll remember Cagney was a wise guy who lost his nerve on the battlefield and was sentenced to be shot, but redeemed himself in a heroic climax.
Now McQueen wasn't a coward and he didn't have a priest like Pat O'Brien to have faith in him. But he was a reckless sort and convinced of his own righteousness. It negated his acts of bravery and when the film opens we find him down to being a private and under the command of a sergeant played by Fess Parker who likes him, but understands him all too well.
And Parker's platoon has a really rotten assignment. Hold their position on the Siegfried Line with a handful of men until help arrives and maybe convince the Germans there's a lot more out there than there really are.
McQueen in his usual rebel way goes his own way. It costs the lives of a lot in his squad. Still he does redeem himself like Cagney in the end. This is maybe the only film in which McQueen's rebel persona worked against his character. Still it's an interesting and moving performance he gives.
Look also for good performances from the rest of the cast that includes Harry Guardino, Bobby Darin, Nick Adams, Mike Kellin, and Bob Newhart as other soldiers on the dirty detail.
The film credits say 'introducing Bob Newhart' and he provides what little comedy there is. After the Parker platoon gets the assignment to hold on their assigned piece of real estate, Newhart comes driving up in a jeep loaded with typewriters. He's a clerk/typist at division headquarters and it seems as though he made a wrong turn. Never mind because Guardino and Parker commandeer him and his jeep.
Which sets up one of his routines from his early standup act. Newhart used to work with a telephone and he's asked to do so here for the benefit of a German microphone planted on the American line. It actually works very well into the fabric of the plot.
Hell is for Heroes is one tough and gritty war drama, the kind of film that a generation later, Steven Spielberg would get all kinds of acclaim for Saving Private Ryan. For war picture fans, this is a must.
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