Masters Of Cinema #127 - Fixed Bayonets! - Blu-ray Review

'Doggedly strives to present a realistic account of the experiences of US soldiers during the Korean War in spite of its B-movie trappings'.

A film doubtlessly influenced not only by director and screenwriter Samuel Fuller's early career in journalism as well as his own military service, but also the fact that the conflict within which the film is set was still very much in full swing at the time of its release, Fixed Bayonets! doggedly strives to present a realistic account of the experiences of US soldiers during the Korean War in spite of its B-movie trappings.

It's a choice which ultimately generates as many problems for Fuller as it does strengths. In an historical sense, 20th Century conflict presented to its combatants both fire-powered battle and protracted stretches of waiting to act. Fuller includes both in his film, arguably offering a lifelike imbalance by having the inaction outweigh the action. It's an admirable decision, but one which undeniably backfires in causing Fixed Bayonets! to never truly gain a pleasing momentum.

That said, when the action does kick in, Fuller delivers. There are several impressive artillery and gun battle sequences, capped off by a climactic showdown between our heroes and an enemy tank which is arguably Fixed Bayonet!'s standout sequence. There are also occasions where Fuller manages the less action-packed sequences well too, such as a scene depicting the rescue of the platoon's wounded commander from a mine field, during which the director builds pleasing tension through assured camerawork.

In contrast, however, there are moments where Fixed Bayonets! becomes inescapably tedious. The conversations between the soldiers as they await either fresh orders or an attack from the enemy regularly feel too theatrically artificial to either engage or entertain on more than a rudimentary level. Fuller's script also comes across as disappointingly uninspired on several occasions. Perhaps the most grating example is Whitey (Skip Homeier), a know-it-all member of the platoon whose learned nature is employed just as often to add humorously useless information - the difference between stalagmites and stalactites when the men first enter a cave for shelter - as it is to provide handy exposition dumps at several junctures.

Fuller's narrative focus on Corporal Denno (Richard Basehart) also feels somewhat pedestrian. Denno is introduced in the opening act as reluctant to take on responsibility for the lives of other men, which makes it fairly predictable that this is likely to happen at some point in the story. When it inevitably does, the director again goes for arguably the most obvious outcome. It makes Fixed Bayonets! too often feel uninspired in terms of plot, preventing Fuller's film from ever becoming more than an adequate and only occasionally accomplished entry into the war genre.

Founded in 2004, The Masters of Cinema Series is an independent, carefully curated, UK-based Blu-ray and DVD label, now consisting of over 150 films. Films are presented in their original aspect ratio (OAR), in meticulous transfers created from recent restorations and / or the most pristine film elements available.

Fixed Bayonets! is released in the UK on Monday 15th February 2016

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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