Producer Henry Blanke has framed and mounted a gripping, fast-paced, hard-hitting dramatic portrait of an interesting World War II battlefield incident. But there are occasional duds in the film’s dramatic arsenal.
Recollections of an actual and tightly classified incident near the dragon’s teeth of the Siegfried Line during the dark days of World War II inspired the story by Robert Pirosh, adapted into screenplay form by Richard Carr and Pirosh, creative activator of the film who bowed out as its producer along the way.
Pivotal character of the drama is a surly, rebellious, busted NCO (Steve McQueen) whose front-line courage, leadership and keen sense of improvisation in the course of a grim and seemingly hopeless campaign to hold off a large German force in the face of incredible odds backfires into a potential court martial rap for usurping authority.
McQueen plays the central role with hard-bitten businesslike reserve and an almost animal intensity, permitting just the right degree of humanity to project through a war-weary-and-wise veneer. Bobby Darin has a colorful role of a battlefield hoarder, which he portrays with relish. Harry Guardino is excellent as an uncertain sergeant. James Coburn fine as a practical corporal.