Cast & Crew
In December of 1944, only days before Christmas, battle-weary soldiers of the U.S. 101st Airborne Division, stationed at an Army base in France, eagerly await their long-promised leave in Paris. Their hopes of a rest are dashed, however, when they are given orders to go to the Belgian town of Bastogne and hold back the 47th German Panzer Corps, which is advancing through Allied lines. Among those sent to defend the French town are Jarvess, a small town newspaper columnist; Holley, a girl crazy soldier; Roderigues, a Mexican American enlistee; "Pop" Stazak, an older serviceman from Wichita, Kansas; Jim Layton, a new recruit; and Kinnie, the platoon leader. Soon after the men arrive in Bastogne, they meet Denise, an attractive French woman who provides them with lodging. While patrolling the fog-shrouded woods near Bastogne, the American soldiers come under intense enemy fire and realize that they have been surrounded and trapped by the Germans. The American soldiers, fighting without air support, soon find themselves engaged in a long battle to keep the Nazis out of Bastogne. The stand-off exacts its first American casualty when Roderigues is struck by an enemy bullet. Unable to carry the wounded Roderigues through the snow to safety, his fellow soldiers hide him under an abandoned jeep and promise to return for him. A short time later, Holley and a small rescue party return for Roderigues, only to find that he has died. As the fighting in the woods near Bastogne intensifies, the American casualties continue to mount. Following a late night surprise attack on the division by a Nazi patrol, the Americans capture a number of Nazi prisoners and take them back to Bastogne. Greatly outnumbered by the Nazis, the men of the 101st Airborne believe their situation to be near hopeless. One day, Nazi officers attempt to negotiate an American surrender, but General A. C. McAuliffe, the highest ranking officer in charge of the operation, responds with just a single word: "Nuts!" A short time later, the Lutheran chaplain delivers a moving sermon to the defenders of Bastogne and reminds them of the importance of their mission. As the fog lifts around Bastogne for the first time since the Nazis began their counterattack, American bombers and relief planes are seen flying overhead. The men of the 101st Airborne Division rejoice at the sight of the planes, and the arrival of the reinforcements make it possible for the Americans to quickly defeat the Nazis. With their mission accomplished, the men of the 101st Airborne Division march out of Bastogne.
Thomas E. Breen
George Offerman Jr.
William "red" Murphy
Charles B. Smith
Jean Del Val
Raymond C. Bowsher
Robert Ward Wood
H. W. O. Kinnard Lt. Col. Inf.
Alfred E. Spencer
Paul C. Vogel
Edwin B. Willis
Best Writing, Screenplay
Best Supporting Actor
The Essentials - Battleground
A single company of soldiers of the U.S. 101st Airborne Division are assigned the daunting task of holding back the 47th German Panzer Corps who are advancing through Allied lines near Bastogne, Belgium. The group is a cross-section of American men, average Joes who find themselves surrounded by the enemy with no air support. How they survive, how they try to keep their humor and humanity in the face of overwhelming odds, and how they ultimately triumph is the real focus of this true-life World War II incident.
Director: William Wellman
Producer: Dore Schary
Screenplay: Robert Pirosh
Cinematography: Paul Vogel
Editing: John Dunning
Art Direction: Hans Peters, Cedric Gibbons
Original Music: Lennie Hayton
Cast: Van Johnson (Holley), John Hodiak (Jarvess), Ricardo Montalban (Roderigues), George Murphy ("Pop" Stazak), James Whitmore ("Kinnie").
Why BATTLEGROUND is Essential
"Was this trip necessary?" That's the "$64 question" delivered to an exhausted, diminished, battle-weary group of soldiers in the midst of one of the bloodiest and most difficult conflicts of World War II, the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes Forest during December 1944. The speaker is a military chaplain giving a Christmas sermon to a congregation who must have questioned the death and hardship they were enduring so far from home and loved ones. It's also the question the producers of Battleground intended to raise in the minds of its audience, and to answer with a resounding "yes," as the chaplain does in this key scene by reminding the troops why fascism had to be defeated. Four years after the end of the war, the creators of Battleground were taking a chance that Americans were ready to revisit those times, and so the question was not only a reaffirmation of all that had been gained, and lost, by our involvement in the global conflict. It also expressed the hope that audiences would answer affirmatively that it had, indeed, been worth the trip to the theater to see a story about men in battle, and that's just what they did, in huge numbers that made Battleground the second-highest grossing in its year of wide release (1950). Yet the film almost didn't get made.
The production history of Battleground is axiomatic of the studio system, particularly during the uncertain times in which it found itself in the late 1940s. It was rescued from the micromanaging new owner of RKO, Howard Hughes, by producer Dore Schary, who had made it a pet project with writer and former soldier Robert Pirosh, a veteran of the Battle of the Bulge a few years earlier. Schary took it to his new job at MGM, where he ran into conflict with longtime studio boss Louis B. Mayer, eventually getting the green light only because Mayer thought its certain failure would result in Schary's forced departure from the studio.
By Mayer's assessment, which was not completely clouded by professional rivalry, Battleground should not have worked as well as it did. The popular battle pictures of a few years earlier (Bataan , Wake Island ) had succeeded because the country's attention was overwhelmingly on the war, an event that was immediate in everyone's daily life. Like those pictures, Battleground had the formulaic plot about a group of men from all backgrounds, ethnicities, regions, etc. What it lacked was the immediacy, the extra connection provided by the concern felt on the homefront for the outcome of the war and the individual fates of those on the front lines. Yet, by giving each character a recognizable trait - Roderigues's wonder at the sight of snow, Pops's arthritis and chance for being sent home, Abner's tagline and habit of sleeping with his boots off - and injecting humor wherever possible, writer Pirosh was able to elicit audience sympathy and interest.
In addition, the last great films of the war, Story of G.I. Joe (1945) and A Walk in the Sun (1945), had taken an almost documentary approach to its subject. Director William Wellman (who also made Story of G.I. Joe) chose instead to shoot Battleground almost entirely in the studio, an unusual choice for an action subject. But what emerged from this rather consciously fictitious mise en scene was a character drama focused more on the human condition than on the locations and mechanics of warfare, highlighting the loneliness and frustration, the struggle against the elements, and the frequent sense of hopelessness that characterizes the war experience as much as action itself. Lastly, the liberal Schary, a producer given to making what were often derisively called "message pictures," proved that a movie could work as both popular entertainment and social commentary, in this case reminding the country (and the industry) of its anti-fascist commitment in a time of mounting right-wing backlash and political witch hunts.
If for no other reason, Battleground would have a place in cinema history for the role it played in the downfall of L.B. Mayer, one of the most powerful men in the business and a shaper of the Hollywood system (he was forced out of MGM in 1951). The movie also serves as a footnote to the ultimate demise of RKO under Howard Hughes. Ultimately, however, Battleground was that rare example of a movie that enjoyed unanimous critical acclaim as well as a huge box office success.
by Rob Nixon
The Essentials - Battleground
Pop Culture 101 - Battleground
The shot of Spudler getting shot while reaching out of the foxhole for his boots recalls Lew Ayres's death in All Quiet on the Western Front (1930).
Critics and film historians have noted that although director William Wellman preferred the more documentary feel of his other war hit, Story of G.I. Joe (1945), the pictures he shot in far more controlled situations in the studio, such as The Ox-Bow Incident (1943), are more visually striking.
Some observers have commented that Don Taylor's role as wealthy recruit Standiferd is similar to the part he played in the later war film Stalag 17 (1953).
The care with which the creators of Battleground matched exteriors, studio shots, and real combat footage and strove for authenticity in geography and climate has been compared favorably to a later war epic about the same campaign, though on a much grander scale, Battle of the Bulge (1965). The battle in the later film is erroneously depicted as taking place in a rather barren, hilly area, and not the flat, dense Ardennes Forest. Some shots betray the production as taking place during warm weather rather than the deep winter conditions depicted.
In John Sayles's film Lianna (1983), the title character's thoughtless husband, a college teacher, leaves the room in one scene to go watch Battleground on television because "I have to teach it next week."
The computer-colorized version of Battleground was released on video in the 1980s during the brief trend for adding color to old black-and-white movies.
The MGM release Go for Broke! (1951) is sometimes mistakenly listed as a sequel to this film, probably because it capitalized on Battleground's success by starring Van Johnson in another war movie written and directed by Robert Pirosh, who penned Battleground. In the later film, however, Johnson plays a totally different character in a different story.
by Rob Nixon
Pop Culture 101 - Battleground
Trivia - Battleground - Trivia & Fun Facts About BATTLEGROUND
Schary's 30-year career in film included stints as a writer (Academy Award shared with Eleanore Griffin for the original story of Boys Town, 1938), producer, and studio production chief. When he was finally ousted as head of MGM in the mid-1950s, he found a new career as a successful theater producer, director, and playwright, winning Tony Awards for writing and producing the play Sunrise at Campobello about FDR. Schary was one of the few Hollywood executives who attempted to stand up to the House Un-American Activities Committee during the anti-communist witch hunts of the late 1940s.
Wellman, whose career stretched from 1920 to 1958, was known for "men's" pictures, particularly ones that dealt with a subject with which he was personally familiar, aviation. He directed the first-ever Academy Award-winning Best Picture, Wings (1927), and won his only directing Oscar® for the original version of A Star Is Born (1937).
James Whitmore gained his first fame in the Broadway cast of the war drama Command Decision. When the play was made into a film in 1948, Whitmore's role was given to the more bankable actor Van Johnson, his co-star in Battleground. Whitmore instead made his film debut in the crime drama The Undercover Man (1949). He has had a long and respected career, garnering awards and nominations, including Oscar® and Golden Globe nods for Best Actor for the film version of his successful one-man stage show performance as President Truman in Give 'Em Hell, Harry!" (1975).
Early press reports list James Mitchell in the cast, but he does not appear in the film. Some say he was replaced by James Whitmore because Mitchell, a dancer, did not act or move properly for the drill sergeant role. Mitchell's most famous screen appearance was as Curly in the Dream Ballet sequence of Oklahoma! (1955).
Douglas Fowley, who plays Pvt. Kippton, the soldier constantly complaining about (and clacking) his ill-fitting, Army-issue false teeth, actually lost all his teeth in an explosion aboard his aircraft carrier during a battle in the South Pacific in World War II.
Some of the Battleground supporting cast went on to work in television. The most successful of these was James Arness, a bit player here but the star of the TV Western Gunsmoke for many years. Herbert Anderson (billed as "Guy Anderson" here for his role as Hansan) later played the title character's father on the long-running comedy Dennis the Menace. Marshall Thompson (as young recruit Jim Layton) never quite broke through to major film stardom but did have a hit as veterinarian Dr. Marsh Tracy in Clarence, the Cross-Eyed Lion (1965). He reprised the part on the small screen for 43 episodes of the spin-off series Daktari in the late 1960s. Although he continued to act until 1964, Don Taylor (Standiferd) began directing for television in the late 1950s and helmed episodes of numerous series, including Dennis the Menace. He also directed the occasional feature film, such as Damien: Omen II (1978) and the WWII fantasy The Final Countdown (1980).
Writer Robert Pirosh later developed the long-running World War II TV series Combat, which followed a single infantry squad through the front lines of Europe. The show featured guest appearances by Battleground cast members Ricardo Montalban, Denise Darcel, Richard Jaeckel, and James Whitmore.
Actor-dancer George Murphy's film career was nearing its end when he made Battleground. He later went into politics and became the Republican Senator from California (1965-1971).
Doomed new recruit Hooper was played by Scotty Beckett, a much sought-after child star since his success at the age of 5 in the Our Gang comedies of the early 1930s. Like many other child stars, Beckett had a troubled adult life, in frequent problems with the law and dying of an overdose of barbiturates in 1968 at the age of 37.
Dore Schary wanted to be sure Battleground was released no later than the end of the year to take advantage of the holiday movie season and to qualify it for the Academy Awards for that year. It premiered in Washington, DC, on November 9, 1949. This first screening was attended by military and political dignitaries, including General Anthony McAuliffe, commander of the 101st Division during the events depicted in the movie.
President Harry Truman requested of producer Dore Schary, and was granted, of course, a private screening while he was on vacation in Key West.
Premieres of Battleground were also held in New York (November 11, 1949) and Los Angeles (December 1), a requirement of Oscar rules. The movie went into general release in January 1950.
According to a Daily Variety news item from the period, Battleground took in $3,750,000 (other sources make it more than $4.5 million) at the box office and was MGM's largest-grossing film in five years (although some claim that status for the Tracy-Hepburn comedy Adam's Rib, 1949). It has also been credited as the second-highest grossing film of 1950, behind Samson and Delilah (1949).
Regardless of what actual rank it achieved at the box office, the runaway success of Battleground was a blow to Louis B. Mayer's plans to retain control of the studio. At a time when all the other major studios were experiencing financial decline, Metro's success under Schary positioned him as a savior at the studio. Increasing tension between the two executives soon came to a head, and when Mayer delivered a "him-or-me" ultimatum to the studio money men in 1951, he was ousted as head of MGM after 27 years.
An MGM publicity man commented that he believed the success of Battleground was due to an ad showing the big-breasted Denise Darcel in a tight black sweater.
"A lot of people think Battleground is better than G.I. Joe, but I don't....I don't know why. I guess because there was a lot of humor. A dirty kind of humor." director William Wellman
Memorable Quotes from BATTLEGROUND
WRITTEN PROLOGUE: This story is about, and dedicated to, those Americans who met General Heinrich von Luttwitz and his 47th Panzer Corps and won for themselves the honored and immortal name "The Battered Bastards of Bastogne."
MAJOR: (Edmon Ryan): Thank you Sergeant.
HOLLEY (Van Johnson): That's PFC to you, Major, as in "praying for civilian."
HOLLEY: Let's not try to reach China this time, hey Bettis?
BETTIS (Richard Jaeckel): Well there's no sense digging if you don't go deep.
HOLLEY: The last time we dug one together, you went so deep that when I climbed out in the morning I got the bends.
GERMAN LIEUTENANT (Roland Varno): The major thinks General McAuliffe must have misunderstood. We have appealed to the well-known American humanity to save the people of Bastogne from further suffering. We have given you two hours to consider before raining destruction upon you. We do not understand General McAuliffe's answer.
AMERICAN COLONEL (Ian McDonald): I'd be glad to repeat it. The answer is "nuts."
GERMAN LIEUTENANT: Is that a negative or an affirmative reply?
AMERICAN COLONEL: Nuts is strictly negative.
GERMAN LIEUTENANT: We will kill many Americans.
AMERICAN COLONEL: On your way, bud.
CHAPLAIN (Leon Ames): Was this trip necessary? ... My answer to the sixty-four dollar question is yes, this trip was necessary. As the years go by, a lot of people are going to forget. But you won't. And don't ever let anybody tell you you were a sucker to fight in the war against fascism.
Complied by Rob Nixon
Trivia - Battleground - Trivia & Fun Facts About BATTLEGROUND
The Big Idea - Battleground
To drive home both the sense of sacrifice and the real threat of a Nazi victory, Schary looked for a situation in which the Allied cause was in jeopardy. He found it in the crucial siege of the Belgian town of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge.
Schary was lucky to find writer Robert Pirosh, whose most recent credit was adapting the hit stage military comedy Up in Arms (1944). Pirosh leaped at the chance to tell a story he knew first hand; he had fought in the Battle of the Bulge during the war. In April 1947, he traveled to Europe to revisit the battlefields where he had fought and decided to tell a more intimate story, portraying a single squad in a way that "would not be an insult to the memory of those we left there." The important thing, for Pirosh, was to find something universal to all those who had fought in the war, no matter where, by showing "what did it do to us? How did we feel?"
Although Pirosh had fought in the war, he was not with the 101st Airborne, the division that had been surrounded at Bastogne for eight days. Concerned he might not be able to paint an accurate portrait of the experience, he approached division commander General Anthony McAuliffe, whose reply to a German demand for surrender, "Nuts!", had been a symbol of American determination during the war. McAuliffe assured Pirosh, "You were fighting under the same kind of conditions. You were just as cold, the fog was just as thick, the suspense was just as great. Go ahead and write it the way you feel it." The General strongly supported the project and served as technical adviser on the screenwriting phase of Battleground.
Schary, meanwhile, queried RKO sales reps about the market for a war film. When they responded negatively, he polled exhibitors across the country. They were more positive, although they qualified their assessment with questions about where it would be set, what it would be about, and who would be in it. Without answering, Schary decided to move forward, but he gave the picture a working title as far removed from the subject as possible, "Prelude to Love," in order to keep the project secret and not allow other studios to get a jump on RKO with war films of their own.
Pirosh finished the first draft of the Battleground screenplay by mid-January 1948, and Schary approached director William Wellman, who made one of the war years' finest films, Story of G.I. Joe (1945). Wellman deemed it "a hell of a script" and accepted, with the understanding that it would not be another G.I. Joe. "I'll just make a picture about a very tired group of guys," he said.
Schary contacted MGM to see if he could borrow two of that studio's contract players, Van Johnson and Ricardo Montalban. He was told by MGM's casting director Billy Grady there was no chance of getting anyone from the studio because executives there thought the script was "a stinker."
At this point in the project, millionaire industrialist and Hollywood dabbler Howard Hughes bought RKO. Schary had a clause in his contract allowing him to leave his job if a new owner took over, but initially he tried to work with Hughes. It soon become apparent, though, that his new boss intended to be very hands on, and when Hughes ordered him to remove Battleground from the production schedule, Schary resigned. His only request was to ask Hughes to sell him the script. Hughes agreed, for the bargain sum of $20,000, and Schary brought Pirosh with him to his new job at MGM.
Schary wanted Battleground to be his first project as the new production head of his former employer MGM, the company he had quit several years earlier over conflicts with studio head Louis B. Mayer and other executives. Although they didn't favor the project, Mayer and Nicholas Schenck, president of MGM's parent company, didn't want to butt heads again with their new executive, so they gave him a go-ahead, with the notion in mind that if it failed, they would have more leverage over future production decisions. The project quickly became known as "Schary's folly."
Schary was now able to get the actors he wanted from the start, adding John Hodiak and George Murphy to the cast with Johnson and Montalban. He also cast James Whitmore, an actor with only one other film to his credit (The Undercover Man, 1949), in the key role of the tough-talking Sgt. Kinnie. Schary had been impressed with Whitmore's award-winning performance on Broadway in the war-themed play Command Decision. Although trade papers announced Robert Taylor and Keenan Wynn would also star, neither appeared in the film.
Although Wellman was reportedly against adding a female role to the picture, he and Schary personally interviewed the single woman in the cast, French actress Denise Darcel as a kindlyand sexyBelgian who quarters the squad in Bastogne for a night. From the producer's own statements, she appears to have been cast exclusively on the basis of her physical attributes.
by Rob Nixon
The Big Idea - Battleground
Battleground is far from the usual war movie heroics. It follows a group of men from the 101st Airborne trapped in the Bastogne in 1944. Though they're the usual cross-section of male stereotypes - a tough sergeant, a journalist, a Southern boy, a womanizer - the intense characterizations and well-drawn details keep them believable. The men try to survive the snow, the Germans, and their own occasional squabbles.
Writer Robert Pirosh had in fact been at the Bastogne himself (though not in the 101st) and got the project started with producer Dore Schary at RKO when Howard Hughes ruled that particular roost. To avoid other studios making a competing film they kept the subject secret and used the misleading title Prelude to Love. But Hughes insisted that nobody wanted to see a film about the war so soon after it ended and cancelled the project. Shortly afterwards when Schary went to MGM he was able to take the project along with him. MGM head L.B. Mayer was just as skeptical but more tolerant even though when Battleground had been at the previous studio MGM refused to loan any of its actors to the project. Mayer wished Schary well and let the film proceed.
Veteran director William Wellman was hired for the film. Schary was able to get the cast he wanted, including Van Johnson, John Hodiak, Ricardo Montalban, James Whitmore and George Murphy. To add authenticity, twenty actual paratroopers from the Bastogne were brought in to train the actors and appear in the background.
Battleground was finished twenty days early and almost $100,000 under budget, mostly the result of shooting on a soundstage with a wall knocked out where weather could be controlled. A screening was arranged for President Truman before its opening late in 1949 and practically from the moment it appeared Battleground was recognized as a classic.
Producer: Dore Schary
Associate Producer/Screenwriter: Robert Pirosh
Director: William Wellman
Cinematographer: Paul Vogel
Music: Lennie Hayton
Editor: John D. Dunning
Art Director: Cedric Gibbons, Hans Peters
Cast: Van Johnson (Holley), John Hodiak (Jarvess), Ricardo Montalban (Roderigues), George Murphy (Ernest "Pop" Stazak), James Whitmore (Kinnie), Leon Ames (The Chaplain), Michael Brown (Levenstein), Richard Jaeckel (Bettis), James Arness (Garby)
BW-119m. Closed captioning. Descriptive video.
by Lang Thompson
Critics' Corner - Battleground
Academy Awards for Battleground went to Paul Vogel for Best Black-and-White Cinematography and to Robert Pirosh for Best Writing. The movie also earned nominations for Best Picture, Director (William Wellman), Supporting Actor (James Whitmore), and Editing (John Dunning)
Battleground also won Golden Globe Awards for Pirosh's Screenplay and Whitmore as Supporting Actor, a Writers Guild nomination for Best American Drama and the movie was chosen Best Picture of the Year by Photoplay magazine
The Critics' Corner: BATTLEGROUND
"Through sharp focus on a group of characters it exposes all the griping disappointments and foxhole dreams and aspirations of the battle-wearied foot soldier. The cast performs in inspired manner. Murphy is the 35-year-old 'Pop' who is being discharged but finds himself a civilian in No Man's Land because Bastogne is surrounded. Johnson plays the carefree GI, and with great credibility. Other standouts include: John Hodiak as the newspaperman who enlisted; Montalban as the Mexican-American."
"In this corner's tempered opinion, this new drama...is the best of the World War II pictures that have yet been made in Hollywood. And further, we feel that its unfolding at the Astor on Armistice Day, just twenty-four years (less eight days) after The Big Parade  opened there, is a piece of poetic justice with arresting significance. For here, without bluff or bluster or the usual distracting clichés that have somehow crept into the war films, regardless of all we know of war, is a smashing pictorial re-creation of the way that this last one was for the dirty and frightened foot-soldier who got caught in a filthy deal. Here is the unadorned image of the misery, the agony, the grief and the still irrepressible humor and dauntless mockery of the American GI."
Bosley Crowther, New York Times, November 12, 1949
"The picture has in its favor some brisk direction by William A. Wellman, but he has regrettably not managed to hide entirely the fact that the script from which he shot the picture is like a good many previous scripts dealing with war. I'm afraid, too, that in constantly reiterating the idiosyncrasies of its characters...the film becomes pretty monotonous. But there are plenty of rousing battle scenes."
John McCarten, The New Yorker, November 19, 1949
"A serious and frequently powerful re-enactment of WWII's Battle of the Bulge...It may well have been an influence on several Vietnam movies...in its unglamorous portrait of men in war."
- Adrian Turner, TimeOut Film Guide
"Unlike most war films, this one de-emphasizes the action and tries to provide insight into the individual soldiers...But it all seems forced. Another trouble is that these guys are so boring that you'll want them to start firing their guns. Best scenes deal with platoon in cat-and-mouse game with Germans dressed as American soldiers."
- Danny Peary, Guide For the Film Fanatic
"The combat scenes are filmed on some of the most authentic and evocative sets ever constructed. Art directors Cedric Gibbons and Hans Peters and cinematographer Paul C. Vogel create a heavily wooded world of snow and fog without horizon or shadow. Visibility is so limited that hearing is as important as seeing. Give them and the cast equal credit for making the atmosphere of cold desolation seem so chilling. Wellman mixes in archival footage, as most filmmakers did in those years, but few managed it so seamlessly."
- Mike Mayo, Videohound's War Movies
"...Robert Pirosh's slick script...lacks genuine insight into the characters..."
- Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide
"Battleground is the best of the generic "GIs in the Mud" genre of war film...Battleground plays the plight of the ordinary infantryman for its simple truth...The casting in Battleground plays better now, 55 years later. In 1949 it was all too obvious that the first priority was to keep all of MGM's contract players busy; the bottom was falling out of the studio system. Half the cast are refugees from musicals (George Murphy, Ricardo Montalban, Van Johnson) trying to make a dramatic mark in post-war Hollywood. Wellman's no-nonsense direction serves them all well...The film doesn't try to be a document of The Battle of the Bulge...The film captures the obstinate stubbornness of the American fighter to the nth degree, and is a respectful portrait of a generation of citizen-soldiers. "
- Glenn Erickson, DVD Savant
"...this studio-bound production now seems stilted and unpersuasive, despite some good writing and direction."
- Halliwell's Film & Video Guide
"What sets Battleground apart and makes it so extraordinary are Robert Pirosh's realistic screenplay-focusing on the day-to-day hardships of B Platoon's struggle to cope and stay alive in a hostile environment-and Paul Vogel's sensational cinematography-capturing in close-up the essence of men in war."
- Judge George Hatch, DVD Verdict
Critics' Corner - Battleground
This is an M-1, semi-automatic, high velocity...- Hansan
Look, you're not selling it to me, you're showing me how to fire it.- Soldier
Thank you Sergeant.- Major
That's P.F.C. to you major as in praying for civilian- Holley
We've had good deals before, but this is the best one yet. This is great. I don't ever wanna go back. I found a home in the army.- Holley
Yeah, they really shoulda sent out a bigger patrol.- Holley
Do you want to goof off?- PFC. Johnny Rodriguez
Who said anything about goofing off?- Holley
Nobody. I'm just saying, the best way is to tell them you heard voices talking in German.- PFC. Johnny Rodriguez
Let's say we heard voices talking in Japanese and let G-2 figure that out.- PFC. Donald Jarvess
Let's not try to reach China this time, hey Bettis?- Holley
Well there's no sense digging if you don't go deep.- Bettis
The last one we dug one together, you went so deep that when I climbed out in the morning I got the bends.- Holley
Screenwriter Robert Pirosh based this story on his experiences as an infantryman in the 101st Airborne during the Battle of Bastogne. Consequently many of the incidents in the film - such as Pvt. Kippton's habit of always losing his false teeth, or the Mexican soldier from Los Angeles who had never seen snow until he got to Belgium - that have always been derided as "typical Hollywood phony baloney" actually happened.
Douglas Fowley, who plays Pvt. Kippton (he of the continually lost false teeth) served in the Navy in the South Pacific in World War II and lost all his own teeth in an explosion aboard his aircraft carrier during battle.
The following written prologue appears in the onscreen credits: "This story is about, and dedicated to, those Americans who met General Heinrich von Luttwitz and his 47 Panzer Corps and won for themselves the honored and immortal name 'The Battered Bastards of Bastogne.'" Robert Pirosh's credit appears onscreen as "Story and screenplay by Robert Pirosh, Associate Producer." The film is based, in part, on actual events that took place in the Ardennes Forest in December of 1944. The Nazi counterattack and the overwhelming Allied resistance with which it was met is commonly referred to as the "Battle of the Bulge." According to the onscreen credits, members of one of the original resistance forces, the "Screaming Eagles" of the 101st Airborne Division, appear in the film. Lt. Col. Harry W. O. Kinnard, the technical advisor on this film, served as a World War II intelligence officer at the Battle of The Bulge, according to a March 1949 Daily Variety news item. An August 1948 Hollywood Reporter news item indicates that former RKO production head Dore Schary purchased the rights to the Battleground script from RKO following his move to M-G-M. According to the news item, the film, which was one of several projects at RKO that were shelved when Schary resigned, was to have been made by Jesse Lasky and Walter MacEwan. The news item also noted that RKO had already invested approximately $100,000 in the film before it was shelved.
In October 1948, following M-G-M's acquisition of the property, a Hollywood Reporter news item noted that Robert Taylor, Van Johnson John Hodiak, Ricardo Montalban and Keenan Wynn were set to star, and that the picture was given a $2,000,000 budget. An October 1948 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that Pandro S. Berman was set to produce the film, but his contribution to the released film has not been determined. A Hollywood Reporter production chart lists actor Jim Mitchell in the cast, but he did not appear in the released film. A pre-production news item in Hollywood Reporter noted that half of the picture was to be filmed in Northern California, Oregon and Washington. A May 1949 Hollywood Reporter news item adds that Fort Lewis, WA served as the background for the tank sequence depicting the relief of Bastogne. According to a May 1949 Hollywood Reporter news item, Schary instituted a system of dubbing and cutting during production which made it possible to preview the film within forty-eight hours of the scenes being filmed. Each day's film was processed as it was shot, reducing the average time between completion and preview by several weeks.
Schary completed the film twenty days under its original shooting schedule by instituting several other innovations. He also ordered twenty-five sets built on one sound stage, and then had art director Hans Peters map out in detail the terrain, action and possible camera angles. Copies of these drawings were then given to director William Wellman and cinematographer Paul Vogel. Some of the sets were used several times over as the film's actions shifted, according to a June 1949 Hollywood Reporter news item.
Battleground marked the first film in which actor Herbert Anderson was billed as "Guy Anderson." After several years, Anderson returned to the used of the name "Herbert."
The Washington, D.C. premiere was attended by Brig. Gen. A. C. McAuliffe, the defender of Bastogne, according to an October 1949 Daily Variety news item. Robert Pirosh, who himself fought in the Battle of the Bulge, received an Academy Award for Best Story and Screenplay, and Paul C. Vogel received an Academy Award in the category of Best Black-and-White Cinematography. The film also received the following Academy Award nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (James Whitmore); and Best Editing. Battleground was listed as the Best Picture of the Year by Photoplay. According to a Daily Variety news item, the film took in $3,750,000 at the box office and was M-G-M's largest grossing film in five years. In 1951, Van Johnson starred in M-G-M's follow-up film to this picture, entitled Go for Broke, which was written and directed by Robert Pirosh.