Cast & Crew
In January 1943 during World War II, Yugoslavian Partisans, led by communist Josip Broz Tito, defend their land against invading German troops led by General Lohring, whose plan, Fall Weiss, enlists Italian forces and Serbian royalist Chetniks to destroy the Partisans. Lohring, with the aid of Colonel Kranzer, plans to surround the Partisans in the River Neretva valley. Although greatly outnumbered and handicapped by limited munitions and typhus among the soldiers, the Partisans defend themselves against the first attack by the German battalion. Having successfully halted hundreds of enemy troops, tanks and machine guns, many of the Partisan officers are surprised and resentful when their commanding officer Ivan calls for a retreat over hard-won territory. Martin, one of the officers, at first refuses to leave his trench, but finally relents and then assists thousands of fleeing Partisans, including the wounded, women, children and elderly, as they climb the mountainous hillsides toward the Neretva River. Demolition expert Vlado then sets up roadside bombs to block Nazi tanks in pursuit. In February, Italian forces arrive by train under the command of General Morelli and Captain Riva to fight the Partisans. Meanwhile, the Partisans learn that the town they are headed toward has been taken by the enemy, forcing them to change course. Realizing they are quickly being surrounded by the enemy, Martin orders everyone to march to Neretva River bridge where they can cross into safe territory. When Ivan receives word that night to strike an Italian-occupied village, he sends in Vlado to blow up the enemy camp and then assigns Partisan artillery to finish the assault, which results in an Italian retreat. Torn between his guilt over seeing so many innocent Yugoslavians lose their lives in the battle and his desire to defeat the fascists in his own country, Riva surrenders to the Partisans and offers to help Martin. Meanwhile, among the Partisan ranks, frontline guerrilla fighter Danica, Ivan's lover, learns from Mad Bosko that her brother has died in combat. Finding her other brother Novak drunkenly celebrating their victory, she admonishes him and then falls into his arms crying over their shared loss. While others are dancing the street, many more succumb to typhus, leaving them haggard and delirious, including village woman Nada and soldier Nikola, who take solace in each other's company. Learning that the road to Neretva is open, the Partisan soldiers lead thousands of civilians toward the river. Meanwhile, a pompous Chetnik senator orders his commanding officer to let the Partisans head to the river unimpeded, certain that the winter conditions in the mountains will decimate the Partisans, who are hampered by the sick and wounded they carry. The Chetnik units are ordered to follow close behind, while the Nazis plan to meet the Partisans at the bridge to destroy them. Despite heavy bombing by enemy planes, the Partisans make it to the bridge only to learn that Tito has ordered Vlado to destroy it, preventing their escape. Knowing they will have to confront the enemy once again, Ivan attempts to give Danica an engagement ring as a promise to reunite, but Danica gives it back, asking him to keep it until they reach the other side of the Neretva. After Vlado blows up the wide metal bridge, the crowd becomes distraught and a desperate Bosko jumps into the rushing water and drowns. Retreating into an abandoned village nearby, the Partisans use their artillery guns to confront German tanks. After Riva leads a hand-to-hand attack on the road and dies in battle, a village woman, armed with only a homemade fire bomb, destroys a tank, blinding herself in the process. Nurses in the hospital then lead the patients in patriotic song, inspiring the Partisans to continue fighting the remaining Germans. Despite orders from his superiors to continue the attack, Kranzer decides to "dig in" and post sentries around his command. Meanwhile, Vlado and others are secretly rebuilding a small foot bridge over the Neretva with the remains of the metal bridge. Learning of the effort soon after, the Germans begin bombing the bridge just as Partisans attempt to cross the river. When Ivan orders a small band of soldiers to defend a hill that lies between them and thousands of approaching Chetniks, Danica and Novak volunteer. Despite knowing they will face certain death while holding the Chetniks at bay, sister and brother are committed to fighting in order to allow the majority of Partisans to cross the river safely. At the Chetnik camp, the senator orders his commanding officer to retreat, but the commander, driven by a code of honor never to surrender, kills the senator and proceeds with the offensive. During the battle, Danica, Novak and others fight valiantly, convincing the Chetniks that the Partisan forces are much larger than they appear, but soon they are both killed. As the Chetniks surrender, Ivan finds Danica's lifeless body and says goodbye. Meanwhile, thousands of Partisans cross the bridge to safety, carrying hundreds of wounded and dying comrades on stretchers across the steep and treacherous terrain.
J. P. Beanard
Lieutenant General Nikola Jjubibratic
General Vlad Segrt
Anthony B. Unger
Major General Milan Vukovic
Henry T. Weinstein
Best Foreign Language Film
At the time of its production, this was the most expensive film ever made in Eastern Europe (outside the Soviet Union).
The Battle of Neretva was originally released in Yugoslavia in 1969 under the Yugoslavian title Bitka Na Neretvi, which had a running time of 175 minutes. After extensive editing, a 102 minute American version in the English language was released in the U.S. by American International Pictures and opened in Los Angeles on April 30, 1971. That version was produced by Steve Previn with a new score by Bernard Herrmann, which was played by The London Philharmonic Orchestra. The print viewed was a video release of the American version. Most American reviews combined credit information for the Yugoslavian and American versions; the credits above reflect onscreen credits for the American version.
According to news items, working titles for the American version of the film included The Battle of the Neretva, The Battle on the River Neretva and The Battle of the River Neretva. Many of the names credited onscreen were spelled differently in other sources. Several of the main characters are shown briefly in the beginning of the film in battle scenes and conferences with officers, but do not figure into the story until later in the film.
Although the film's credits include a 1970 copyright statement for Commonwealth United Entertainment, Inc. and Yugoslavia Film, the picture was not registered for copyright at the time of its release. However, Commonwealth United Entertainment's video edition of the film was registered for copyright on October 14, 1994 under the number PA-769-128.
During the opening credits, Partisan troops and innocent civilians are being slaughtered by dozens of bombs. The battle scenes continue as voice-over narration explains that the Partisan forces led by Marshal Josip Broz Tito are attempting to prevent the German invasion of the Balkans during World War II. The narration adds that Nazi forces supplemented their 200,000 troops with Italian soldiers and Serbian Chetniks and other pro-Nazi Bolsheviks, outnumbering the Partisan forces ten to one.
Although Tito is not pictured onscreen, his orders for the Partisan forces are referred to throughout the film. At the close of the film, voice-over narration dedicates the film to all of the people who made the defeat of the Nazi forces possible, explaining that out of the thousands of deaths, the new nation of Yugoslavia was born.
As described in the film's narration, Marshal Josip Broz Tito (1892-1980) ruled over Yugoslavia, a country formed out of various independent states, during World War II. The Partisan guerrilla tactics and maneuvers lead to the defeat of Nazi forces after several battles, including the battle at the Neretva River, which lies in southwestern Yugoslavia.
The Battle of Neretva had a long and complicated production and distribution history that resulted in variations of running times and credits for the two different versions. Because of the difficulty in obtaining funding for such a large-scale film, initial funding was provided by United Yugoslavia Producers Film Production Organization, a consortium of Yugoslavian film production companies including Jadran Films of Zagreb and Bosna Films of Sarajevo. According to a November 16, 1968 Variety article, six Yugoslavian film production companies were involved in the consortium, each one representing a different republic in the country; however, no additional Yugoslavian film companies were listed in reviews and news items. Additional funding was provided by Eichberg Films of Munich and Igor Films of Rome.
An August 11, 1967 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that the film was to be directed by Veljo Bulajic with the advice of Italian screenwriter and director Elio Petri and Italian screenwriter Sergio Amidei; however, no additional information about the involvement of Petri and Amidei has been determined. The article also noted that Kirk Douglas, Ugo Tognazzi, Curt Jurgens and Romy Schneider were to star in the film, but Douglas, Tognazzi and Schneider were not in the completed version.
On November 27, 1967, Daily Variety reported that Bulajic had also originally considered Van Heflin for a role in the film and planned to begin shooting that Dec. According to a August 14, 1968 Variety article, Columbia Pictures was considering U.S. distribution of the film, which had been shooting throughout 1968, with Yugoslavian and American versions being made simultaneously. On November 13, 1968 Hollywood Reporter reported that Commonwealth United Entertainment, Inc., a company owned by Henry T. Weinstein and Anthony B. Unger, had secured U.S. distribution for the film and was involved in its production. According to the December 10, 1969 Variety review, Commonwealth was responsible for increasing Yul Brynner's participation in the film. Hollywood Reporter reported on December 8, 1969 that Brynner and other members of the cast were in dubbing and looping sessions for the American version of the film.
Along with Brynner, the film featured an international cast that included Russian director and actor Sergei Bondarcuk, Italian actor Franco Nero, Yugoslavian actress Silva Koscina, American director and actor Orson Welles, British actor Anthony Dawson and German actor Hardy Kruger. The August 14, 1968 Variety article noted that more than 150,000 extras were used in the making of the film, along with 6,000 Yugoslavian troops. Modern sources add the following persons to the cast: Faruk Begolli, Vasa Pantelic, Bozidar Smiljanic, Abdurrahman Shala, Demeter Bitenc, Ranko Gucevac, Milos Kandic, Zaim Muzaferija, Tomaz Sarc, Goran Smigic, Risto Siskov and Antun Tudic. An AMPAS document found in AMPAS Library file on the film lists Studio Barrandov, a Czechoslovakian film studio located in Prague, as a participant in the film's production, but the exact nature of the studio's involvement remains undetermined.
The Battle of Neretva was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film in 1969, but lost to the Algerian film Z. For more information about the Chetniks during World War II see the entry for the 1943 film Chetniks!
Released in United States 1971
The American released version of this was significantly edited.
Released in United States 1971