• Cross Of Iron

    Released by: Optimum
    Released on: 6/13/2011
    Director: Sam Peckinpah
    Cast: James Coburn, Maximilian Schell, James Mason, David Warner, Senta Berger
    Year: 1977

    The Movie:

    James Coburn (A Fistful Of Dynamite, The Magnificent Seven) plays Sgt. Rolf Steiner, a German soldier stationed on the Eastern Front during the close of the Second World War, which despite financial problems towards the end of its production, still managed to turn into Sam Peckinpah’s last great movie, Cross Of Iron.

    Steiner is a battle-hardened man who has been stationed at the front just long enough to become quite disenfranchised with the whole scenario as the German forces begin their eventual retreat from the Russians. Despite this though, he cares for the men under his command and does the best job he can do given the circumstances under which he has to operate.

    Colonel Brandt (James Mason of Murder By Decree) and Captain Kiesel (David Warner of The Omen and The Balled Of Cable Hogue) are well aware of the obvious defeat that is coming at the hands of the Russians, and hope to use the disillusioned Steiner as their ticket out of the war zone alive. Unfortunately for them, Steiner has no problems voicing his discontent with the way his country has treated him and is loyal not to his superior officers, but only to those under his own command.

    When an aristocratic Prussian Captain named Stransky (played with a sense of wonderful contempt by Maximilian Schell of The Black Hole) arrives, fresh from France, things get worse as Steiner realizes that the only reason Stransky is involved in the war anyway is to protect his family’s honor and win himself an Iron Cross. Stransky takes an immediate disliking to Steiner, and the feelings are very quickly mutual and Stransky soon realizes that Steiner in all likelihood is going to be more of a thorn in his side than even the advancing Russian troops.

    Coburn, who also worked with Peckinpah previously on Major Dundee and Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid once described the director as someone ‘who pushed me over the abyss and jumped in after me’ which is an apt way of describing their tumultuous relationship both on and off camera. Well known as a Hell-raiser of sorts, Peckinpah had a nasty reputation among studio execs and actors alike and is the only man Charlton Heston ever physically threatened on set. His battles not only with producers and studios but with drugs and alcohol oft times preceded the man but despite his personal problems, he was ultimately responsible for turning in some undeniable classics and I think it’s fair to consider Cross Of Iron one of them.

    Steiner plays the typical Peckinpah antihero well, fighting what many would consider a losing battle against insurmountable odds while remaining well grounded and just a little bit bitter the whole time, and the character lends itself well to the landscape the atmosphere that the director creates. Possibly a slightly biographical character in regards to the director’s own military experience, he feels nothing for his duty, and by the end of the movie you can’t really blame him for that.

    The real stars of the show though are the battle scenes. Where more modern war films oft times feel contrived or a little too saccharine (Saving Private Ryan, anyone?), this movie feels to be the very definition of dirty and hard nosed. Everything is coated in dirt, including the men themselves, and the presence of perpetual artillery, air raids, and unprovoked attacks lend a sense of urgency to the whole affair. The use of actual German and Russian weapons gives the film an authentic feel as do the locations and sets that the film was shot on and one can only wonder just how good the film could have looked if the financing hadn’t run out long before the productions completion because it truly looks incredible as it stands.


    Cross Of Iron looks pretty damn impressive in this AVC encoded 1.85.1 1080p high definition widescreen transfer. Compared to the Hen’s Tooth R1 release (we’re talking about the anamorphic widescreen reissue not the ghastly original fullframe disc) detail is vastly improved as is color reproduction. The film really benefits from the added resolution and it’s easier to appreciate the efforts that went into getting the look of the film right when you can pick out all the grit and dirt on the actors’ faces and the fibers in their uniforms. There aren’t any serious noise reduction issues to complain about so the film retains its grainy appearance, as it should, nor are there any serious edge enhancement or compression artifact problems.

    The sole audio option for the movie is an English language LPCM 2.0 and optional subtitles for the hard of hearing are included, also in English. The track shows the limitations of the film’s age with its range but is otherwise of very good quality. Dialogue is clean and clear, the track is very well balanced and sound effects have the right amount of punch behind them.

    Extras start off with a documentary entitled Passion & Poetry: Sam Peckinpah’s War which is a forty-seven minute look back at the making of Cross Of Iron by way of some great behind the scenes clips and interviews with the key cast and crew members including James Coburn, Senta Berger, David Warner, Vdim Glowna, Roger Fritz, and Katy Haber with periodic input from the late director himself. Put together by director Mike Siegel, this is hands down the best feature on the disc and it’s pretty much essential viewing for any Peckinpah fan.

    From there we get a collection of five quick interview bits in the On Location section where we hear from Sam Peckinpah, James Coburn, James Mason, Maximilian Schell and David Warner. Each of this interviews, which fun from four to seven minutes in length, was shot on set while the movie was being made and they offer some insight into what it was like on set at the time. Kruger Kisses Kern is a nine minute interview with Vadim Glowna who talks about how he wrote a letter to Peckinpah to convince him that he was the right man to play Kern in the movie and how, in turn, he feels about the most infamous kiss in the movie. Vadim & Sam: Father And Son is a four minute bit where Glowna talks about going to England to cut the film with Peckinpah while Cutting Room Floor is a five minute in which Roger Fritz, David Warner and Senta Berger talk about scenes that were shot but which were not used in the final version of the movie. Steiner In Japan is a quick three minute collection of stills and clips showing Coburn on a trip to Japan to promote the film while Mike's Homemovies: Steiner & Kiesel Meet Again is some footage from an introduction to an Italian screening of the film with Coburn and Warner in attendance.

    Rounding out the extras on the disc are a TV Spot for the movie, a trailer for the movie, animated menus and chapter stops. All of the extras on the Region B encoded disc are in standard definition and in PAL format.

    The Final Word:

    Cross Of Iron stands the test of time as an incredibly well made and uncompromising war film. Featuring some fantastic performances and memorable set pieces, it’s as smart as it is exciting and Optimum’s Blu-ray finally gives it the special edition release it deserves with an excellent transfer and an impressive array of contextual supplements. This one is pretty much essential.
    Click on the images below for full size Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Paul L's Avatar
      Paul L -
      Peckinpah is one of my favourite filmmakers, CROSS OF IRON is one of my favourite Peckinpah movies, and this Blu-Ray release is one of my favourite releases of the year so far. I watched the whole shebang a few weeks ago, when the disc was first released in the UK, and the whole package simply blew me away.

      Nice review, Ian. I concur wholeheartedly with everything you said.
    1. Ian Jane's Avatar
      Ian Jane -
      Thanks Paul - and I agree completely, this one of the best BD's of the year so far in my opinion as well.