Despite the restoration of 50 minutes of footage that some thought might have been lost forever (misplaced is more like it), this nearly three-hour version of filmmaker Samuel Fuller's "The Big Red One" (released in 1980 at just under two hours) isn't quite the director's cut Fuller had spoken about putting together before his death in 1997. That's because there are still a couple of scenes in the director's shooting script, on which critic and filmmaker Richard Schickel based this "reconstruction," that were never found.
Still, it has become much more than the merely pretty good war movie that came out 24 years ago. Now, it's very nearly great. In 1980, many spoke of the movie's narrative jumpiness as it followed a World War II rifle squad (led by Lee Marvin's laconic, nameless sergeant and headlined by a fresh from "Star Wars" Mark Hamill) from North Africa to Sicily to Normandy to Germany, a quality that suggested something was missing. I have news for these folks: The movie, even in its near-complete version, still feels jumpy. Now, though, rather than implying missing connective tissue, that quality serves to underscore the film's artless brutality, a brutality whose primitive, thudding rhythm comes from the counterpoint created by moments of intense danger, surreally comic relief, boredom and great, poignant beauty. Among the restored footage are scenes fleshing out the character of Schroeder (Siegfried Rauch), a German soldier who appears to haunt Fuller's dogfaces as they trudge from their 1942 battle initiation at North Africa's Kasserine Pass until their liberation of the Falkenau death camp in 1945. Cinephiles will easily spot Fuller himself making a cameo as a cigar-chomping war cameraman.
What the movie may lack in "Saving Private Ryan"-style gloss, it more than makes up for in authenticity, or, in other words, heart.
THE BIG RED ONE (R, 160 minutes) --Contains battle scenes, gore, images of war dead and a fair amount of sexual content. At the AFI Silver Theatre.