Justin does The Lost Batallion

“You Americans, you always have so much of everything. No matter. Eventually you have to surrender.”

The Scoop: 2001 NR, directed by Russell Mulcahy and starring Rick Schroder, Phil McKee and Jamie Harris

Tagline: Caught between two lines of fire, the Germans gave them two options: surrender or die. They chose a third.

Summary Capsule: World War I trench warfare takes the next step — hide ‘n seek in the trees!

Justin’s Rating: It’s World War Confusing!

Justin’s Review: “Hey look!” I exclaimed, pointing at the TV.  “It’s a battalion!”

“Yeah, but is it lost?” my ever-observant wife asked.

“Soon,” I promised.  “Soon.”

I wanted to compliment my Flyboys review with a WWI movie that wasn’t made of suck, and pretty much the only one I could think of was made by, of all people, the A&E channel.  I’ve watched The Lost Battalion a couple times since it came out in 2001, and figured it was due for a little mutant recognition.

Ricky “Silver Spoons” Schroder plays Major Charles Whittlesey, a lawyer-turned-doughboy, who pulled off one of the most daring attacks in The Great War, netting him and a couple of others the Congressional Medal of Honor.  How?  Just by growing a bigger pair than most of us could ever aspire.

WWI is just a nightmare of confusion for most people, and a losing proposition for studio filmmakers because of it.  It lacks the “sexiness” of WWII, which had its eviler-than-thou Nazis and massive war machines and Tom Hanks.  Instead, as we all know from muddling through the chapter in history class, WWI involved a myriad of countries that may or may not exist any longer, hiding in muddy trenches (the people, not the countries), and generally not moving anywhere.  The reasons behind the war were complicated, as were the general actions during it.

It’s hard to put that to a simple cinematic story, unless you have a true tale that is pretty clear-cut – say, an American infantry division that was ordered to take and hold a precarious position on the German front, alongside several other allied battalions.  Other battalions, by the way, who never made their objective and retreated, and neglected to let the 308th Infantry know via Twitter or Facebook or whatever they were using back then.  Carrier pigeons?  Yeah.  Let’s go with that.

So Maj. Whittlesey and his motley band of brothers get separated from all support, were surrounded by the Huns in the middle of the Argonne… and, largely in part due to Whittlesey’s giant brass cojones, stubbornly refused to surrender.  Cue several days of this peculiar siege, where a superior German force became increasingly frustrated when they were unable to remove this burr on their lines.

For what little budget they had, A&E did a spectacular job telling a tiny slice of gritty war drama.  The action is quick to start and largely unrelenting, and the acting – surprisingly – is well-done, giving us a handful of primary characters who are likable and engaging.  I grew to like Schroder’s performance of Whittlesey, who is as far from the stereotypical Hollywood action figure as you’re liable to get.  He’s bookish, with a quiet voice and wireframe spectacles, but he radiates a sense of purpose and determinism that tells you, right there, that’s a good leader.

Other than its meager roots as a TV-produced film, The Lost Battalion might get attacked by its fervent pro-American message.  There’s more than one point where characters are just proud as heck to be Americans, and proudly tout their superiority on the battlefield.  In today’s day and age, I guess it’s uncool to be patriotic or something (or at least American), but hey, I didn’t mind.  These guys really were essential in the last great offensive that helped to end the war, and I think that entitles them to a few moments of nationalism.

"Everyone put on their grittiest makeup today? Good."

Intermission!

  • This is a remake of the 1919 film of the same name, which actually used soldiers from the battalion (including Whittlesey himself) as the stars.
  • After returning to the USA and receiving the medal of honor, Wittlesey participated in several parades and was even one of the pallbearers for the burial of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington.  Sadly, it appears that the post-war pressure got to him, and he presumably committed suicide in 1921 by jumping overboard while taking a ship to Havana.

Groovy Quotes

Lt. Leak: Captain, uh, there must be some mistake. I’m supposed to be in a Texas unit. Most of these boys are from New York and I just don’t understand a word these city fellers are sayin’.
Capt. McMurtry: You don’t have to understand them Lieutenant, they have to understand you.

Maj. Prinz: You Americans, you always have so much of everything. No matter. Eventually you have to surrender.
Lt. Leak: I don’t think so.

Gen. Robert Alexander: I sent for trucks to bring your men back. They’ve been through hell.
Maj. Whittlesey: You’ll never know what they’ve been through, or what they can and can’t do. They’re better then you, General. They’re better then me, they always are.

Maj. Prinz: We learned at Chateau-Thierry and Belleau Wood that these Americans are unpredictable. They don’t retreat when they’re supposed to.
Gen. von Sybel: How inconsiderate of them, Major.

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • Band of Brothers
  • All Quiet on the Western Front
  • Joyeux Noel
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