Cross Of Iron: Men On The Front Lines Of Hell

Cross Of Iron: Men On The Front Lines Of Hell

Static Mass Rating: 4/5
Optimum Home Entertainment 

Release date: June 6th 2011
Certificate (UK): 18
Running time: 127 minutes

Year of production: 1977
Country of origin: West Germany

Director: Sam Peckinpah
Writer: Julius Epstein

Cast: James Coburn, Maximilian Schell, James Mason, David Warner, Klaus Lowitsch, Senta Berger, Burkhardt Driest, Roger Fritz, Vadim Glowna, Dieter Schidor, Fred Stillkrauth, Veronique Vendell

If you’ve seen a lot of war films, then there’s a good chance you might have caught this one on TV some time ago. This one takes a different approach; instead of propaganda and patriotism it highlights horror and cowardice as well as the idea that not everyone who fought on the side of Germany were Nazis.

Set on the Eastern Front in World War II, Cross Of Iron takes place during the Soviet’s Caucasus operations that forced the Wehrmacht to retreat from the Taman Peninsula on the Black Sea in late 1943. it tells the story of an arrogant aristocratic Prussian Officer, Stransky (Maximilian Schell), who wants to win an Iron Cross medal and a Non-Nazi German soldier, Steiner (James Coburn), who already has one but considers it useless to him.

Cross Of Iron

During a surprise attack by the Soviets, Stransky cowers in his bunker like the coward he really is while Steiner and his men fight it out, leaving him wounded and several others dead Later on Stransky files a false report claiming that he led a victorious counter-attack. When Steiner denies any such actions he has no idea what his commanding officer is willing to stoop to in order to secure the prestigious Iron Cross reward for bravery.

After spotting one of the Lieutenants, Triebig (Roger Fritz), stroking the cheek of a young recruit, Stransky blackmails him with the threat that he’ll see both him and the boy hanged if he doesn’t support him in his bid to win the Cross. Triebig also has no idea what he’ll make him do if he’s to get what he wants.


  • Passion & Poetry – Sam Peckinpah’s War (46:00)
  • Sam Peckinpah (5:06)
  • James Coburn (5:30)
  • James Mason (6:05)
  • Maximilian Schell (4:35)
  • David Warner (3:14)
  • Featurette Kruger Kisses Kern (8:27)
  • Letters From Vadim & Sam Featurette (3:48)
  • Vadim & Sam – Son & Dad Featurette (5:55)
  • Cutting Room Floor Featurette (4:19)
  • Mike’s Homemovies Featurette – Steiner meets Kiesel again (7:16)
  • Steiner In Japan (2-3 mins)
  • Before & After Restoration Comparison
  • German Trailer (3:10) /
  • USA TV-Spot (0:30)
  • USA/UK Trailer (3:42)

Cross Of Iron, for the time it was made in, is bloody, violent and daring both in its outspokenness on the horrors of war and its sexual tones (both hetero and homo). Although there is no happy end for either party, that’s just the point; in war no one wins. Performance-wise, Schell is perfectly despicable as the vain and pointless officer who has no idea how to really fight, while Coburn is as we’ve come to know him; no nonsense and straight to work. Fritz is fascinating to watch as the closeted Lieutenant and the scene where he’s coaxed into confessing his true preferences is magnificently played.

The battle sequences are loud, there are lots of explosions and at times it feels really long, but then war itself is not a five-minute sequence that’s done and dusted easily. The scenes were the men stumble upon an all-female Russian detachment felt excruciatingly drawn-out and you know from the get-go that nothing good will happen here.

It’s a film that probably would be forgotten if it wasn’t for Optimum dusting it off and giving it a Blu-ray release. The picture quality here is wonderful; not only are the colours vivid but contours are sharp and there’s not as much grain as I expected there to be.

Overall it’s a very interesting and thought provoking film to have in your collection, in between Apocalypse Now (1979) and From Here To Eternity (1953), which is where I would place it.

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