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Fixed Bayonets!

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    C.D. Workman
    Senior Member

  • Fixed Bayonets!



    Released by: Eureka/Masters of Cinema
    Released on: February 15, 2016
    Directed by: Samuel Fuller
    Cast: Richard Basehart, Gene Evans, Michael O'Shea, Richard Hylton, Skip Homeier, David Wolfson, Henry Kulky, Craig Hill, James Dean
    Year: 1951

    The Movie:

    The Korean War began in the summer of 1950, when North Korea invaded South Korea. The war was the result of unnaturally drawn territorial lines after World War II, when Socialism and Communism had become popular in many parts of Asia but remained unpopular in others. Up until WWII, Korea had been controlled by Japan, but when the war ended, the country was divided into two separate nations, each with a government that believed it sovereign and neither accepting of the newly drawn border. Making matters worse, the Soviet Union supported North Korea while the United Nations, led by the United States, supported South Korea (support structures that remain in place today).

    The following year, former military vet Samuel Michael Fuller—who had been awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, and the Purple Heart for his service in the army during World War II—made The Steel Helmet, set during the Korean War. Fuller had begun his career as a screenwriter in the 1930s, and The Steel Helmet was only his third film as director (he'd previously written and directed I Shot Jesse James, 1949, and The Baron of Arizona, 1950). The Steel Helmet was made on a shoestring, and it met with some controversy for presenting American soldiers in a more realistic light than films set during WWII had, but it proved a surprising success nonetheless. Not one to pass up on an opportunity to repeat a winning formula, Fox signed Fuller to a seven-film contract, with his first picture to deal with the subject of the Korean War.

    Fixed Bayonets! had its world premiere in New York City in November of 1951, followed by a nationwide rollout the following month. Set in the snowy wastes of the Korean mountains, the film concerns a group of soldiers who must stay behind to guard their fellow soldier's departure through a choke point. Because of the severe weather, the remaining soldiers engage in minor skirmishes with the enemy but are eventually forced to retreat into a cave for protection from the elements. The claustrophobia and inherent danger in their situation result in the men becoming anxious and jittery as they realize they may not survive the winter. Through circumstances beyond his control, Corporal Denno (Richard Basehart), a soldier who doubts his abilities and position, must assume leadership of the men.

    As with its predecessor, Fixed Bayonets! was made on a low budget but met with moderate commercial and critical success. In some ways, it is reminiscent of the same year's The Thing from Another World, which had been released seven months earlier. Both films are snowbound and claustrophobic, with an enemy that is ever present but largely invisible except for minor skirmishes here and there. The story's primary focus is on its characters and their transformations, with actors Basehart and Gene Evans the standouts. The sets, while a bit obvious, certainly contribute to the feeling of claustrophobia, and there are effectively tense moments, including a scene in which a soldier must walk across a snow-covered minefield to rescue a fellow soldier. Fuller's direction is taut and masterful, and the script is tight. At a little over 90 minutes, the film whizzes by.

    Note: James Dean has a small, uncredited role. Don't blink or you'll miss him.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Eureka has released Fixed Bayonets! on Blu-ray as part of its Masters of Cinema line with an MPEG-4 AVC encode, in 1080p high resolution, and in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1. The BD50 disc is locked to Region B and will not play on most U.S. Blu-ray players unless specifically altered for Region B playback. The image is stunning. One would expect such a hoary landscape to be antiseptic in the detail department, but if there's one thing the Blu of Fixed Bayonets! does, it's reveal just how much detail can be found in snow. Whether it's close-ups of people's faces during conversations or medium-wide shots of mountain tundra during action sequences, whether it's brightest day or blackest night, there isn't a moment when sharpness and clarity aren't at a high point. Grain is beautifully resolved, providing a nice, organic backdrop without ever overtaking or dismantling Fuller's perfectly framed and gorgeously realized imagery. From all accounts, Fox provided Eureka with a new 4K transfer, and it shows. Scratches, dirt, and debris are missing in action, and in their place are weathered faces and blustery landscapes. In other words, the perfect trade-off.

    The sound is presented in lossless LPCM 2.0, but don't be deceived. Both tracks contain the same sound, making this essentially a mono track. Not that it's problematic. There's a slight problem with sound levels, which wouldn't be an issue if it weren't for the occasional explosions. You may want to have the remote handy to turn the sound down at such times, but afterwards, remember to turn it back up or else you'll miss out on some important dialogue. Speaking of which, this is a dialogue-driven film, and during such sequences, the sound is fine. As with the video, the sound is blemish free; there are no cracks, pops, or hisses to be heard. For people who are deaf or hard of hearing, Eureka has supplied English subtitles. A second track contains an audio commentary from film historian Adrian Martin, who discusses all things Fuller and Fixed Bayonets!, from Fuller's vision and views on war to his directorial ability. Martin doesn't often move from the subject of the film, dissecting it from every angle and providing multiple approaches to enhance one's appreciation for what Fuller achieved.

    Extras include a stills gallery and theatrical trailer. The trailer runs 3 minutes in length. A booklet as well as the presentation on DVD are included, though neither were provided to Rock! Shock! Pop! for review.

    The Final Word:

    Samuel Fuller's Fixed Bayonets! is a great film, a cold and claustrophobic wartime drama with excellent performances and direction. Eureka's Blu-ray release features a richly detailed palette that comes close to perfection, while sound is likewise good. Extras—apart from a fine audio commentary—are a little sparse, but given the transfer of the film itself, which is always the most important aspect of any BD release, Eureka's presentation is hard to beat.

    Christopher Workman is a freelance writer, film critic, and co-author (with Troy Howarth) of the Tome of Terror horror film review series. Volume 2 of that series (covering the 1930s), is currently available, with Volume 1 (covering the silent era) due out later this year.


    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!




















    • Paul L
      #1
      Paul L
      Scholar of Sleaze
      Paul L commented
      Editing a comment
      Nice review, Chris. I really like this film; I was very pleased with Eureka's BD release.

    • C.D. Workman
      #2
      C.D. Workman
      Senior Member
      C.D. Workman commented
      Editing a comment
      I'd never seen it before, Paul. I'm glad I got an opportunity to review the Blu-ray. It was a good film, with a nice transfer from Eureka.
    Posting comments is disabled.

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