EIGHT IRON MEN—-pocket-sized, overlooked 1952 WW2 drama, driven by characters and dialog rather than action and event. Done seven years earlier as a Broadway play (A Sound Of Hunting) with Burt Lancaster and Frank Lovejoy, this meditative, well-photographed, low-budget entry was produced by Stanley Kramer and directed by Edward Dmytryk.
Per its stage origins, it’s nearly all talk, with a cast of then-unfamiliar actors, played out on a few sets, mostly in a bombed-out house during the rain, ‘somewhere in Europe’. A squad discusses whether to risk either becoming casualties or disobeying orders to rescue one clumsy member pinned down nearby by a German machine gun. With a few dream-scenes (not very effective) about dames back home, it’s a back & forth what-to-do? affair, generally engaging, very well-played.
Getting the most play are Bonar Colleano*, Richard Kiley, Lee Marvin and Arthur Franz. Marvin and Kiley hit the best notes, and combat vet Marvin helped greatly behind-the-scenes guiding the actors and director to an accurate look with costuming and prop handling. His seventh film, and first part of any consequence, he shows the ease and authority that would mark his persona when he played a good guy (which he could beautifully flip to swaggering insolence as a villain). It was only the second big-screen appearance for Kiley, who would become better known for stage and TV work.
Critics gave it applause, but with a gross of $1,540,000 the 80-minute effort died at the box-office. Ricochet of irony is the original working title was The Dirty Dozen, which fifteen years later would be full-fledged Movie Star Lee Marvin’s biggest hit. With James Griffith, Nick Dennis, Barney Phillips, Dickie Moore and bombshell-of-the-moment Mary Castle.**
*Bonar Colleano (above), though American, did most of his film work in England, where he was quite popular. Killed in a car crash in 1958, only 34.
** 21 in this movie, va-voom redhead Mary Castle was dubbed “The lady who looks more like Hayworth than Hayworth does”. She destroyed her career with alcoholism and arrest scandals.