Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

Director: Edward Dmytryk
Writer: Harry A. L. Craig,
  from the book by: Wynford Vaughan-Thomas

  • Robert Mitchum — Dick Ennis, war correspondent
  • Peter Falk — Jack Rabinoff, Army corporal, guide
  • Arthur Kennedy — Jack Lesley, Major General, commanding

Sony Pictures, 1968

117 minutes January 2007


Anzio is a sad disaster of a movie, unwittingly rivaling the missed chances of the campaign itself, the January 1944 American and British landing on the beach at Anzio not far from Rome. The attempt to cut off German forces in Italy did not go well, and neither does this film.

Robert Mitchum gives a good performance as a war correspondent, asked over and over why he is there? — since as a civilian he presumably could be safe somewhere else. He provides counsel and information to soldiers all the way up to the general in command, and seems to be the only person contributing usefully to the Allied battle for Anzio. I don't suppose real war correspondents usually do so much on the battlefield, but there is a famous example in Winston S. Churchill's participation in the Boer War.

Peter Falk plays an incompetent Army guide who leads men into a trap, but does have a good time singing "Bye, Bye Blackbird" with some Italian girls.

Overall, Anzio demonstrates Vietnam-era discouragement applied retroactively to World War II. It does show the wiping-out of a Ranger detachment, as well as General Lucas' decisive caution in solidifying the beachhead rather than striking immediately for the interior. But in this film it is all hopeless anyway even if we win in the end; and as Mitchum sums up at the end of the movie, war never settles anything. (How hugely the Wehrmacht would have benefitted if the Anglo-American forces were really so helplessly angst-ridden: surely the Thousand-Year Reich would be with us yet.)

There is a lot of movement of interesting military vehicles of the period, but the big picture never comes together. The only scene that sticks in my memory is crossing a minefield on foot, by throwing out stepping stones. The bickering among the characters is tiresome, and the action neither exciting nor realistic.

The Battle for Anzio certainly was more hard-fought and deadly than expected, but there is no reason for a film about it to flail, whimpering.

As Churchill told Parliament about the landing:

I had hoped that we were hurling a wildcat onto the shore, but all we had got was a stranded whale.
Winston S. Churchill
"The Anzio Stroke" in
Closing the Ring, volume 5 of
The Second World War

This Anzio film is however a story of a handful of plankton, washed up on a sunny shore to wiggle briefly and die uselessly.


© 2007 Robert Wilfred Franson

The U.S. Army Center of Military History
has an online brochure with maps:
Anzio Campaign of 1944


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