Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jeff Chandler, Alex Nicol, Charles Drake, Judith Braun, Sidney Poitier, Jaqueline Duval, Bubber Johnson, Davis Roberts, Hugh O'Brian, Frank Chase, Cindy Garner, Gregg Palmer, John Hudson, Jack Kelly, Howard Petrie
Written by: John Michael Hayes, Marcy Klauber, William Grady Jr.
Directed by: Budd Boetticher
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 83
Date: 05/24/1952

Red Ball Express (1952)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Hard Truck Story

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Before establishing himself with his Randolph Scott Westerns, director Budd Boetticher was a solid, competent director of "B" pictures, and Red Ball Express is as brisk and as entertaining as they come. It tells the story of a special convoy of supply trucks that rushed back and forth through Europe to reach General Patton and the Allied troops after D-Day in 1944. The real Express was largely operated by African-Americans (according to Wikipedia), and Boetticher does include some actors of color in his cast — Sidney Poitier has a ferocious early role — but it leans mostly toward white characters. Boetticher reportedly wanted to tell the truth, but the Department of Defense firmly suggested otherwise.

Written by John Michael Hayes (Rear Window), the story deftly moves back and forth between the details of the trip, the lack of sleep, the conditions of the roads, enemy attacks, etc., and the bright, vivid character interactions. Two drivers have an old beef from long ago, there's tension between the Blacks and whites, and one soldier falls madly in love with a beautiful French maiden and keeps having to borrow her bike to catch up to the trucks. There are also some energizing moments as the men sing and laugh and try to keep their morale boosted. I can't claim it's among Boetticher's best, but it has enough good things going for it that war movie fans should certainly give it a look. Howard Petrie plays General "Lee Gordon," a stand-in for Patton, even though Patton is mentioned by name.

Kino Lorber's Blu-ray features a fine black-and-white transfer, with a commentary track by filmmaker/historian Steve Mitchell and author Steven Jay Rubin, and trailers.

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