American director, screenwriter, actor (Charlie the meter reader in Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)). Born in Fresno, CA 1925. Educated USC, Los Angeles with MA in drama 1950. Legendary director of westerns with reputation for being difficult (toward producers and studios) but regarded as inspirational by many actors. Served in US Marines from 1943. Worked as assistant under Don Siegel before directing episodes of western TV series "Gunsmoke," "The Rifleman," "The Westerner". Interested in code of honour of the outlaw and killer (gunfighter, gangster, soldier, CIA operative), interaction between males engaged in violence, erosion of noble but violent way of life in face of modernity. Controversial because of his depiction of violence, often censored by the studios (films released heavily cut). Regarded by some as "cathartic", by others as exploitive. One critic notes:

"Cathartic violence" was a term that seemed coined to define his iconoclastic postures. In Peckinpah's Conradian scheme that mixes nobility with tragedy, all are guilty to some degree and all have their reasons. His work typically exists on a skewed moral plane between eras and cultures, with ambiguous quests for identity and redemption undertaken by hopelessly lost outcasts and enemies. He vividly defines the thin line between internal conflict and external action, and, perhaps most importantly, the violent displacement of a false code of honor (and law itself) by another more enduring and devout.

Films: The Deadly Companions (1961); Ride the High Country (1962); Major Dundee (1965); the notoriously violent "Vietnam Western" The Wild Bunch (1969) with its slow motion "ballet of death" scenes; Pay Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973); The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970); Junior Bonner (1972): The Getaway (1972); Convoy (1978); another very violent film Straw Dogs (1971); Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974); The Killer Elite (1975); The Osterman Weekend (1983); and his only war film (from the perspective of an anti-Nazi German soldier on the Eastern Front) Cross of Iron (1977).


Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact signed 1939 - partition of Poland 1939, occupation of Baltic states 1940. German invasion of USSR (Operation Barbarossa) 22 June 1941. Battle of Moscow December 1941, Stalingrad July 1942, Kursk July 1943, the partisan war, siege of Leningrad August 1941 - January 1944


The Novel

Willi Heinrich, The Cross of Iron (Das geduldige Fleisch or Willing Flesh) (1956), trans. Richard and Clara Winston (Costa Mesa, CA: Noontide Press, 1992).

WH born 1920 in Heidelberg, served as infantryman on Eastern Front 1941-1945, wounded five times, unit suffered losses 12 times original strength.

Compare Guy Sajer, The Forgotten Soldier (1967)

Quote (compare AQWF and Kemmerich's boots) about the death of the "Professor" Dorn by artillery fire as Schnurrbart covers his dead body with a blanket:

His eyes rested on the boots. German army boots, size 10. He suddenly recalled that these were the boots of a man who had joined the company shortly after Dorn, and had died under a hail of machine-gun bullets. Dorn, who had been equipped with uncomfortable clodhoppers, had asked Fetscher for the boots, then relatively new. The nails had since become worn down and the soles were full of holes. What a long way those boots had come since their nails first rang challengingly on the cobblestone street of a small Czech town and the March sun was reflected in the high polish of the uppers. Schnurrbart knew all the paths they had walked. They had trodden the clean highways of Slovakia, the sandy paths of Poland, the corduroy roads of the Ukraine, the crushed flowers of the steppes, the lonely forest paths of the Caucasus. In light and dark, on hills and valleys, over land and water. And the road had always been there. Dust and searing heat had dried the leather and cracked it. The boots had slogged through rain and bottomless swamps, through cold and deep snow. With a kind of insane clarity Schnurrbart calculated: perhaps six million footsteps lay behind them (DMH - one for every Jew killed?). Now they had reached their final destination and were resting, unsightly, used up, worthless, with the warm sun beating down on the cracked leather. They lay waiting patiently, patient as the hide of which they were made. Schnurrbart suddenly became aware of the tears streaming down his face. Now the soldier Dorn had left his boots and his body behind. (p. 250)


Meaning of the Title

The "Iron Cross", the highest German medal for bravery, which the Prussian aristocrat Capt. Steiner so desperarately wants and which Cpl Steiner already has and utterly distains.


  • James Coburn - Cpl Rolf Steiner
  • Maximilian Schell - Capt. Stransky
  • James Mason - Col. Brandt
  • David Warner - Kiesel
  • Senta Berger - Eva
  • Klaus Lowitsch - Kruger
  • Vadim Glowna - Kem
  • Roger Fritz - Triebig
  • Dieter Schiedor - Anselm
  • Burkhardt Driest - Maag
  • Fred Stillkraut - Schnurrbart

Set in 1943, the retreating German army is caught on a peninsula in the Black Sea east of the Crimea. Steiner, an anti-Nazi German soldier, is fighting for the survival of his men against the onslaught of the Red Army and the ambitions of his own officers (whether Prussian or Nazi). His superior, Capt. Stransky, is desperate to win the Iron Cross as his aristocratic family expects of him. Since Steiner refuses to lie to conceal Stranky's cowardice in battle he is earmarked to be got rid of.


1. The opening montage of WW2 newsreel showing Hitler, the German Army's advances, the Hitler Youth, with German children's choir. Compare the use of newsreel footage at the end of Klimov's Come and See.

2. SP's effort to demytholgize WW2 in face of contemporary films like A Bridge too Far (1977); Midway (1976); MacArthur (1977). See Paul Fussell's remark in the Preface to Wartime that:

This book is about the psychological and emotional culture of Americans and Britons during the Second World War. It is about the rationalizations and euphemisms people needed to deal with an unacceptable actuality from 1939 to 1945. And it is about the abnormally intense frustration of desire in wartime and some of the means by which desire was satisfied. The damage the war visited upon bodies and buildings, planes and tanks and ships, is obvious. Less obvious is the damage it did to intellect, discrimination, honesty, individuality, complexity, ambiguity, and irony, not to mention privacy and wit. For the past fifty years the Allied war has been sanitized and romanticized almost beyond recognition by the sentimental, the loony patriotic, the ignorant and the bloodthirsty. I have tried to balance the scales. (p.ix).

3. Quote from German Marxist playright Bertolt Brecht: "Do not rejoice in his defeat you men. For though the world has tood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in heat again."

4. Stranky's philosophy of the purpose of man's existence - to rule and fight.

5. Humanity of ordinary Lansers - filthy with lice, gay soldiers, frightened and stressed

6. Military hospital sequences - Steiner's shell shock, amputees

7. Questions of class vs natural talent - Prussian aristocrats vs mythic soldier like Steiner; Kant and Schubert of common origin; Hitler's aim to eliminate class in new Germany.

8. Russian women combat soldiers