When Trumpets Fade (1998)

Eerily beautiful is what comes to mind when speaking about this overlooked war movie gem. I discovered it thanks to Gary Freitas’ book on war movies.

The movie starts with black and white original footage and a voice telling us that it is 1944, just after Paris has been liberated.

After this introduction we are thrown into action and see one soldier, private Manning (Ron Eldard),  carrying his mortally wounded comrade whom he finally must abandon. All through watching this movie I was reminded of Goethe’s ballad the Erlkoenig in which a father rides with his son through the woods at night. The child keeps on saying it sees the Erlkoenig in the darkness who tries to tempt him and take him away. A very spooky ballad. When the father finally arrives at his destination he finds out that his little son has died in his arms.

Maybe John Irvin, the director, did think of this ballad when he shot this movie. The woods always had a special place in German mythology and references to this can be found in many a movie or book about WWII.

The soldiers in this movie are fighting a senseless battle, one that cost a horribly high amount of lives. The battle of Hurtgen forest is only not spoken about so often since it was shortly followed by the more famous Battle of the Bulge.

When Trumpets Fade tells the story of private Manning the only survivor of his company who is – due to his ability to survive under such circumstances – promoted to sergeant and gets to lead a group of replacements. In a bloody battle where they are to secure a bridge he is again one of the only survivors and gets promoted to lieutenant. Both times he protests. All he wants is to survive and  get out. He’s not the only unhappy soldier. The battle seems sense- and fruitless, casualties are high, soldiers and officers complain and rebel.

Manning is a very interesting character and his development makes this movie one of the rare psychologically interesting of its kind. This and the eerie scenes in the woods where the fog is thick, Germans lurking everywhere and naked, burning trees stand lonely and dark against the background,  makes this a haunting experience to watch.

The final credits are shown over endless rows of dragon’s teeth that are slowly covered in snow to  Bing Crosby singing White Christmas.