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.

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17 thoughts on “When Trumpets Fade (1998)

  1. Keystone28 says:

    This movie meant a lot to me, as my uncle was a member of the 28th infantry and fought at the Battle of the Hurtgen forest. This battle is not known by very many people, as it was overshadowed by the Battle of the Bulge a few months later. Actually, in Band of Brothers, when the 101st is relieving the soldiers retreating at Bastogne, that would have partially been the 28th. They were sent to the Bastogne area for some R&R after losing upwards of 36,000 men in the Hurtgen. Great site, I’ll bookmark you!

    • Your comment is greatly appreciated. Thanks. And thanks to your uncle. If there hand´t been brave men like him… I don´t even want to think about what the world would look like today.
      I haven´t included a Top 10 Favourite War Movies List yet but When Trumpets Fade is one of them, that´s for sure. I really like Band of Brothers and funnily enough the part “Bastogne” was the one that impressed me most. Must have been interesting to hear your uncle talk about this.

  2. […] it overshadows other battles like the one at Hurtgen Forest that was so skillfully depicted in When Trumpets Fade. The battle of  Bastogne Forest that we saw in Band of Brothers is also part of the Battle of the […]

  3. warmoviebuff says:

    One of the greatest anti-war movies. Surprisingly made for TV by HBO. The Manning character is a classic anti-hero. I caught it on HBO when it first aired and felt very lucky because few people know about it. You will have to look hard to find a movie that better shows the futility of war or the pigheadedness of high command. No doubt it will end up on my amended Top 100 list. See my reviews at “warmoviebuff.blogspot.com”

    • Is it in the list of the Military History Magazine? I am surprised as on those lists they always leave out TV productions and series. A real pity. Think of Band of Brothers and Generation Kill… Fabulous.

  4. warmoviebuff says:

    It is not. In fact, now that you mention it – I don’t think there are any TV movies on the list. I certainly think it belongs. I disagree about BOB and Generation Kill. I am a huge fan, but consider them miniseries, not movies. Actually, now that I think about it – Gettysburg (#46) was made for TV , but opened in theaters because Ted Turner was so pleased with it.

    • Sure Band of Brothers and Generation Kill are series, I said so, I just think it is a pity they are left out in those lists. I tend to forget this about Gettysburg. Now that is a movie I would like to hear your opinion about. I could imagine it is accuarate but I had a hard time watching it. When it comes to Cvil War Movies I prefer Glory and Ride with the Devil any day.

  5. warmoviebuff says:

    I love Gettysburg, but put it behind Glory. Believe it or not I took my History Club on a field trip to see it. A 4 hour movie with high school kids. I enjoyed it more than they did to say the least. I give it very high grades for accuracy. It covers the great book The Killer Angels faithfully. The thousands of reeanctors would not have allowed any straying from authenticity. No CGI effects. Sadly, idiotic critics criticized the facial hair when it too was accurate. The segments involving the 20th Maine culminating in the fight on Little Round Top are fantastic! Joshua Chamberlain is one of my favorite war movie characters and in a surreal occurrence Jeff Daniels of “Dumb and Dumber” nails the protrayal. Watch for Ted Turner getting killed during Pickett’s Charge. Keep in mind it is rated PG which has its pluses and minuses.

    • I think Gettysburg feels authentic, you don’t even need to know much to be aware of this. I just found it a tad long. Maybe too much of a history lesson for me. But I think it is recommended vieweing for anyone who want to know what this big battle was about and what it must have been like to be in it.

  6. warmoviebuff says:

    You could argue the movie would have been better if it had concentrated on the 20th Maine (as “Glory” did with the 54th Massachusetts) and ended with the fight on Little Round Top. This is the climatic moment in the film and yet you still have another tow hours to go so the rest of the movie is a letdown. However, you obviously can not end a movie entitled “Gettysburg” before Pickett’s Charge.

  7. warfilmsfan says:

    When trumpets fade was a great movies in all measures, except it still unknown one..
    but i am asking if somebody knows, where was the place of making this film… the wood is very beautiful i hope i know where’s it.
    goodluck

    • It’s a shame it isn’t know better but that is often the fate of TV productions. I just checked the location as I didn’t know it. And it seems as if it was filmed mostly in Hungary. Very beautiful, I agree.

  8. sgtb says:

    This was one of the movies I had not ever heard about… I was recently able to get a chance to see it, and quite enjoyed the film, the portrayal of what it must have been like to be a private in this arena… to me it is somewhat similar (though a shorter time span) to the ideas in All Quite on the Western Front (the book) – one of my favorites also –
    I can’t decide (POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT…) if I really liked the ending though… I would have liked for them to at least have been recognized for their rogue efforts… but I suppose that in a movie about a conflict/battle such as this apparently was, the fact that although they probably saved more than a few lives at such a high cost and we never see any gratitude for their effort is fitting for the tone of the show. But the symbolism of the ending was really good…

    Thanks again for the lists… I’ve got a few more to check out. (also had a chance to see Kokota recently… definitely a thinker… though a tat predictable but good none the less.

    • I’m glad you like When Trumpets fade. I think it should be wider know. It is one of my Top 10 favourites of all time. I loved the main character and the way he changed. The ending is great. I like movies set at that particulra time during WWII. the forest always add such an eerie feel.
      You are welcome. I hope to be able to add more lists soon. I am also still working on my Top 20. There are a few movies I haven’t watched yet and ma be included like The Winter War, a Finnish movie. I hear it is as goo as Stalingrad which is high praise, I think.

  9. […] I have seen so far which offers such a compelling mix of character studies and combat scenes is When Trumpets Fade, one of my Top 10 favourite war […]

  10. displaced11b says:

    I first saw this movie on HBO years ago and bought it on VHS as soon as I could. When it was released on DVD it became one of the first films I bought a duplicate copy of for the new format. Great movie, in my opinion it is better than SPR in many respects.

    Great site, I’ll be checking it out more.

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