Breakthrough (1979) with Robert Mitchum and Richard Burton

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Breakthrough, also known by its original title of Steiner – Das eiserne Kreuz, 2. Teil, was released in 1979 as a sequel to Sam Peckinpah’s final film, the slightly inconsistent but still masterful Cross of Iron which packed such stars as James Mason and James Coburn. To this day it marks the only time a sequel has been filmed for a Sam Peckinpah film. Perhaps Breakthrough stopped the others cold.  In no way can this be called a classic film, but it does have a classic cast.

Breakthrough is a stronger picture ¬ – well, if you look at the strong cast presented on paper. We get Richard Burton (in the title role), with support (in a slightly lesser role) from the iconic Robert Mitchum. In smaller roles greats like Rod Steiger and Curt Jurgens play pivotal roles as well. Sadly, probably only Rod Steiger and Curt Jurgens are cast properly given their age, although Jurgen’s staunch anti-nazism makes his portrayal of a German general ironic at best.

Richard Burton and Robert Mitchum, as great as they could be, simply are not doing more than sleepwalking through this picture. Both were past their prime – at least for this type of role- and have too many years and too massive paunches to convincingly portray anything close to a front line soldier. To his credit, Mitchum still shows vestiges of swagger but Burton is perhaps besotted with alcohol some of the time.

Although apparently a feature film intended for wide release, the picture got tepid reviews and an extremely limited, quiet, and short release in 1979. On viewing today, even from the opening credits it looks as if it may have been intended as a movie of the week. The score, which attempts to be in the vein of the superb Ron Goodwin (The Battle of Britain, Where Eagles Dare, etc.) really come off as an ersatz marching band infused with the swank of the 1970s . Truly dreadful.

Director Andrew McLaglen fails to put any real stamp on what is a pedantic script with several gaps in the story. Somehow Steiner’s squad is now on the Western Front, and after long walks alone with a senior German general (Jurgens) along the Allied lines in clued into the July 1944 plot to kill Hitler. And this Sergeant is the one, for some unclear reason, who is to communicate this to the Allies.

After Steiner’s equally implausible late night meeting in no-man’s land with an equally out of place American Colonel (Robert Mitchum), both parties return to await the presumed death of Hitler. Of course, the coup is thwarted and Mitchum and Burton’s men end up fighting it out in a French village.

It becomes ludicrous towards the end, as Burton is shooting fellow Germans and walking through lines of German POWs while he is still fully armed and passes uncontested by American GIs. There is a bit more detail, if one could call it that, but it matters little. This is, at best, a “C” picture and doesn’t even qualify as a strong movie of the week, if indeed that was the original intent.

Production values are ok, if one can get by the contemporary tanks and other military equipment used through out.  This is discouraging but somewhat typical for the time (and budget). The only truly period equipment in the picture is during the title sequence, which is footage culled from the earlier Cross of Iron.

Despite what could have been a fairly decent film, a potentially strong cast is wasted with weak material and probably limited interest as well. Unless you have a wish to see every bad picture ever made, this one shouldn’t come anywhere near your vision.

It is available on an old VHS release should you care. TCM also airs on occasion to torture any political prisoners who may be watching.