It opens in 1918, and the end of the First World War. The significance of the naming of The Big Red One is explained, and The Sergeant is introduced as the war draws to a close.
Flashing forward to 1942, and The Sergeant is commanding. He is joined by his 'four horsemen': Griff, a gentle but skilled marksman; Vinci, the indispensable Italian; Johnson, previously a medic and a farmer; and Zab, the autobiographical character of director Samuel Fuller.
They move forward through Africa, Sicily, France, Belgium and Czechoslovakia finishing missions assigned to them as the mostly unseen faces of their temporary colleagues get shot down around them.
The Big Red One fuses in comedic moments throughout as The Sergeant tries to make light of the horrific surroundings. For his four comrades he acts as a close friend, using their skills to help each other. Despite this, he is ultimately their leader and is forced to send them into the crossfire on the D-Day beaches to drop explosives as the minor characters continue to fall.
Much of the film was based on accounts the Fuller kept throughout his time in the regiment. As well as painting an accurate picture of the moods of the five men, Fuller is able to fully envisage the feeling of grief that overcomes Griff during the liberation of a Czechoslovakian concentration camp.
Each moment and place is passed over almost as a chapter, but the pure raw emotion of the film keeps it ticking over. As a result, despite a shaky start the film gathers in maturity throughout before finishing on a harrowing note.
An exceptional film from a first-hand director.