Assault on Hill 400 is loosely based on the 2nd Ranger Battalions valiant siege of Bergstein, Germany in 1944 as part of the Battle of Hurtgen Forest during World War II. The movie manages to spark an interest in the actual events and not much else as headlining stars William Baldwin and Michael Madsen seem to phone this one in.
It’s late in 1944 and the sun is setting on the Nazi army as the allied forces push on to Berlin. The battle-hardened 2nd Ranger Battalion is called in by Generals Weaver (Baldwin) and Cota (Madsen) to secure a position that’s proved hard to hold (and would continue to be as the war raged on). Accompanied by a veteran war photographer named Anderson (Eric Roberts), the men set out toward the heavily artillery fortified Hill 400. A seemingly impossible task the Rangers manage to get done through the heroic efforts of some of the war’s finest combatants. In their ascent to the hilltop, they encounter a couple of pretty nurses and some stereotypical Nazi baddies.
Assault on Hill 400 is a great subject for a movie but mostly mishandled here by director Christopher Ray. Baldwin and Madsen appear to have shown up for a day, dyed their hair, moved their hands about as they spoke the lines given them while huddled in an army command tent, and then bounced. They don’t interact directly with the rest of the cast either (or other set pieces), scenes with the Ranger leaders reporting both before and after the mission are cutaways, and we never actually see them in the same shot. Roberts does fine with what he’s handed but I have to ask why is he there? I understand his role of a laid-back veteran underestimated by the young bucks, but who did he owe a favor to that landed him on this B grade flick?
The rest of the cast do as well as possible with the cliched characters and dialog they’re assigned. Truly the gang’s all here from the smart “professor” kid to the lovable older vet who fills the comedy role with his lighthearted, gung ho optimism. There’s the gruff young unit commander who’s seen too much but his good heart stays golden and the green kid who just got to the team, only to suffer a harsh fate. The pretty German nurse is here too to help with the “war is hell” tropes as she protects her patients from comic book Nazi heavies and hands her own heart over to a dashing U.S. army captain. The corny dialogue is B perfect as it tries to wax philosophical in quiet moments and gets a little hard to chew in times of action as the boys run, shoot, and blow up prop buildings with the aid of CG fire, smoke, and explosions.
The Assault on Hill 400 Blu-ray would have benefited from a few bonus features aside from the trailer and an image gallery. It would have been super helpful and appreciated here to get an idea of what the cast and crew thought as they filmed this story. The inside/backside of the cover does have a cool still of Baldwin and Madsen as they strike a pensive pose in their tent setting.
Assault on Hill 400 is an ode to B combat movies of the ’40s and ’50s which I’m fine with and enjoy very much now and again. I simply expected more from Willie B. and the Gent (hello Hell Ride) in their appearances here. I like the story a lot and would have enjoyed it better as a short, 200-page novel or graphic novel rather than an 87-minute movie. In fact, right after my viewing I opened my laptop and googled “Hill 400” before I picked up my copy of Stephen Ambrose’s Citizen Soldiers and read the section on the true exploits of the Heroic, bad ass 2nd Ranger Battalion who helped clear the path to victory in WWII.