When Trumpets Fade

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War is Hell: When Trumpets Fade

Nov 25, 2002 (Updated Nov 25, 2002)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating: Excellent

  • Action Factor:
  • Special Effects:

Pros:Direction, Story, Ron Eldard, Supporting Cast

Cons:Dialog is a little too modern for WWII

The Bottom Line: The insanity of World War II brought up to date for the new generation.


Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.

When Trumpets Fade does a great job of showing how, in wartime, the ones who think they are going to be heroes and the ones who actually become heroes are usually two different sets of people. Ron Eldard stars as Manning, a private with a week or so of combat experience on the Siegfried Line that divides Belgium from Germany.

According to his superiors, Manning must have what it takes because he is the only one left from his squad – all the others are dead. So Manning is promoted squad leader and given a new squad of green replacements. Soon after heroically engaging a battery of German 88 mm artillery with his new infantry squad, Manning is promoted platoon leader by the regimental commander (Dwight Yoakam). So Manning has moved from buck private all the way to lieutenant in a mere three days. It is probably as much dependent upon the ferocious attrition in men as it is any heroism on Manning’s part. Still, Manning is a survivor and his superiors know it.

For those of you who know the Audie Murphy story (“To Hell and Back”), Manning’s story follows it quite closely from his innate sense of what to do when the chips are down to his lack of recognition of the leadership skills he continually displays. The difference between Manning and Audie Murphy, however, is that Manning has a smart mouth and disrespects the brass at every opportunity – something that Audie Murphy would never do. The brass tolerates Manning because he is serving their purposes at present but I would think he would get a comeuppance once the battle had been won. Manning also has a generous streak of “goldbrick” in him – he tries a number of ways to get released from combat duty all to no avail.

One of Manning’s new charges, Sanderson (Zak Orth), begins to distinguish himself in much the same way as Manning has. So the basic idea comes across that once a hero is needed he will reveal himself and it’s not always the one you think it will be.

The German soldiers opposing Manning’s squad are depicted as competent but not heartless. There is a note of pathos where they capture one of Manning’s squad and are more interested in getting his gloves and cigarettes than taking revenge on him for destroying their artillery. It wordlessly shows the dire straits the Third Reich was in as the Allied forces began to penetrate into the fatherland.

Director John Irvin (Hamburger Hill, The Dogs of War) did a good job of updating the WWII action genre to the newer, more gory standards set by Saving Private Ryan. While the direction was excellent and the story interesting, I think it was a bit fanciful in that most of the veterans of WWII would not have the gall of the average soldier depicted in When Trumpets Fade. The insubordination so often seen in this film would be more post-Vietnam volunteer army, with the strong language and MTV style speech patterns. Still, it is a very good antiwar film, showing the madness that grips nations and men once the dogs of war are let slip.

The DVD was produced by HBO and is better than the average television movie, although it is presented in standard 4X3 format. Not recommended for kiddies due to strong language and extreme gore.

For those who like the WWII genre, I also highly recommend A Walk in the Sun, To Hell and Back, Hell is for Heroes (starring Steve McQueen), and Saving Private Ryan.


Recommend this product? Yes


Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Better than Watching TV

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