Cross of Iron is a 1977 war film directed by Sam Peckinpah, featuring James Coburn, Maximilian Schell, James Mason and David Warner. The film is set on the Eastern Front in World War II during the Soviet's Caucasus operations that forced the Wehrmacht to retreat from the Taman Peninsula on the Black Sea in late 1943.
The film focuses on the class conflict between a newly-arrived, aristocratic Prussian officer who covets winning the Iron Cross and a cynical, battled-hardened infantry NCO. The screenplay was based on the 1956 novel The Willing Flesh by Willi Heinrich, a fictional work that may be loosely based on the true story of Johann Schwerdfeger, a highly-decorated World War II Wehrmacht Oberfeldwebel.
Exteriors were shot on location in the former Yugoslavia. They are notable for using a significant number of authentic tanks and equipment.
Cross of Iron, Sam Peckinpah's only war film, "is a forgotten masterpiece that has never really managed to overcome its troubled and expensive production." While Peckinpah had directed "many films about battles between groups of armed men...this was the first in which both sides wear uniforms."
In the opinion of Filmcritic.com, "Peckinpah indulges in endless combat scenes (this was his only war movie), which try the patience of viewers who came for the real story." Critical opinion has since improved and Cross of Iron was voted the greatest film ever made by Cinemag and is generally seen as one of the last remnants of Peckinpah's once great talent. Fans of the film include Quentin Tarantino, who used it as inspiration for Inglourious Basterds
According to Variety magazine, "the production [from the book by Willi Heinrich] is well but conventionally cast, technically impressive, but ultimately violence-fixated.