Red Ball Express is a 1952 World War II war film directed by Budd Boetticher starring Jeff Chandler and Alex Nicol, featuring early screen appearances by Sidney Poitier and Hugh O’Brian. The film is based on the real Red Ball Express convoys that took place after the D-Day landings in Normandy in June 1944.
The tag line for the movie is: “From beachhead to battlefront! They carry the ammo for Patton’s Tanks!”
A short lived TV series, Roll Out (1973-1974) was loosely based on the film.
August 1944: proceeding with the invasion of France, Patton’s Third Army has advanced so far toward Paris that it cannot be supplied. To keep up the momentum, Allied HQ establishes an elite military truck route. One (racially integrated) platoon of this Red Ball Express encounters private enmities, German resistance, minefields, and increasingly perilous missions.
Lieutenant Chick Campbell, head of the platoon, clashes with Sergeant Red Kallek over an incident when they were civilian truck drivers where Kallek’s brother died.
General Gordon, played by Howard Petrie, appears to have been based on General Patton, although Patton is also specifically mentioned in the film. Major General Frank Ross, who was in charge of the real Red Ball Express, acted as a technical adviser.
- Jeff Chandler as Lieutenant Chick Campbell.
- Alex Nicol as Sergeant Red Kallek.
- Charles Drake as Private Ronald Partridge/narrator.
- Judith Braun as Joyce McClellan.
- Sidney Poitier as Corporal Andrew Robertson.
- Jaqueline Duval as Antoinette Dubois.
- Bubber Johnson as Private Taffy Smith.
- Davis Roberts as Private Dave MCord.
- Hugh O’Brian as Private Wilson.
- Frank Chase as Private Higgins.
- Cindy Garner as Kitty Walsh.
- Gregg Palmer as Tank Lieutenant.
- John Hudson as Tank Sergeant Max.
- Jack Kelly as Heyman.
- Howard Petrie as Major General Lee Gordon
Almost 75% of Red Ball Express drivers were African Americans, able-bodied soldiers who had been previously attached to various units for other duties. The Department of Defence insisted to Universal that the film should be modified so that “the positive angle be emphasized” on race relations. Director Budd Boetticher claimed that:
The army wouldn’t let us tell the truth about the black troops because the government figured they were expendable. Our government didn’t want to admit they were kamikaze pilots. They figured if one out of ten trucks got through, they’d save Patton and his tanks.
Production & Filming Details
- Director(s): Budd Boetticher.
- Producer(s): Aaron Rosenberg.
- Writer(s): John Michael Hayes (screenplay), Marcy Klauber (as Marcel Klauber, story), and William Grady Jr (as Billy Grady Jr, story).
- Cinematography: Maury Gertsman.
- Editor(s): Edward Curtiss.
- Production: Universal Pictures.
- Distributor(s): Universal Pictures.
- Release Date: 24 May 1952 (Los Angeles, US) and 06 October 1952 (UK).
- Running Time: 83 minutes.
- Rating: U.
- Country: US.
- Language: English.