The Battle of San Pietro was Hollywood filmmaker John Huston's first effort for the U.S. War Department. Scripted by British novelist Eric Ambler, the film, largely comprised of on-the-spot combat footage, concentrates on a grueling battle in the Italian stronghold of San Pietro.
The Germans, making full use of the town's natural fortifications, dug in and began defending their position by slaughtering hundreds of Allied troops. The 143rd infantry regiment lost 12 of its 16 tanks in the bloody battle.
Huston and Ambler concentrate on the men of the 143rd, sparing the audience nothing in showing the bodies of the victims, intercut with shots of those same unfortunates, grinning and gabbing in the hours before their deaths.
The filmmakers fully intended Battle of San Pietro as an anti-war film, but the military brass, concerned that the relatives of the dead soldiers would be subject to undue agony by so uncompromising a film, demanded that the picture be recut, toning down the stench of death and emphasizing the resilience of those who survived.
Even in its truncated form, The Battle of San Pietro was strong stuff for a home-front audience weaned on the optimistic propaganda dispensed by newsreels and fictional Hollywood war pictures.