Red Ball Express (film)

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.[2]

Red Ball Express
Directed byBudd Boetticher
Produced byAaron Rosenberg
Screenplay byJohn Michael Hayes
Story byMarcy Klauber
(as Marcel Klauber)
William Grady Jr.
(as Billy Grady Jr.)
StarringJeff Chandler
Alex Nicol
CinematographyMaury Gertsman
Edited byEdward Curtiss
Universal Pictures
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • May 24, 1952 (1952-05-24) (Los Angeles, California)
  • May 29, 1952 (1952-05-29) (New York City)
Running time
83 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$1.5 million (US rentals)[1]

The tag line for the movie is: "From beachhead to battlefront! They carry the ammo for Patton's Tanks!"

Plot synopsis

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.

Lt Chick Campbell, head of the platoon, clashes with Sgt Red Kallek over an incident when they were civilians 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.[3]



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 Defense 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.[4]


  1. 'Top Box-Office Hits of 1952', Variety, January 7, 1953
  2. Budd Boetticher: The Last Interview Wheeler, Winston Dixon. Film Criticism; Meadville Vol. 26, Iss. 3, (Spring 2002): 52-0_3.
  3. Jeremy Arnold, 'Red Ball Express', Turner Classic Movies accessed 5 August 2012
  4. Sean Axmaker, 'Ride Lonesome: The Career of Budd Boetticher', Senses of Cinema 7 February 2006 accessed 25 June 2012
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