Movie Review: White Tiger

If you are interested in WWII tank films, you have very likely watched Fury by now. It is a technical masterpiece of material authenticity, right down to the genuine Tiger used in several scenes – no doubt about it. Unfortunately, it’s hampered by a literally ludicrous ending, in which an entire battalion of veteran Waffen-SS are unable to stop throwing themselves into machine gun fire long enough to destroy a single immobile Sherman with a Panzerfaust. Really? I’m happy to suspend disbelief when appropriate (as we will get to with White Tiger), but Fury can’t decide if it is a a gritty uber-realistic film or a goofy heroes-wiping-out-waves-of-baddies flick.

If you came out of the theater with this sort of feeling as well – or if you just enjoy good tank movies – I would suggest one you probably haven’t heard of: White Tiger (Belyy Tigr).

Hollywood, of course, produces movies as consumer products. Calculate what should net the most sales by picking the right starring names, storyline, plot elements, and so on. It’s a great formula for making lots of money. It’s not so great at producing film for the sake of film. For that, it is often better to turn to places like Russia and China (remember Assembly?).

whitetigerWhite Tiger is a surrealistic story of World War II in the East – don’t come into it expecting hardcore realism. The main character is a tanker who was basically charbroiled when his T34 was knocked out by a mysterious white Tiger that appears in seemingly-impossible places, destroys a slew of Soviet vehicles, and then disappears. To the disbelief of his doctors, the man survives his burns and heals completely. He has become seemingly impervious to harm as a result of his encounter with the Tiger, at the cost of his memory. He can remember nothing about his past or identity, but instead finds himself hearing tanks speak to him.

This mysterious Tiger continues to appear and wreak havoc, and a General orders the construction of a specially improved T34 to be crewed by the best men available with the specific mission of destroying the Tiger. The protagonist is chosen as driver/commander of the vehicle, and sets about finding and engaging an opponent that most rational officers don’t believe in.

The T34 tanks in the film are genuine, not surprisingly, but the Tiger is a built-up prop vehicle. It is reasonably well done, although not up to the standards of American films like Saving Private Ryan or Fury. But fanatical realism isn’t the point here – this film is a story and an allegory, not a special effects joyride. What is the White Tiger, and what is our driver’s connection to it? If you are looking for a war movie that requires more thinking that the typical Hollywood affair, I highly recommend this one.

It is, of course, in Russian – but you can order it on Amazon with English subtitles:

Here’s the Russian trailer:


    • Eon, I read a raw scan of a Japanese war manga short depicting the last battle of an Elefant tank destroyer. The comic was appropriately called Ghost Elephant. Getting to the point; during the climax, the Elefant trashes just about half of all the American tanks and tank destroyers sent to get it. When the German protagonist orders the Elefant’s driver to advance, a mirage appears causing phantom look-alikes of the vehicle to appear around it as it emerges from its hiding place in suburban rubble. The American tank-commander in charge of the attack completely freaks out at the sight of the “ghosts” slowly coming at him out of the blue and calls for a massive artillery strike, killing the Germans but causing ludicrous collateral damage to everything else. A commanding officer yells at the tank-man for wasting ammunition but the tanker is still in shell-shock, wondering where all the terrifying Elefants went (even though his unit was trashed by only one vehicle)…

  1. The reviewer here makes great points about white Tiger. The film is certainly worth a watch for both war movie fans and those who prefer a supernatural touch. I enjoyed it a lot, and more so once I turned off my historical brain.

    That said, the reviewer should read up on Audey Murphy before backhanding the director of Fury for its ending.

    • What Fury depicts is significantly more than what Murphy did. Murphy had a better position, artillery, inflicted fewer enemy casualties, and held his position for much less time (about an hour). Not that this is demeaning to his actions, but rather I think it highlights the improbability of Fury’s finale.

  2. May I recommend Sam Peckinpah’s 1977 film ‘Cross of Iron’ as the best Eastern Front epic in the English language? Great scene where a T-34 is disabled by infantrymen with a Teller mine as it crosses their trench.

    • Thanks for bringing that up — I had read both the book by Willi Heinrich and seen the film many, many years ago, and was much impressed by their candor and lack of jingoism. It’s been long enough that I’ve almost, though not quite, forgotten about them. I must make a note to myself to read the book and watch the movie again.

  3. The problem with turning to China is that it is always the Chinese Communists winning everything, slaughtering the Japanese Devils and forcing the “Weak” Kuomintang(Chinese Nationalists) to surrender because they can’t fend for themselves and must bow down to the superiority of the Red Chinese. Sorry Its just that I have watched allot of B.S. Chinese movies that are all for the most part as I have just described. I say go to South Korea for some good war movies:

    Also remember when Hollywood made good war movies like: Apocalypse Now(I know its heart of darkness in Vietnam), Platoon, Battleground, The Clint Eastwood stuff, okay point is Hollywood used to make good movies, now not so much.

  4. The Panzerkamfpwagen VI used in Private Ryan is a true mock up and is an insult to military vehicle historians. The turret is perfect Tiger, but the chassis is that of Russian T-34/85 they got from somewhere else with unknown engine that drives it. The Pkfw VI in Fury looks almost close to actual though it is still a mock up. The confrontation scene was designed to make the tiger a little bit stationary maybe to avoid it getting bogged until the take is over. We have yet to see one reconstructed from Aberdeen Museum and get a really nice debut movie.

    • I suspect the mockup in Private Ryan was built to the same plans as the one they built for Kelly’s Heroes forty-some years ago in Yugoslavia — also built on a T-34, which were likely pretty plentiful in Yugoslavia back then.

      I actually found the one in Kelly’s Heroes a little more convincing, in that they seemed to film it a little more carefully — mostly avoiding profile shots that reveal that the turret sat a little too far forward on the hull, and always filming close in at an upward angle when people are standing nearby, thus making it look appropriately larger. I was disappointed in a couple shots in Private Ryan that failed on both those counts, but I suspect that Spielberg had directorial priorities other than impressing us historical hardware fanboys.

      • Furthermore, the Tiger had interleaved road wheels, which the T-34 does not have, so any side shot of the chassis will reveal the mock-up for what it is. I agree that Kelly’s Heroes preserves the illusion longer. It depicted tank vs. tank combat, so revealing close-up shots of the “Tiger” were not necessary.

        To me the mock-up in Saving Private Ryan was still pretty good for what they had to work with. I believe the Bovington Tiger was not yet running at the time the movie was filmed, and neither were there any running Tigers in Germany. Restoring a 50+ years old tank with no existing spare part inventories anywhere to a running condition is not an easy task.

        • The interleaved wheels on Tigers could actually, on occasion, be taken off. Such as for instance, preventing on the morning of a frosty winter night the Tiger from being hopelessly stuck (actual cases).
          Yugoslavia was mentioned here a couple of times. Actually, what made it a preferable venue for shooting war movies was, apart from the picturesque landscapes, Balkan villages, which could also pass for village in Southern France (as in ‘Kelly’s Heroes’), and the lwoer rates paid for exttras) was that its army had both T-34/85 as well as Shermans.
          Incidentally, in ‘Kelly’s Heroes’ this a dramatically important aspect, that the Tiger had to start its engine for 15 minutes every hour. This was the actual practice: might not seem a good policy for a warring party which had such increasing problems with supplying fuel, especially taking into account the ‘thirst’ of the Tiger engine, but also is the measure of how desperate they were: the fact is that Tiger engines had problems with cold start.
          Regards, Andrzej

      • Agreed — what a great ( anti-war ) movie that was ( although cloaked in a mixture of satire, mockery and outright goofy humor ), and the effort put into at least trying to reasonably simulate real Tiger I’s was very commendable. In the context of the time period ( the 1970’s ), this was in very sharp contrast to contemporary films that made no attempt whatsoever at such simulation, hence innumerable scenes of surplus M-47 Patton MBT’s garishly painted in semi-gloss grey with huge Maltese crosses painted on the sides of their turrets advancing in line-abreast formation over open ground — you all know what I am talking about. Even the critically-acclaimed movie “Patton” was guilty of this sort of subterfuge.

    • The Tiger in Fury is real. Although I was terribly disappointed in the film, I was happy that at least one film has running tiger in it. In fact, ff we ended it right after the battle with the Tiger, it would be a tolerable film.

  5. Perhaps the allegory is a parallel to Captain Ahab’s obsession with the White Whale, but with it’s own special twists.

    An excellent recommendation, Ian, and thanks very much. It’s just too bad that here in our country, the general public, which, frankly, still has little real interest in history or geographical awareness ( thank God that is gradually changing with the latter-day Generation X and with the Millennial Generation, with the head start provided by more open-minded members of previous generations ), is not given the chance to really see historical truths on film without excessive licence and distortion on the part of the producers, a truth that rarely sees the light of day due to all the commercialized hype and “dreck” — yes, absolute “dreck” — that has been generated in the name of drama, profit and little else apart from nationalistic jingoism that murders the truth. There have been many wonderful exceptions to the rule in American cinema, but they are, unfortunately, still in the relative minority and do not often garner widespread acceptance with the exception of landmark films such as “Twelve O’Clock High”, “The Best Years Of Our Lives”, “Flags Of Our Fathers”, “Letters From Iwo Jima”, “Platoon’, “Hamburger Hill”, “Saving Private Ryan”, “The Bridge At Remagen”, “A Bridge Too Far”, “Blackhawk Down” and “The Hurt Locker” ( and we still have to allow for some amount of artistic licence even then ). Note that I am speaking here of American cinema — thankfully, there are many well-made foreign films such as “Das Boot”, “Stalingrad”, “Assembly”, “Indigenes” and “My Way” to provide additional balance.

    The exaggerated rubbish one sees in “Fury” ( as well-made and emotionally-appealing as it might be ) is almost painful to watch. And thank you for openly speaking up about the facts concerning Audie Murphy’s stand-off with the enemy ( which nevertheless was quite an incredible feat of courage and arms that deserves the highest praise by any standards, bar none ).

    • “My Way” was pretty good, although it was based on the life of a single Korean man, but it was nice to see a film from South Korea in which a Japanese person and a Korean person became friends. Personally, I have a Korean friend, though I haven’t seen him in years, that had a deep dislike of the Japanese. I know it is influenced by the former Japanese occupation of Korea, but honestly it is my belief that the people of both nations should try to move on, while acknowledging what was done, honestly address things like the sex slaves and so on, but move on to being friendly and good willed towards each other.

    • “(…)“Stalingrad”(…)”
      There is more that one movie with that title, please precise about which film you are thinking:
      Stalingrad (1943, directed by L. Varlamov, Soviet Union)
      Stalingrad (1989, directed by Yu. Ozerov, Soviet Union)
      Stalingrad (1993, directed by J. Vilsmaier, Germany)
      Stalingrad (2013, directed by F. Bondarchuk, Russia)

      • Thanks for the reminder, Daweo! I was thinking specifically of F. Bondarchuk’s 2013 version, but I have also seen J. Vilsmaier’s 1993 version several times. Both are excellent films, and unhesitatingly portray the incredible waste, suffering, futility and vileness of war for what it truly is, and what it does to human beings.

        @ S.N.A.L. — “Enemy At the Gates” is a pretty good film in the same vein. Thanks for bringing it up.

    • For more outstanding examples, I should also have mentioned British films such as “The Dambusters”, “The Battle Of Britain” ( actually a joint American and British production ) and that epic of the terrible North Atlantic Convoys, “The Cruel Sea”, based closely on Nicholas Monsarrat’s novel of the same name, and which was written based on his personal experiences as an escort commander during the war.

  6. Incidentally, a much more realistic Tiger I was constructed for the White Tiger movie, but was not completed in time, and so they had to use a sloppier mock-up.

    Search on “White Tiger tank” in YouTube, and you should get a nice video of the better-looking but unused version.

  7. ““(…)“Stalingrad”(…)”
    There is more that one movie with that title, please precise about which film you are thinking:
    Stalingrad (1943, directed by L. Varlamov, Soviet Union)
    Stalingrad (1989, directed by Yu. Ozerov, Soviet Union)
    Stalingrad (1993, directed by J. Vilsmaier, Germany)
    Stalingrad (2013, directed by F. Bondarchuk, Russia)”

    and in 2001, the french “stalingrad” in english “Enemy at the Gates” directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud:

  8. “Hollywood, of course, produces movies as consumer products. Calculate what should net the most sales by picking the right starring names, storylines, plot elements, and so on. It’s a great formula for making lots of money. It’s not so great at producing film for the sake of film.”

    Very well said in a nutshell, Ian. It reminds me of the movie “Captain Philips”, which was an excellent and realistic portrayal of the “Maersk Alabama” incident that did not resort to a lot of artistic licence. However, “Captain Philips” was also extremely narrow in its portrayal since it focused primarily on the immediate vicissitudes surrounding a relatively small handful of individuals, namely the crew of the “Maersk Alabama”, the Navy SEAL rescue team and the handful of Somali pirates who were their adversaries. The movie failed miserably at an opportunity to convey the true reasons behind Somali piracy in international waters — the terrible, grinding poverty of Somali fishermen, their hopelessness, their despair and realization that there is no other way out of their circumstances when the once-abundant catch fails time after time and their families starve because — ironically — the fish stocks in their waters have been severely depleted due to over-fishing by well-equipped, well-organized modern foreign fishing fleets from the so-called “civilized” world that now condemns them as pirates. Instead, “Captain Philips” turned out to be a very well-made but highly-parochial piece of Hollywood hype of the sort you have described. To be sure, there were hints of the situation as seen through Somali eyes if one were sensitive enough to pick up on them ( as it was in “Blackhawk Down” ), but I am almost certain that the majority of American viewers failed completely to even remotely understand this in the emotions of the moment, that black-and-white “us-versus-them / good guys versus bad guys” outlook that, fed by much ( though not all ) of the media, still seems to prevail in this country. The casualty of this attitude is the loss of humanity. Thankfully, there are those who understand better.

    I would strongly recommend watching “Fishing Without Nets” by Cutter Hodierne as a counter-point to “Captain Philips”. Though fictional, it very closely mirrors the true plight of Somali fishermen forced to turn to piracy by impossible circumstances beyond their control, circumstances the rest of the world conveniently does not understand or even want to understand, and which few care about. “Fishing Without Nets” is like “Das Boot” — a realistic and painfully truthful representation of the other side. The only place where I have been able so far to find this film is on Amazon Instant Video, and it is priced at $3.99 for a one-time rental or $14.99 for outright on-line purchase, and I think it’s worth every cent and much more. I also posted a short review ( under an alternative user name ) of “Fishing Without Nets” on Amazon if anyone would like to read it. I don’t think it would take long for those of you who are familiar with my writings to figure out who it is. This film makes one seriously ponder the question : “What would I do if I were put in similar circumstances, with no way out?”. The answer is obvious.

  9. Ian, do you mean to say you weren’t impressed by the tactical prowess of the 3. Besondern Bedürfnissenabteilung against a lone, disabled tank?

  10. I gotta say that this article is completely wrong about the tiger tank in White Tiger. It is an outstanding 1:1 replica of the Tiger 1, of course incomparable to the real Tiger 1 (Tiger 131 from Bovington) that was used in fury, but leagues above the replica tiger from saving private ryan, which was just a tiger hull slapped upon a t34 chassis.

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