BACK TO BATAAN (director: Edward Dmytryk; screenwriters: story by Aeneas MacKenzie & William Gordon/Richard Landau/Ben Barzman; cinematographer: Nick Musuraca; editor: Marston Fay; music: Roy Webb; cast: John Wayne (Col. Joseph Madden), Anthony Quinn (Capt. Andrés Bonifácio), Beulah Bondi (Bertha Barnes, schoolteacher), Fely Franquelli (Dolici Dalgado), Richard Loo (Maj. Hasko), Lawrence Tierney (Lt. Cmdr. Waite), John Miljan (Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, ‘Skinny’), Vladimir Sokoloff (school principal), Paul Fix (Jackson); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Robert M. Fellows; RKO Pictures; 1945)
“Weary wartime propaganda film with too much flag-waving.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Weary wartime propaganda film with too much flag-waving, sentimentality and John Wayne in a ho-hum role as an unshakable American icon. Edward Dmytryk (“Christ in Concrete”) directs in a workmanlike way an actioner based on a factual story by Aeneas MacKenzie & William Gordon. Richard Landau and Ben Barzman provide the script. The budget is modest, but the action scenes are well-crafted. The film, shot while the war was still taking place, is never fully focused on its subject or develops character, but is instead a series of forgettable skirmishes. While shooting, General MacArthur returned to the Philippines as promised and the prisoners from the infamous Cabanatuan prison camp were released. As a result Dmytryk was forced to alter the script and relate these new developments. It’s a film designed to keep the home front inspired and not much more.
John Wayne is hard-nosed Colonel Joseph Madden who organizes Filipino guerrilla forces in the Philippines while awaiting his boss General MacArthur’s return to defeat the Japs during WWII. MacArthur left but promised to return one day. The film plays as a homage to the Filipino resistance who fought the Japs and their rigid military regime for two years while waiting the return. Filipino resistance leader Captain Andrés Bonifácio (Anthony Quinn)is the grandson of a legendary Filipino freedom fighter; he’s sulking after former flame Dolici Dalgado (Fely Franquelli) goes over to the other side to become a Tokyo Rose-type radio messenger urging the Filipinos to surrender. But in reality she’s a double-agent, providing valuable information to the Americans.
At least the film doesn’t have Wayne win the war single-handedly and instead shows him as mostly an adviser to the Filipino guerrillas, who did most of the fighting and dying.
REVIEWED ON 8/11/2005 GRADE: C +
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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