Bataan (1943)


(director: Tay Garnett; screenwriter: Robert D. Andrews; cinematographer: Sidney Wagner; editor: George White; music: Bronislau Kaper; cast: Robert Taylor (Sgt. Bill Dane), George Murphy (Lt. Steve Bentley), Thomas Mitchell (Cpl. Jake Feingold), Lloyd Nolan (Cpl. Barney Todd), Robert Walker (Leonard Purckett), Lee Bowman (Capt. Henry Lassiter), Barry Nelson (F.X. Matowski), Desi Arnaz (Felix Ramirez), Kenneth Spencer (Wesley Eeps), Phillip Terry (Pvt. Matthew Hardy), Roque Espiritu (Corp. Juan Katigbak), J. Alex Havier (Yankee Salazar), Tom Dugan (Sam Malloy); Runtime: 115; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Irving Starr; MGM; 1943)

“An exciting flag-waving big box office Alamo-esque suicide mission World War II film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Bataan is an exciting flag-waving big box office Alamo–esque suicide mission World War II film. It’s based on real events that it fictionalized (did it ever!); it set the modern day standard for its authentic looking though shot in the studio battle scenes (first film to take place entirely on the battlefield), but is dated, filled with stereotyped characters and is blatantly disparaging of the Japanese (possibly excused only because it came out during the bitter days of the war and most such Hollywood films followed suit). The film could have been a remake of Ford’s 1934 The Lost Patrol and was MGM’s answer to Paramount’s Wake Island. It’s a well paced film in the hands of the more than competent Tay Garnett (“Seven Sinners”/”The Postman Always Rings Twice”) and tightly scripted by Robert D. Andrews. It was filmed during the early part of the war when the Americans were losing in the Pacific, as it acted as a morale booster for the civilians back home to let them know that war is hell but is winnable and worth dying for to preserve freedom.

When the American and Filipino forces are driven out of Manila by the invading Japanese, a rearguard unit of thirteen volunteer military men, consisting of a diverse ethnic group of men from different races, classes, and creeds (the blacks and dark skinned others caused some trouble getting it shown in the Deep South), band together to blow up the bridge along the Bataan peninsula, in the jungle, to stall for time for General Douglas MacArthur’s troops to advance from the south. Tough no-nonsense veteran Sgt. Bill Dane (Robert Taylor) of the U.S. infantry is assigned to assist inexperienced West Point grad cavalry captain Henry Lassiter (Lee Bowman). Dane brings along experienced careerist combat vet Corp. Jake Feingold (Thomas Mitchell), who got separated from his outfit. The others who make up this motley unit of disenfranchised men include: Air Force pilot Lieutenant Steve Bentley (George Murphy), whose plane is disabled; the wise-guy signal battalion Corp. Barney Todd (Lloyd Nolan), who has a bad history with Dane; the naïve and talkative Leonard Purckett (Robert Walker), a musician in the Navy; Pvt. Felix Ramirez (Desi Arnaz) of the tank corps; Matthew Hardy of the medical battalion; Corp. Juan Katigbak of the Philippine Army Air Force; engineer Pvt. Francis Xavier Matowski (Barry Nelson); demolitions expert Pvt. Wesley Eeps, a black man (the military wasn’t integrated until after the war); ex-boxer Pvt. Yankee Salazar of the Philippine Scouts; and Sam Malloy, a cook from the motor transport crew.

The men stand their ground and seem to wipe out half the Japanese army but the odds are overwhelmingly stacked against them, as they get picked off one by one until only a crazed Robert Taylor is left defiantly emptying his machine gun on the charging Japanese soldiers and yelling out to “Come on suckers, come and get it.” The credits note the heroics of the men and and tells us “Their spirit will lead us back to Bataan.”

Robert Taylor gives as lively a performance as I have ever seen him deliver, and the ensemble cast all perform reasonably well considering they are at best only playing sketchy disposable characters.