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FIGHTING SEABEES, THE (aka: Donovan’s Army) (director: Edward Ludwig; screenwriters: from the story by Borden Chase/Borden Chase; cinematographer: William Bradford; editor: Richard Van Enger; music: Walter Scharf; cast: John Wayne (Lt. Cmdr. Wedge Donovan), Susan Hayward (Constance Chesley), Dennis O’Keefe (Cmdr. Robert Yarrow), William Frawley (Eddie Powers), Leonid Kinskey (Johnny Novasky), J.M. Kerrigan (Sawyer Collins), Paul Fix (Ding Jacobs), William Forrest (Lt. Kerrick), Ben Welden (Yump Lumkin), Jay Norris (Joe Brick); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Albert J. Cohen; Republic; 1944)
“Standard WW2 flagwaver.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Standard WW2 flag-waver made in the studio by the second-rate Republic, known for their low-budget B-films and the motto of appealing to the “Hicks in the sticks.” It’s a tribute to the US Navy’s Construction Battalions (C.B.), nicknamed Seabees, a unit created in 1942. Their motto is “We build for the fighters, we fight for what we build.” The Fighting Seabees is all action and no character study, typical of such war stories. Director Edward Ludwig (“The Last Gangster”) keeps the action coming; writers Aeneas MacKenzie and Borden Chase make sure the dirty Japs are vilified (they’re called by such disparaging terms as ‘nips’ and ‘bug-eyed monkeys’). The John Wayne character dies in battle in a brave act of self-sacrifice, as he single-handedly wipes out a Japanese tank battalion. Susan Hayward is the love object dangled in front of Wayne and Dennis O’Keefe.

Civilian construction engineer boss Wedge Donovan (John Wayne) argues with the Navy brass that a civilian non-combat construction corps should be armed. The Navy tells him that the men would have to go through Navy training to receive weapons. Hard-nosed Wedge storms out of the meeting with the admiral and goes with his civilian crew to a South Pacific island to built military fortifications, as he rages he has no time to waste with training. But Wedge is proven wrong, as his men are ill-prepared for battle and face many casualties when the Japs attack. Also, female reporter Connie Chesley (Susan Hayworth) is wounded. Connie’s the girlfriend of Cmdr. Robert Yarrow (Dennis O’Keefe), the gung-ho Navy man who wants Wedge under his command but only if he adheres to the Navy way of doing things. Wedge agrees after the island disaster and is made an officer under Yarrow. Wedge, on some South Pacific island, builds for the task force an oil depot so the American pilots can refuel, fights off the Japanese snipers and a Japanese attack, and has to deal with a love triangle.

The beautiful Hayworth seems out of place as a war correspondent. Wayne is his usual feisty self, as this war film looks like many of the others he made. Wayne delivers the film’s most in-your-face line after killing a bunch of Japs “That’ll teach ’em to monkey with construction men.” Just love the Duke when he talks smack.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”