(director: Otto Preminger; screenwriters: Wendell Mayes/based on a novel Harm’s Way by James Bassett; cinematographer: Loyal Griggs; editors: Hugh S. Fowler/George Tomasini; music: Jerry Goldsmith; cast: John Wayne (Captain Rockwell ‘Rock’ Torrey), Kirk Douglas (Eddington), Patricia Neal (Maggie Haynes, RN), Henry Fonda (Adm. Chester W. Nimitz ,Cinepac 2), Tom Tryon (Mac), Paula Prentiss (Bev McConnell), Tom Tryon (Lt. (j.g.)/Lt. Cmdr. William ‘Mac’ McConnell), Brandon De Wilde (Jere), Jill Haworth (Annalee Dorne, RN), Dana Andrews (Admiral Broderick), Stanley Holloway (Clayton Canfil), Burgess Meredith (Comdr. Egan Powell), Franchot Tone (Cincpac 1), Chief Petty Officer Culpepper (Slim Pickens), Ensign Griggs (James Mitchum), Quartermaster Quoddy (Bruce Cabot), Barbara Bouchet (Liz Eddington), Patrick O’Neal (Cmdr. Neal Owynn); Runtime: 167; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Otto Preminger; Paramount; 1965)

“A colossal bore.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Otto Preminger’s (“Exodus”/”The Cardinal”) WWII drama about the nightmare of Pearl Harbor and its aftermath is a colossal bore. It’s based on James Bassett’s novel Harm’s Way, and is written by Wendell Mayes. The black and white film with the all-star cast and with too much plot for just one movie, takes a conventional war story and tacks on various subplots involving mostly troubling romances building the film into a needlessly overlong 167 minutes. After a while, the viewer feels he’s the one in harm’s way.

The film opens at an officer’s dance at Pearl Harbor where the sexy Liz Eddington (Barbara Bouchet), the wife of Commander Paul Eddington (Kirk Douglas), is erotically dancing and leaves with her Air Force officer escort after causing a stir among the prim officers. Liz takes a skinny dip at the local beach and huddles up with her hunk for the night under a beach blanket. The next morning on Decenber 6, 1941, the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor. The couple die in a car crash (as if punished by God for their sin of adultery!). Meanwhile hubby Paul hits the bottle over his personal problems, as his hard-nosed skipper and good friend Rockwell ‘Rock’ Torrey (John Wayne) tries to shake his executive officer out of his doldrums. When the attack occurs Torrey is one of the lucky few to get his cruiser out of the harbor to relative safety, but he suffers great casualties when hit by a torpedo when he miscalculates and runs out of fuel while engaging the enemy. The destroyer Cassidy, under acting commander Lieutenant (jg) William McConnell (Thomas Tryon), also manages to come through the attack in one piece.

Torrey’s arm gets fractured in the fracas and he is told by his superior that since he deviated from standard operation procedure he will lose command of his ship and be assigned to desk duty. In the interim Torrey meets his 22-year-old Harvard grad son Jere, whom he hasn’t seen since he was four. That’s when he got divorced from his snobbish wealthy socially prominent New England wife. Jere is now an ensign but turns dad off when he acts like a twit and schemes to get out of harm’s way as a journalist and a staff assistant to a well-connected congressman-turned-officer Cmdr. Neal Owynn (Patrick O’Neal). As a coincidence sonny boy is dating young nurse Annalee Dorne (Jill Haworth), whose roommate is the older nurse Maggie Haynes (Patricia Neal). Maggie is dating Torrey.

The discredited Torrey spends the rest of the film trying to win back his honorable name and get another ship command, and to show the Navy’s top brass and his sneering son that he’s a good military man. The Duke shows us that he’s up to winning the war single-handedly, if need be, as he’s put in command of the top-secret Operation Skyhook. Henry Fonda as the firm Adm. Chester W. Nimitz who heads the Pacific theater, takes the film away from the romances for the moment back to fighting the war. In the final battle, which recreates the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the film at last comes up with one superior action scene.

There are many soap opera melodramatics in between battle scenes, such as a rape and a suicide; the lethargic slow-moving war epic, hinting at more, manages to only say the usual that ‘war is hell.’