Merrill's Marauders (1962)


(director/writer: Samuel Fuller; screenwriter: from the book by Charlton Ogburn Jr.; cinematographer: William Clothier; editor: Folmar Blangsted; music: Howard Jackson; cast: Jeff Chandler (Brig. Gen. Frank Merrill), Ty Hardin (Lieut. Lee Stockton), Peter Brown (Bullseye), Andrew Duggan (Maj. George “Doc” Nemeny), Will Hutchins (Chowhound), Charles Briggs (Muley), Claude Akins (Sergeant Kolowicz), John Hoyt (Gen. Joseph Stilwell); Runtime: 98; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Milton Sperling; Warner Bros.; 1962)
“Jeff Chandler’s last film work is a beaut.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Jeff Chandler’s last film work is a beaut. It’s adapted from a novel by Charlton Ogburn Jr. and shot on location in the Philippines. Samuel Fuller (“The Steel Helmet”/”House of Bamboo”/”Forty Guns”), a former war veteran who served with distinction and as a result has been obsessed by war, directs this action-packed, realistic and gritty ‘war as hell’ drama about a grizzled U.S. general, Frank Merrill (Jeff Chandler), who stoically leads his men in a jungle campaign against the Japanese in Burma during World War II. It’s based on a true story.

In 1942, General Stilwell orders Brig. Gen. Frank Merrill’s 5307th Composite Unit, known as Merrill’s Marauders, to trek some 125 miles from India into neighboring Burma, deep behind Japanese lines in the dense Burma jungle. In the overall scheme to take back Burma, Merrill’s Marauders–3,000 volunteers– will sneak for 90 days behind enemy lines in the jungle and then blow up the Japanese main ammo dump in Walawbum. After the success, the men expect to be relieved by the Brits, and ask only “When are we going home?” Instead, the exhausted men are sent on another mission, a suicide mission, through 500 miles of jungle to ally with the Brits and confront the Japanese at their military base in Myitkyina. The mission is to make sure the vast Japanese army doesn’t unite with the Germans in India.

Merrill’s men suffer from malaria, typhus, fatigue and psychological disorders, but carry out their mission even though they appear like the walking dead. The heroic effort is led by a gutsy dying Merrill, who won’t let the men quit until the mission is accomplished. The film focuses on his father-son relationship with a young platoon leader, the gung-ho Second Lieutenant Lee Stockton (Ty Hardin), a career soldier who rose through the ranks thanks to Merrill. In supporting roles, the following actors make for persuasive hard-nosed grunts: Peter Brown, Will Hutchins, Claude Akins and Charles Briggs. In their seemingly impossible victory, only 100 of the original 3,000 men survive.

It’s a man’s war film that doesn’t glorify the war as much as showing how exhausting and mad it is, a wasted effort that nevertheless has to be done because it wasn’t averted politically. The film best serves as a dress-rehearsal for Fuller’s more ambitious, The Big Red One.