SANDS OF IWO JIMA(director: Allan Dwan; screenwriters: story by Harry Brown/Mr. Brown/James Edward Grant; cinematographer: Reggie Lanning; editor: Richard Van Enger; music: Victor Young; cast: John Wayne (Sgt. John M. Stryker), John Agar (Pfc. Peter Conway), Adele Mara (Allison Bromley), Forrest Tucker (Pfc. Al Thomas), Arthur Franz (Cpl. Robert Dunne), Julie Bishop (Mary), Richard Jaeckel (Pfc. Frank Flynn); Runtime: 109; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Edmund Grainger; Republic Pictures; 1949)
“Tailor-made for John Wayne.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The G.I.’s who raised the American flag on Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima, (Col. D. M. Shoup, Lt. Col. H. P. Crowe, Capt. Harold G. Schrier, Rene A. Gagnon, Ira H. Hayes, and John H. Bradley) all appear in cameos. It’s an enormously popular flag-waver war story retelling in heroic terms the WW11 seizure of a strategic Pacific island by US marines, a film Republic Pictures cashed in on big-time at the box office. According to the Los Angeles Times the Marine Corps permitted the producers to use the actual flag raised at Iwo Jima, usually housed at the Marine Museum in Quantico, VA, in shooting that scene.
The training camp in the film was at the New Zealand military station in 1943, but was filmed at Camp Pendleton, California.
It’s a film that is tailor-made for John Wayne, who is a hard-boiled seasoned combat veteran, Sergeant Stryker, using tough love to get the marine recruits under him trained to do battle in the Pacific. His way is to not care who likes or hates him, as long as they are properly trained to do their job and therefore will have a chance to survive the fighting. The recruits leave the training camp with their top-sergeant and go on to fight first at the Battle of Tarawa then onto the other Pacific beachheads where they become recognized as an efficient fighting machine.
Wayne’s perfect for the part, it might be the best role he ever had–at least, the one I like to remember him the most for. He was deservedly nominated for an Oscar. Though the gung-ho war story is filled with clichés and stock characters seen in many other war films, the film nevertheless had a certain passion and hypnotic quality that was both entertaining and inspiring. The battle scenes were done with great care and were unforgettably powerful. Director Allan Dwan also interestingly mixed in quite effectively actual documentary combat footage. I saw the black-and-white version on cable, but there’s a computer-colored version available.
To give Wayne a human face, he’s shown as a flawed man but a great warrior. He’s embittered because his wife recently left him and took away his son. The sergeant is now pictured as married to the military forever. That his harsh methods and bullying tactics are questioned by the recruits who think he might have gone over the edge, but when they get into battle the military knowledge he passed on is seen as invaluable. One of the rebellious recruits is John Agar, the son of a former marine CO of Wayne’s. The kid didn’t want to be a marine, but family tradition dictates otherwise. The conflict between Wayne and Agar seems oedipal, as he becomes his surrogate son and gets a lot of Wayne’s attention.
The film knows just when to pull on your emotional strings and when to let go. It’s one of the better patriotic war movies.
REVIEWED ON 1/22/2004 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ