(director: Raoul Walsh; screenwriter: from the novel by Leon Uris/Leon Uris; cinematographer: Sid Hickox; editor: William Ziegler; music: Max Steiner; cast: Van Heflin (Major Sam Huxley), Aldo Ray (Pvt./Pfc Andy Hookens), Mona Freeman (Kathy, later: Mrs. Danny Forrester), Nancy Olson (Mrs. Pat Rogers), James Whitmore (MSgt. Mac/Narrator), Raymond Massey (Maj. Gen. Snipes), Tab Hunter (Pvt. Cpl. Dan ‘Danny’ Forrester), Dorothy Malone (Mrs. Elaine Yarborough), Anne Francis (Rae), William Campbell (Pvt. ‘Ski’ Wronski), Perry Lopez (Joe Gomez), Justus E. McQueen (L. Q. Jones), John Lupton (Marion), Jonas Applegarth (Lighttower, Navajo radio man), Fess Parker (Speedy); Runtime: 149; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jack L. Warner; Warner Bros.; 1955)
“More a soap opera story of wartime romances than an action war film.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
More a soap opera story of wartime romances than an action war film. Only in the climax do we see the bloody fight of the marines invading Saipan in 1944. Leon Uris adapts his own bestselling novel, but leaves out all the profanities in the book. Director Raoul Walsh (“Gentleman Jim”/”The Horn Blows at Midnight”/”The Lawless Breed”) keeps it overlong, tedious, fan boyish in its homage to the macho gyrenes and patriotic to a fault.It has a grizzled veteran careerist top sergeant named Mac (James Whitmore) narrate how in 1942 a group of young marine volunteers go through basic training together in San Diego, stay together for radio school and ship out in the same battalion under the command of gung-ho Major Sam Huxley (Van Heflin) to fight in the Pacific. Both hard-nosed career soldiers, Mac and Sam, are portrayed as gruff on the outside but inside with soft hearts.
The episodic film tells how the clean-cut all-American 19-year-old Dan Forrester (Tab Hunter) leaves his innocent girlfriend Kathy (Mona Freeman) in Baltimore and promises to marry her after the war. In San Diego, the lonely Danny has an affair with a married woman (Dorothy Malone) working for the USO, but the top sarge and major straighten him out. When he goes home on special leave, he marries Kathy.
The most engaging romantic story has the womanizing lumberjack from the state of Washington, Andy Hookens (Aldo Ray), romance a New Zealand widow (Nancy Olson), whose hubby was killed in North Africa, and after changing into a nice guy marries her. In the battle on Saipan, Andy loses his legs, but gets over his self-pity with the birth of a son and acceptance from his wife.
Other soldiers with personal stories to tell include the bookish Marion (John Lupton), the colorful thief Spanish Joe (Perry Lopez), the southern cut-up L.Q. Jones (Justus E. McQueen) and the Dear John recipient Ski (William Campbell). Raymond Massey has a cameo as an imposing general, allowing the now Colonel Huxley to switch from a “mop up” assignment, like the battalion had in Guadalcanal and Tarawa, to one where his battalion leads the charge on Red Beach at Saipan. Anne Francis plays Rae, the conflicted girl on the ferry who breaks Marion’s heart.
It’s best fit to serve as an upbeat recruiting poster, telling how being a marine is like gaining a family. Though it never questions a thing about war and lacked realism in depicting marine life, it was nevertheless entertaining in a Hollywood sort of way. This sappy World War II pic was Warner Brother’s first financially successful war picture. In fact, it was one of the top four box-office hits of 1955.
REVIEWED ON 7/13/2011 GRADE: C+