(director: John Farrow; screenwriters: W. R. Burnett/Frank Butler/from the records of the United States Marine Corps; cinematographers: William C. Mellor/Theodor Sparkuhl; editors: Frank Bracht/LeRoy Stone; music: David Buttolph; cast: Brian Donlevy (Maj. Geoffrey Caton), Robert Preston (Pvt. Joe Doyle), Macdonald Carey (Lt. Bruce Cameron), Albert Dekker (Shad McClosky), Barbara Britton (Sally Cameron), William Bendix (Pvt. Aloysius Randall), Commander Reynolds (Walter Abel), Captain Patrick (Damian O’Flynn), Mikhail Rasumny (Ivan Probenzky); Runtime: 87; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Joseph Sistrom; Paramount; 1942)

“Succeeds in its attempt to dramatize the war effort.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This popular flagwaver morale booster war film, not known for its accuracy (claiming the men held out until the bitter end, when some surrendered way before), nevertheless succeeds in its attempt to dramatize the war effort and give the folks back home before the advent of 24 hour cable television an idea of what the fighting looked like. It was shot in the spring and early summer of 1942 (even before the fighting ended on Wake Island) at the Salton Sea in the southern Californian desert. It’s directed by Australian John Farrow, a British navy officer, and written by W. R. Burnett and Frank Butler. It received four Oscar nominations including one for Best Picture (Mrs. Miniver won over the nine other nominated films, at the time).

The film is basically an enactment of the heroic defense of Wake Island (a sandy strip of volcanic land used as an airplane refueling post before it was changed to a defensive post in 1940 and 1941) by a small garrison of hard-bitten marines and civilian construction workers from the relentless Japanese attack, who bravely held out for two weeks in December of 1941 before overcome by the overwhelming Japanese forces. Brian Donlevy plays the marine leader Major Caton, a strikingly calm and collected figure who exudes courage and confidence just by his persona. In the moment of truth when asked to surrender by the Japanese, he replies “Tell ’em to come and get us.” Albert Dekker plays no-nonsense gung-ho construction boss McClosky, who’s willing not only to dig trenches but pick up a rifle. Macdonald Carey plays ace bomber pilot Lt. Bruce Cameron, who takes on an heroic suicide mission after he learns his wife (Barbara Britton) was killed at Pearl Harbor. William Bendix plays scrappy Pvt. Aloysius Randall, a part offering comic relief in which he received a nomination for Best Supporting Actor. When Bendix is told by his best buddy (Robert Preston), with whom he has an amusing ongoing feud as if they were a married couple, the Japanese are destroying the island, he replies “Whatd’ya care? It ain’t your island, is it?”

Though it’s the usual warmongering patriotic war film of the time, it was stirring (most of the film consists of war footage and some outstanding dogfight sequences), well-acted (the actors looked and sounded like Leathernecks) and well-executed (not a dull moment in this terse film).

Wake Island Poster