September 1st, 2009

BACK TO BATAAN (1945) ***

John Wayne stars as an Army colonel fighting in the Pacific who is ordered to leave his platoon to train a bunch of Pilipino guerillas to get them into fighting shape.  During a top secret mission, Wayne rescues a famous Pilipino freedom fighter (Anthony Quinn) from The Death March.  After being nursed back to health, Quinn joins the cause and helps fight off the Japanese but he still pines for his long-lost love.  Little does he know she just so happens to be a double agent.


Back to Bataan was still being filmed while the war was raging on.  The filmmakers wanted the utmost attention to detail, so the script was drastically rewritten on a day-to-day basis to reflect what was happening in the Pacific.  The results are understandably uneven and more than a bit choppy.  Because the movie was still being filmed as WWII was still being fought, it lacks the hindsight that most war films have.


Also, the movie reeks of needless jingoistic patriotism.  The story was already pretty involving as it was, so the gratuitous flag waving seemed a bit over the top to me.  I also found it a tad annoying whenever the movie went out of its way to remind us how accurate it was.  In addition to the obligatory title card thanking the Army for its assistance, there’s also an overly bombastic narrator who constantly rattles off names of soldiers being sent off to war who wears out his welcome rather fast. 


It may seem like I’m beating up on Back to Bataan, but these are really minor gripes in the scheme of things.  What really counts in a movie like this are the battle scenes, and brother, they’re pretty legit.  Director Edward (Captive Wild Woman) Dmytryk films the war sequences with moody panache and gives them an almost film noir-ish quality.  While there is an abundance of talk 2/3 of the way through the film, the finale where The Duke busts in on the enemy camp and blows up a slew of bamboo huts is pretty freaking great.  The flick is also a lot more graphic than most of its ilk.  There is an especially gnarly scene where a Pilipino principal refuses to take down the American flag outside of his school and is promptly hung alongside Old Glory by some mean ass Japanese soldiers.  We also get a pretty tight knife-through-the-neck scene too.


Wayne with his three-day beard delivers a solid performance.  He doesn’t really share too many scenes with Quinn so if you were expecting them to make a great screen team or something, you’re gonna be disappointed.  That’s all right by me though because The Duke gets some Grade A dialogue in this one.  Here’s my favorite exchange:


Wayne:  “Where’d you get the gun?”


Soldier:  “I killed a Jap.”


Wayne:  “Well, kill more Japs and get more guns!”