Saturday, April 27, 2013


With a running time of 165 minutes, Otto Preminger's epic 1965 war film IN HARM'S WAY, lasts longer than some actual battles of World War II did. This black-and-white blockbuster (which I watched yesterday for the first time), is the WWII movie equivalent of IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD because when you ask the question "who's in it?", the best answer is "who isn't?"

How's this for a cast: John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Henry Fonda, Patricia Neal, Tom Tryon, Paula Prentiss, Stanley Holloway, Brandon de Wilde, Jill Haworth, Dana Andrews, Burgess Meredith, Franchot Tone, Patrick O'Neal, George Kennedy, Carroll O'Connor, Barbara Bouchet, Hugh O'Brien, Bruce Cabot, Slim Pickens, James Mitchum, Larry Hagman and Christopher George (un-credited). What? No Ward Bond?

This mammoth undertaking was the last black-and-white WWII film to be made and it was also the last black-and-white John Wayne film ever made. The film opens on the night of December 6th, 1941, where a party is taking place at the Officer's Club at Pearl Harbor. All of the women have 1960s hairstyles. The Japanese attack occurs the next morning with only John Wayne's ship out of the harbor. Tom Tryon gets his ship out of Pearl during the attack and the two vessels, along with a handful of other U.S. Navy ships are ordered to engage the enemy. Wayne does so and is victorious in sinking a Japanese ship but because he didn't follow Navy regulations in doing so, he's relieved of command and sentenced to a desk job. 

The second act of the film is routine soap opera stuff. Wayne meets and falls in love with Navy nurse Patricia Neal and finds his long-lost son, Brandon de Wilde, a junior grade ass-kisser trying to avoid combat by serving in a public relations capacity. Things simmer while the war rages and Wayne, a warrior without a command, stews. 

When a cowardly admiral (Dana Andrews) is slow to achieve results in an island battle in the South Pacific, Henry Fonda promotes Wayne to the rank of admiral and sends him off to get the job done. He does so and eventually leads a task force against a Japanese fleet that has superior size and firepower. The battle is a costly one (several of the main characters die) but the U.S. is victorious and Wayne survives, minus a leg. 

Here are some trivia questions you can use to win some bar bets.

Name a film with John Wayne and Kirk Douglas that isn't THE WAR WAGON.
Name a film with Patricia Neal and Brandon de Wilde that isn't HUD.
Name a film with Larry Hagman and Henry Fonda that isn't FAIL SAFE. 

The answer to all three is IN HARM'S WAY.

I found the film to be engrossing, despite it's extended running time. My interest never flagged even though the plot was fairly standard stuff. There's nothing here you haven't seen in other WWII films (some better, many worse) but it's fun to see this many major (and minor) stars in one film. 

And to show you how weird I am, all the time I was watching the film, I kept thinking that a couple of years after IN HARM'S WAY was made, one of the actors and the director would both find themselves playing villains on the BATMAN TV show. Burgess Meredith of course was The Penguin, while Otto Preminger was one of three actors to play Mr. Freeze (George Sanders and Eli Wallach were the other two). 

Wow. John Wayne, WWII and the BATMAN TV show all in one post. Bet that's never happened before.

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