Bataan (1943)

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Directed by Tay Garnett
Written by Robert Hardy Andrews
First viewing/Amazon Instant Video


“The War Department in Washington briefly weighed more ambitious schemes to relieve the Americans on a large scale before it was too late. But by Christmas of 1941, Washington had already come to regard Bataan as a lost cause. President Roosevelt had decided to concentrate American resources primarily in the European theater rather than attempt to fight an all-out war on two distant fronts. At odds with the emerging master strategy for winning the war, the remote outpost of Bataan lay doomed. By late December, President Roosevelt and War Secretary Henry Stimson had confided to Winston Churchill that they had regrettably written off the Philippines. In a particularly chilly phrase that was later to become famous, Stimson had remarked, ‘There are times when men have to die.” ― Hampton Sides, Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II’s Greatest Rescue Mission

This is a dark story of a ragtag band of soldiers in a doomed effort to defend their position as the Japanese take over the Philippines.  It turned out to be my favorite combat movie in a year filled with such fare.

The film is dedicated to the Filipino soldiers who fought side-by-side with Americans and died defending their homeland.  After Manila is bombed, a group of survivors from different units and services is assigned to blow up a bridge and repair a plane on Bataan. Among them are Sgt. Bill Dane (Robert Taylor), a hardened career NCO; pilot Steve Bentley (George Murphy); New Yawker Jake Feingold (Thomas Mitchell); Latino Felix Ramirez (Desi Arnaz); and young sailor Leonard Purkett (Robert Walker in his feature film debut), who can hardly wait to kill his first Jap.  A special thorn in Dane’s side is a corporal who calls himself Barney Todd (Lloyd Nolan), but whom Dane recalls as a criminal who broke free of his escort.

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These men display incredible heroism as they doggedly follow their orders in the jungle, despite constant attrition due to disease and attacks by the Japanese.  The closing shot is unforgettable.


This has all the elements of its genre, down to the composition of the unit.  It transcends cliches however due to the fine acting, intelligent screenplay and unrelenting portrayal of the horrors of war.  Despite his matinee idol good looks, Robert Taylor is never better than as a tough guy and shines here.  Nolan is his match in the acting department.  Walker is always good but he appeared to still be finding his way at this point.  The special effects are great, with some amazing matte painting effects.  For more on matte effects in combat films of this era, including Bataan, see here:\



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