Why, if Wake Island is the first “action” WWII movie, does it feel like such a cliche? Maybe this is where these cliches started?
The film began production before the December 1941 battle for Wake Island was over and is a highly dramatized account of the Marines defense of the U.S. garrison on the island beginning on the day Pearl Harbor was attacked.
The story begins as Major Geoffrey Caton (Brian Donlevy) is arriving to take command of the sleepy outpost. From the beginning, he clashes with crusty Shad McClosky (Albert Dekker) who is arriving to supervise the civilian construction crew on the island. At the same time we get the back stories of several of the Marines including cutup “Smacksie” Randall (William Bendix) who is being discharged and shipping home to marry his sweetheart and pilot Lt. Bruce Cameron (Macdonald Carey) whose wife is working at Pearl Harbor.
All the kidding around and squabbling stops when the Japanese attack the island. Although they are vastly outnumbered, the Marines fight on to the last man, inflicting serious damage on the enemy. With Robert Preston as a Marine private.
Although the film implies that there were no survivors, the garrison surrendered after the first wave of attacks. The Marines were sent to POW camps in Japan but the construction crew remained on the island as forced labor to build up defenses for the Japanese. Ninety-nine of these civilians were massacred when the Japanese expected an Allied attack to retake the atoll. The commander that ordered the murders was later executed as a war criminal.
This was my first viewing but I certainly felt like I had seen this before. It has all the usual Hollywood combat picture tropes excepting a multi-ethnic platoon which I imagine emerges soon enough. The combat scenes are good, though
Wake Island was nominated for four Academy Awards: Best Picture; Best Director; Best Supporting Actor (William Bendix); and Best Writing, Original Screenplay.