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John Wayne and Don Barclay are a couple of daredevil and irreverent
newsreel cameramen, as adept at driving their boss crazy as Clark Gable
and Walter Pidgeon were in Too Hot To Handle. They've drawn a lovely
assignment, cover a war brewing in Iraq. A mysterious Red Shadow like
leader named Maffadi is stirring up all kinds of problems with the
British puppet government running things in Baghdad. Nobody even knows
who this Maffadi character is.
In addition to his newsreel assignment, Wayne's got a romance brewing with Gwen Gaze the daughter of the British colonel Sam Harris. And a younger brother played by James Bush who wants to follow the Duke into the newsreel business.
Bush's eagerness to show up Wayne make him an easy mark for a couple of unscrupulous gunrunners who are arming Maffadi and his tribesmen. It's up to the Duke to straighten all things romantic, political and familial before the 68 minute running time of I Cover The War.
I Cover The War is done in the same tongue in cheek vein as MGM's Too Hard To Handle. It's not as good a film, on the other hand MGM spent a lot of money on their movie, far more than Universal did on I Cover The War.
Charles Brokaw who plays Maffadi is a clever and unscrupulous villain who comes pretty close to winning. It would be interesting what point of view a film like I Cover The War would take today.
I Cover The War is one of six films Wayne did with Universal in 1936-1937, none of them westerns, but all of them action films in an effort to broaden his casting potential. This is neither the best or the worst of them.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I COVER THE WAR 1937
This Universal Pictures B-film has a 30 year old John Wayne as its headliner. Wayne and his pal, Don Barclay, are newsreel cameramen who specialize in getting film on the various wars and conflicts of the era. They are sent by their boss to cover a hot spot in the Middle East.
The pair are sent to Samari, a small British Protectorate, located beside Iraq. There is trouble brewing with the local Arab tribesman and their shadowy leader, who goes by the handle, Muffadhi.
On the aircraft taking them to Samari, Wayne makes friends with the only female on board. The woman, Gwen Gaze, is going to see her uncle, Sam Harris, who is the officer in charge of the small British garrison. Also on the post is, her fiancé, Pat Somerset.
Once Wayne and Barclay are in Samari, they discover that the men they are replacing seem to have met with a most untimely end. Their sound and film truck has more than a few bullet holes in it. Oh well, it will not be the first time the pair have been in a dangerous spot.
Also in Samari are newsreel crews from several other companies. Everyone wants to be first on the scene for that big shot. Wayne and Barclay move into the only hotel in town and wait for some news to break. Running the hotel is local slime ball, Charles Brokaw.
Now arriving on the scene is Wayne's younger brother, James Bush. Bush has quit medical school and wants to become a newsreel guy like big brother. Wayne is bound and determined to ship him back to school in the States. This of course leads to more than a little animosity between the brothers.
While out on patrol the British come up on the village of a friendly local tribe. Everyone, men, women and children have been killed. Now Wayne and Barclay drive up with their truck and start shooting film. The British grab the film and tell Wayne that the massacre is not to be mentioned.
The British are most worried because they have found empty shell cases from a heavy machine gun. This means the bad boys have heavy weapons, and this will make the British mission more difficult.
Wayne's brother gets involved with a rival newsreel crew and heads out into the desert with them. The rival crew, led by Arthur Aylesworth, have a rather lucrative sideline. They are running guns to the rebel forces. Nobody suspects the camera crews would be up to anything so diabolical.
It also turns out that local hotel proprietor Brokaw is really the leader of the rebel faction. He tricks Wayne and Barclay into taking a trip out to his secret camp. He wants his victory over the British to be recorded. He has an ambush planned to wipe out the British the next time they are on patrol.
Brokaw and the rebels launch their assault and soon have the British force trapped. Wayne and Barclay pull a fast one on their guards and escape in their camera truck. Both are however wounded in a hail of machine gun fire.
They just barely reach town with the info about the ambush. The Brits get on the horn and call up the RAF. They send in a squadron of heavy bombers the next morning. The rebels are blown all to hell and their leader, Brokaw killed.
Wayne and Barclay survive their wounds and are now recovering in the military hospital. Wayne also gets the girl, Miss Gaze as her engagement to Somerset is ended.
All this is done in a quick paced 68 minute runtime. Not a world beater by any stretch, but it makes a decent low rent time-waster.
The director here is Arthur Lubin. Long-time Universal Pictures helmsman Lubin worked mainly on "B" films with the odd lower end "A" film thrown in. He was the number one moneymaking director at Universal for several years. He scored with a series of early Abbot and Costello films. These, as well as several of the popular Jon Hall and Maria Montez films made Universal a bucket of cash.
The cinematographer on this film was the two-time Oscar nominated Stanley Cortez. Screenplay was by writer, producer and director George (The Wolfman) Waggner. Waggner would end up directing Wayne in several later films.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
John Wayne plays a newsreel photographer in director Arthur Lubin's "I Cover The War" with his usual reckless bravado. Ray Adams (John Wayne) works for an outfit headquartered in London. He winds up in the thick of the action in North Africa where the Arabs stage an uprising against British colonial authority. The British are depicted with respect, honor, and dignity, and "Operation Pacific" scenarist George Waggner and Lubin treat us to one of the earliest examples of the impact of aerial bombing. The scene in question shows the Royal Air Force flying like the cavalry to the aid of their out-numbered colleagues who are trapped by an army of Arabs. Wayne's performance here seems more easy-going than in his other films outside Universal. Lubin must have made him feel comfortable in front of the camera because he was just as affable in Lubin's "California Straight Ahead." "I Cover The War" never wears out its welcome. This madcap adventure comedy was Universal Pictures beat MGM to the big screen with this madcap adventure comedy, but it didn't score at the box office like Jack Conway's "Too Hot to Handle" with Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, and Walter Pidgeon.
Before Stagecoach turned John Wayne into a celebrated wooden actor, he
was a an ordinary uncelebrated wooden actor in a series of odd
projects. Probably the most interesting of these odd deals is this
movie. It doesn't seem to be rentable.
In terms of the actual production, its the standard mess, made a bit worse by the fact that you have to portray war and Arabs. There's lots of fun in it though. Wayne is a dummy and there's less wrapping on that. The setup has to do with Brits and Arabs and has plenty of stuff to chew on: occupation, resistance, duped natives, gunrunning, subterfuge... all things that resonate differently now.
But what interests me is the folding. It was a great adventure of the industry to discover different means to write themselves and the viewers into the film. All sorts of different things: writers in the story, actors, filmmakers, con men. One of the most interesting to me is the newsroom center, something that has energy that we have in no other place today.
A cool slant on that was the newsreel crew. More dangerous, more relevant to the folding notion. Here, Wayne's character is making movies that are fresh and dangerous. There capturing of the images is folded into the drama of the story no matter that the story is trite.
Its a curiosity that to me is more interesting than any of the celebrated Wayne movies.
Ted's Evaluation -- 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.
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