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William A. Seiter
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The Army nurses on Bataan need help badly, but when it arrives, it sure isn't what they expected. A motley crew, including a Southern belle, a waitress, and a stripper, show up. Many conflicts arise among these women who are thrown together in what is a desperate and ultimately hopeless situation. Written by
The service of more than 100 nurses in the Philippines in World War II is one of the great stories of heroism in war. And the capture of 79 of those mostly Army and Navy nurses is the largest single military imprisonment of women in history. The other 23 were evacuated just a few days before the fall of Corregidor when the Americans surrendered to the Japanese on May 8, 1942.
Two movies were made, and two books have been written about this group, referred to as the "Angels of Bataan." There are significant differences between the films, and the books. An Army nurse, Lt. Juanita Redmond, who was among the evacuees from Corregidor, wrote the first book, "I Served on Bataan." It covered the five months from the Japanese attack of the Philippines on Dec.8, 1941, to the fall of Corregidor. It was published in 1943 and was the basis for the Paramount movie, "So Proudly We Hail," that came out on Sept. 9, 1943. The book and movie were about the ordeal of the nurses over those five months, first on Bataan and then on Corregidor. Although no nurses were killed, some were wounded as the Japanese continually shelled and bombed the Allied defenses.
The second book is more recent. "We Band of Angels," came out in 1999. It was written by Elizabeth Norman, an associate professor of nursing at New York University. Norman did extensive research and travel, and interviewed the remaining survivors in the 1990s. Her book includes the months the nurses tended the wounded on Bataan and Corregidor. It covers the evacuation of nearly a quarter of the nurses by a flying boat and submarine before Corregidor fell. Then it goes into the details of the nearly three years of imprisonment. It ends with the liberation of the women in February, 1945, their return home, and the later years of the remaining survivors.
Another Army nurse, Lt. Eunice Hatchitt, had been tabbed by the military to be an adviser for the Paramount movie. She wanted to dissociate from the film because she didn't like some of the Hollywood touches to the story, especially two romances. So, her name doesn't appear in the film credits. Even with the Hollywood touches, "So Proudly We Hail" is an outstanding movie, in all respects. The recreation of the Malinta Tunnel on Corregidor was most impressive and gave a very real feel to the film. The movie is told and seen in a nearly continuous flashback from several of the nurse evacuees on board a ship as they are returning to the States.
"Cry Havoc," is another film altogether. MGM came out with it in February 1944 five months after "So Proudly We Hail." It was based on a play that ran for just 11 performances over Christmas of 1942. Since Redmond's book was not yet written or published, the play author, Allen Kenwood, probably based his script on news reports and interviews of the evacuees in the press earlier that year. And MGM apparently didn't want to copy the first movie, so it kept to the fictional script of the play.
In this film, most of the women are not nurses but are civilians who answered a call for volunteers to help the nurses on Bataan. Only a couple of the women are military nurses and in charge. Some scenes are outside, and among hospital wards in tents. But much of the action takes place inside a large earthen bunker that served as quarters for the women. The cast, acting and script for this film were quite good. It does have a couple of incidents that are too much of a stretch. And, this film ends with the women being captured in the fall of Bataan.
I agree with other viewers who have compared the two films. "So Proudly We Hail" is the far superior film. But "Cry Havoc" also is a good telling and showing of the peril, ordeal and heroism of women serving in time of war.
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