Concentrating on the personal lives of those involved, a war correspondent takes us through the preparations, landing and initial campaign on Guadalcanal during WWII. Written by
Doug Sederberg <email@example.com>
A story of brave men who fought on a shoestring in tropical purgatory, and won!
The island this film is named after is not big as islands go. Ninety miles long by roughly, twenty-odd miles wide, it lay roughly, north west by south east. The high point of Guadalcanal rose up to about 8000 feet; covered with low cloud and forest.
This film then, based on the book of the same name, and written by the war correspondent, Richard Tregaskis is, in my opinion, a better movie than, "The Sands of Iwo Jima", when it comes to paying tribute to the war record of the U.S. Marine Corps in World War Two.
I liked the opening scenes aboard the troop transport. A pleasant, and lazy Sunday morning. A religious service and hymn singing held on deck. Navy Chaplain, Father Donnelly (Preston Foster), presiding. Lloyd Nolan, as Sergeant Malone, an often under-rated actor in my opinion, wisecracking with 'Taxi' Potts, a Dodgers fanatic played by the always-likable. William Bendix. There is Richard Conte as Captain Davis. Anthony Quinn, forever a Latin-type character, Private Alvarez. Schoolboy-faced Richard Jeackel in his first-ever role, after being hoisted up from the studio mail room at Twentieth Fox. Minor Watson as Colonel Grayson, was always a reliable father-like figure who, when he landed on the beach, said this operation was unlikely to be any picnic. How right he would turn out to be. What added a shine to this film from the opening scenes was Reed Hadley narrating the story of the campaign as it unfolded, as if it was Richard Tregaskis himself. Hadley's narration seems to make the atmosphere of the film gel perfectly. A king of semi-documentary realism, if you will.
The first prisoners to be brought in are trembling, half starved in appearance, and in fear of their lives. 'Are these the monkeys were fighting?' asks Lionel Stander, as Sergeant Butch. This is the first impression they get of what passes to the marines as Japanese soldiers. It will turn out to be a false impression, soon enough. As they push further inland, the realisation soon grows that occupying this far from small, God-forsaken island is going to be no pushover. Colonel Grayson's 'no picnic' turns out to be an ugly truism.
With the Matanikau expedition a tragic failure, after landing from the sea, the realisation they're up against a determined and ferocious enemy, sinks deeper. Private Alvarez is the sole survivor from Matinikau, making it back to his own lines. Shaking with a combination of shock and vengeful anger, he recalls the other marines being picked off and bayoneted as he heads back and dives into the surf to escape.
With the second assault on Matinikau, the marine's blood is up, and they're out for blood. The Jap is taken on at his own game. The gloves are off and the chips down. They fight ruthlessness and cunning with same. And overwhelm a fanatical enemy.
In the closing scenes, the marines are relieved by fresh but yet-to-be-tried army infantrymen straight off a troop transport. One of the GI's calls out to the blooded veterans, 'What's it like?' A tired-looking Sergeant Malone answers, 'Pretty rugged, son'. For Malone, like the rest of the marines who entered the jaws of conflict and survived, they look older, and wiser. And were not found wanting. There it is then, a film that grandly commemorates the old, young men of a single platoon of the 1st Marine Division. Names on a map unknown, now entered into the history books, and the Marine Corps Hall of Fame. Matanikau, Lunga Point, Tenaru River, Bloody Ridge, Point Cruz. All fought over for a airstrip; named after Lofton Henderson, a distinguished marine pilot from the Battle of Midway.
Guadalcanal is not a name, but an emotion. So said Professor Samual Elliot Morison, the U.S. Naval Historian. How true. The Japanese were not the only enemy. There was dengue fever, malarial swamp, and humidity to sap the energy, all wrapped around with a foul-smelling jungle. There was a epitaph found at the Marine Cemetery at Lunga Point. It would have been appropriate to have displayed it along with the end credits of this film. It goes:-
That when he goes to heaven./ To Saint Peter he will tell./ Another marine reporting Sir./ I have served my time in hell.
How truthfull that piece of poetry turned out to be.
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