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>
The Hollywood Premiere of this movie was a charity benefit to aid various War Charities with the 60-piece Pendleton Field Marine Band performing at the bash. According to the 'Hollywood Reporter', the launch was attended by "top-ranking officers of the Marines, Army and Navy . . . [and] about fifty war heroes." See more »
The score of game 2 of the 1942 world series was actually tied 3-3 going into the bottom of the eighth inning, not 1-1 as mentioned during the radio broadcast. To provide closure, Stan Musial singled in Enos Slaughter from third to provide the winning run. See more »
The film's opening prologue in the preface of a book states: A new chapter in the history of America by a correspondent who landed on Guadalcanal with the first detachment of United States Marines. See more »
Richard Tregaskis wrote "Guadalacanal Diary" using the present tense and the first-person plural, which always makes for vividness and immediacy. The narration here by the unnamed correspondent played by Reed Hadley uses the same technique and it works. And that's good. Because otherwise the dialogue in this movie, as well as some of the incidents, would draw even more attention to the fact that so much of the film is made up. It's tough to believe ship-board conversations between marines when one of them has to say, "Funny, how we're about to force a landing on an enemy shore." This isn't to say that the film is completely fictional. It generally follows historic events. The original landing was unopposed, as the film indicates, mostly because there were hardly any Japanese around to defend the island. (The island carries a corruption of the Arabic name, Wadi al Qanar, given to it by Islamic migrants a thousand years earlier; those guys get around.) Historically, the U.S. rushed the invasion into effect for strategic reasons. It was dubbed "Operation Shoestring." And the Navy, wary of losing its only two carriers in the Pacific, was unable to provide support for more than a few days before withdrawing its forces, including half-unloaded transports, and stranding the marines ashore. None of this is in the film, of course. Reinforcements were slow in coming. (They were eventually to include both James Jones and Norman Mailer.) The "Cactus Air Force" grew by only small increments. The Japanese, on their side, were caught unprepared, and their intelligence vastly underestimated the number of American troops, so they sent supplies and reenforcements little by little as well. The film does show the "banzai" attacks that the Japanese were still using at that stage of the war. And we get the very real and very horrifying eyeball-coagulating naval bombardments of Henderson Field (one night the Japanese sent down a battleship with 14-inch guns!)and see the marines in their shelters, with William Bendix speaking aloud a rough-hewn everman's kind of prayer. The movie is also accurate in describing the change in the form of battle, from hysterical mano a mano conflict to footslogging through the bush and eliminating the Japanese holed up in caves. There are not only lacunae in the story but inaccuracies as well. (It could hardly be otherwise in 1943.) The shoot-out at Matanikau seems now not to have been a deliberate tactic by the Japanese, but rather the result of misperceiving a Japanese battle flag (all white, with its red circle hidden accidentally by folds) and a garbled report by a native. And the battle did not end with a courageous charge by marines driving the Japanese into the ocean, as the film shows. Instead, the Japanese, under Admiral Tanaka, managed to withdraw their scattered, starving, surviving troops without discovery, so the marines found to their delight, one morning, that the Japanese were just plain gone. Okay, so it's propaganda. The Japanese don't fight fair. They are uniformly treacherous. They ambush patrols who have come expecting only to accept prisoners; they snipe from trees; they fake surrenders and mow down humanist sons of preachers, and so forth. But at the time this movie was released such racism was understandable. A more balanced treatment of the enemy would have worked against the war effort. The few movies that DID try to turn the enemy into something even remotely resembling a human being (eg., Steinbeck's story in "The Moon is Down," released the same year) were criticized for it. Anyhow, I like this movie. Propaganda and inaccuracies aside, it's an exciting and sometimes amusing story. The usual banter between the grunts is dated and funny, references to the Brooklyn Dodgers and Mammy Yokum. William Bendix is superb examining the single whisker on Chicken Anderson's chin, "Yeah, you're right. Look here. You can see it with da naked eye." Gaping at the helmet he now holds in his hands with bullet holes front and back -- "It ain't possible!" A few laborers do surrender, bowing, and saying, "Arogato" ("thank you"), with Bendix replying, "We ain't got no avacados." Loyd Nolan sounds more like a New Yorker than some New Yorkers. Actually he was raised in the Mission District of San Francisco, a neighborhood settled by immigrants from New York City two generations before. The accent still persists, although like so many other regional accents, it's dying out and can now be heard mostly in the speech of elderly residents. Just a footnote there. The photography is also admirable and the setting, with its gorgeous palms and open sand, a lot more picturesque than the real Guadalcanal. I used to run this movie repeatedly on tape during the evenings with my ten-year-old son and both of us would sit there enthralled by the battle scenes and the humor. Perhaps that will tell you something about the particular appeal of the flick. I ought also to mention that in pursuit of its "we're all together in this" theme, the film, like others of its time, has the usual Memphis-Belle sort of cast, all mixed in ethnicity and regional background. This was one of the earliest to include Sammy. In the introductory shipboard scene there is an evidently Protestant religious service in process, conducted by an evidently Roman Catholic priest, and one Gyrene turns to the one next to him and says, "You've got a good voice, Sammy," and Sammy says, "I should have. My father was a cantor."
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