Seven weeks after Pearl Harbor, volunteers form the new 2nd Marine Raider Battalion whose purpose is to raid Japanese-held islands. The men selected come from different walks of life but have toughness in common. Under command of Colonel 'Thorwald', they're trained in all imaginable forms of combat. Then, after a perilous submarine journey, they face a daunting first mission: to annihilate the much larger Japanese garrison on Makin Island, in a lengthy battle sequence. Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Other reviewers have published some excellent critiques of this 1943 war-action film from the perspective of the military and military history. Given the subject matter - the introduction of guerilla tactics to the Marine Corps - the historic perspective is particularly important. Though I am no stranger to either perspective, I am going to discuss Gung Ho strictly from the perspective of its genre - military action.
Though loaded with clichés such as rousing pre-battle speeches and over-dramatized death scenes, Gung Ho tells a more-or-less true story about the successful deployment of the Makin Raiders (Carlson's Raiders) on a minor Japanese stronghold (Makin Atoll). Fifteen thousand men volunteer, and in the end, only 200 make the team. These two hundred men will adopt the Chinese phrase Gung Ho (roughly translated as working harmoniously) as a philosophical approach to the task at hand.
In the military action film tradition, we are briefly introduced to each of the men whose battle experience will form the central action later in the film. The characters are surprisingly well-developed and realistic, but the laundry-list approach to character development doesn't work very well in terms of pace and cinematography. Once deployed, the Makin Raiders immediately spring into action, employing intelligence, an unusual degree of individual initiative, and great courage, to challenge the overwhelming odds against their capture of the island of Butaritari in the Makin Atoll.
The action sequences are quite entertaining, nicely thought-out, and the effects are brilliantly executed. From a pure action perspective, the film rates high for its time. The cinematography is quite good, the acting is OK, but hampered by some very mediocre directing. The early appearance of later legend Robert Mitchum is noteworthy, and Mitchum, even this early in his career, dominates every scene he is in.
Gung Ho, however, has been justly accused of propagandism and jingoism, as well as historical inaccuracy. Overall, given the fact that this film was released in 1943 within months of the securing of Guadalcanal by U.S. forces, this is hardly surprising.
From a civilian perspective, it's really just a 'pretty good' war film.
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