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In his memoirs Henry Fonda hated this film above all others that he did
in his career. That's taking in quite a bit of territory because Fonda
did some dreadful stuff in the seventies like Tentaccoli with a giant
octopus. A lot of this was done for the money and Fonda with five wives
certainly had much expenses in alimony.
But Immortal Sergeant held a place dear in his heart because of the head of 20th Century Fox, Darryl F. Zanuck. Back in 1940 in order to get the part of Tom Joad, Fonda made a faustian deal with Zanuck signing his only studio contract. The studio cast him in what he considered junk. The good films he made in that four year stretch were on loan out, to Paramount for The Lady Eve, to Warner Brothers for The Male Animal, to RKO for The Big Street. He was not fond of what Fox cast him in for the most part because he got what was left after Tyrone Power and Don Ameche rejected it.
Anyway come 1943 Fonda had two objectives, to make The Oxbow Incident because he knew that would be a classic and to enlist in World War II as pal Jimmy Stewart did. He prevailed on Zanuck to do The Oxbow Incident and it was a cheaply made western, classic though it was because it was shot completely on the sound stage.
Then Zanuck cajoled, begged, and pleaded with him to make this one more film which he said was a great propaganda piece one that would tear the hearts of the movie going public and rally the homefront and be an inspiration to the fighting troops.
When Immortal Sergeant proved somewhat less than that, Fonda felt hoodwinked and gritted his teeth and finished the film. He tried in fact to enlist to get out of it and Zanuck had so much pull in Washington, DC, Fonda kept getting his enlistment postponed.
It was one angry Henry Fonda who finished The Immortal Sergeant and then went to war. His experience with this film made him bound and determined to get out of his contract one way or another. Ultimately he left Hollywood in 1948 when he got a great Broadway role in Mister Roberts. Fonda didn't return to Hollywood until 1955 and then to make the screen version of Mister Roberts.
But that's getting away from Immortal Sergeant. Without Henry Fonda's rather colored viewpoint of the situation let me say it's not the worst World War II flag waver the studios put out. As is usual Henry Fonda is a Canadian to explain his non-British speech who has enlisted in the British army and is serving in North Africa. He's a young man with a lot of angst and when his patrol's sergeant is killed, Fonda has to summon something from within to bring the men back to their lines.
Thomas Mitchell is the sergeant and Maureen O'Hara is Fonda's girl back home and both do a creditable job.
For the rest of his life Fonda would foam at the mention of Immortal Sergeant. Being the professional he was, he did a good job in the film.
But Immortal Sergeant hardly belongs in the same company as The Oxbow Incident and Mister Roberts in the works of Henry Fonda.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is one of those movies about a handful of soldiers lost in the
desert who must find and fight their way home. But, if the plot is
familiar, this is a pretty well executed example.
Combat aside, it's the story of the maturation of Henry Fonda, the bashful, receding, passive, loner of a corporal who suddenly finds himself in charge when his sergeant is killed. Fonda's character has what psychologists call a primary trait. That is, he is excessively something or other. It's the part of him that everyone notices. Whenever we do a statistical analysis of personality characteristics, one of the first to show up is likely to be introversion/extraversion, and Fonda is high on introversion. This is one of the "Big Five" personality traits, if anyone wants to bother looking it up.
There are numerous flashback too, involving Fonda's self-effacing quality interfering with his relationship with Maureen O'Hara. He can't bring himself to declare his love for her, and meanwhile the gregarious Reginald Gardner (just the opposite, high on extraversion) is taking his place. These kinds of back stories are usually annoying but in this case I can bring myself to forgive them because Maureen O'Hara at twenty-two is sublime. Not "pretty" in any ordinary way. If you asked an artist to sit down and draw a picture of a beautiful woman it wouldn't come out looking like O'Hara. Her nose is more like an eagle's than like a ski slope. And her chin is a little larger than would be required to accommodate her lips. And she's not even a phenomenally talented actress. Really, a performance by an actor is made up half of demands imposed by the script and half by the organismic variables the actor brings to the role. And O'Hara's gestures at enacting the role of the girl friend back home are so perfunctory that we readily sense the real person beneath -- and she's radiant. So, anyway, okay. She can stay in the film.
I first saw this years ago on KVZK and remembered it only for O'Hara's presence and for a scene in which a disabled Italian aircraft crashes into a truck full of British soldiers. I just saw it again and those two are still its most outstanding features.
The combat scenes are well done for the time too. It's exciting as well as thoughtful. I wouldn't blame anyone for disliking it because it's just another phony war movie with romantic flashbacks, but in my opinion, although it is that, it's something more as well. It might have been called, "How To Conquer Your Introversion" and been written by a media-savvy politician.
"Immortal Sergeant" was apparently not one of Henry Fonda's favorite
film roles. I am not sure why "The Big Street" wasn't his least
favorite (it was god-awful, believe me) but he disliked it. And, I
might add, my wife wasn't super-fond a this film as we watched it.
However, I really thought it was pretty good...though I do wonder if
the main character played by Fonda might have been
schizophrenic--that's because throughout the film he keeps hearing the
voice of his sergeant--even though the guy is dead!
The film is a WWII propaganda film. Because of this, it's main thrust is NOT realism but to bolster folks' support of the war effort. I cut the film a bit of slack, as it was 1943 and keeping up morale was a major concern. What I didn't like was the casting of Fonda, as he was supposed to be a Brit--and seemed about as British as John Wayne or Hattie McDaniel! In this sense, I could see why he didn't like playing this role--but the plot is pretty good and more than makes up for this.
The sergeant in the title is played by Thomas Mitchell--and he's very good in this role. This guy is a career soldier and seems indestructible to his men--and he is adored by them. However, although he seems to have all the answers, his corporal (Fonda) seems quite different--unsure of himself and not at all the soldier Mitchell is. But, when the sergeant is killed and Fonda is left in charge of a small group of men in the North African desert, he's given a chance to show his mettle.
In many ways, this film is a lot like the film "Sahara"--though "Sahara" is a much more enjoyable (and less realistic) film. Both are set in the same locale and are about a small group of soldiers overcoming greater numbers of enemy soldiers. But the casting and script just weren't quite as good here--though the film STILL is enjoyable and did what the studio wanted it to do. I also appreciate how the men in this film were NOT indestructible--many died even though you KNEW how it all had to end. Not brilliant but quite entertaining.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
SPOILER This movie is lauded for its realistic battle scenes of soldiers suffering during wartime. Henry Fonda is Colin Spence, a well meaning Canadian gent; Benedict(Reg Gardiner)a brash British bloke, his nemesis. They are schoolmate writers in love with the same beautiful woman, Valentine(Maureen O'Hara). They attended school together but while Benedict was privileged, Colin was humble. It has been the same in life, where Benedict has enjoyed fame and fortune and Colin has known only failure. After seeing a French acquaintance herded to prison camp during the nazi occupation, Colin decides to enlist. There he meets his Immortal Sergeant(Thomas Mitchell), a frankly admittedly self flawed man who runs his small quirky outfit with instinct and wit, leading them on long traverses through hot desert seeming with no end but resulting in nazi casualties and while he gets killed provides for his men and gives them hope to carry on. They discover a nazi outpost and raid it for some much needed supplies. They then surround the camp and do a good job of killing the men. Three of them survive, and two of them including Cpl Colin Spence are now declared heroes. While recovering in hospital, a journalist reporter comes to interview Col. Unbeknownst to both of them, it is Reg. Col had just got a telegram from Valentine, and he tells Bene to wire her his intent to marry her. Reg says no way, but Col now has backbone and says you better. Reg does it and Maureen is now here to wait for her Lieutenant a the station upon his return home. Another happy end!
This is the first American film about the North Africa campaign and the
last film Henry Fonda made before reporting for the war. In fact he had
tried to report earlier but studio head Zanuck had him deferred until
this film was made.
"The Immortal Sergeant" tells the oft-told tale of a group of soldiers at risk trying to survive. The first version I can recall was "the Lost Patrol" a 1929 British silent film remade in 1934 by John Ford. Those films were based on the 1927 novel "Patrol" and the basic theme has been repeated since (e.g., 'The Thirteen", "Sahara", "Last of the Comanches", "Kokoda").
This 1943 film is an American propaganda film using the British fighting in Africa for the setting. Though this is obviously a studio film, the camera work is pretty good and some of the action sequences look good.
The cast is rich with 40s stars like Henry Fonda, Thomas Mitchell, Maureen O'Hara, and Reginald Gardiner. But they are merely going through the motions and there is nothing here you haven't seen before.
My favorite WW 2 fighting films made between 1942 and 1944 include "Wake Island" (1942), "Bataan" (1943) which also had Mitchell, "The Fighting Sullivans" (1944), "Flying Tigers" (1942), "Guadalcanal Diary" (1943), "The North Star" (1943), "The Rats of Tobruk" (1944), and "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo" (1944).
There are a plethora of non-fighting WW 2 films that are worthy of mention "Casablanca" (1942), "Lifeboat" (1944), "Hangmen Also Die" (1943), and "Five Graves to Cairo" (1943).
1943's The Immortal Sergeant is a tedious and overly melodramatic bit
of dullness that makes you glad we won WWII. But how?
I never got a chance to suspend my disbelief with this movie. Every moment I saw characters running hither and yon, pursuing Nazis or being strafed, I reacted with a dull, throbbing irritation. The movie is so drab that whatever does get done right gets lost in the wrong.
Henry Fonda, the young Canadian soldier in the Royal Army, is such a wussburger, he's willing to let Maureen O'Hara go to a teddibly uppa-crust war correspondent (Allyn Joslyn) instead of popping him in the nose. He whines to his sergeant (the immortal one--Thomas Sullivan) that he can't have a rank of responsibility. When he takes over the patrol, he has to quell a mutiny, slaughter a bunch of Italians and Germans, and make it back to base, all the while being crippled by some of the most boring flashbacks I've ever seen.
By the time our hero gets a medal pinned on his hospital robe (yeah, he makes it), he has turned in to a nasty, kill-em-all-and-let-God- sort-them-out candidate for a commission. He tells the teddible war correspondent that if he doesn't get a letter to O'Hara telling her he wants to marry her, he'll murder the journalist friend.
Sheesh, not "I'll smack ya in the kisser" or "I'll dance on your head, but "I'll murder you."
So much for Mr. Nice Wussburger. I think I liked him better.
The Immortal Sergeant didn't teach that to Corporal Jackass.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Henry Fonda walks through this disappointing film about a corporal who
learns to be a man and "fight for what he wants" after his squad's
sergeant (Thomas Mitchell) is killed and he has to take over the squad
in the Libyan desert. The tensionless war scenes are broken up by dull
flashbacks of Fonda's relationship with Maureen O'Hara, who he treats
as kind of a gal pal because he's just too shy or unsure of himself to
go for despite the fact she is obviously hungering for him (only
because there's a British fop also after her. Maureen had to be
hungering for John Wayne to show up as a Yank so she could blow off
both of these losers).
The direction is pedestrian and the script would have been thrown away by Wayne or Stewart. I particularly enjoyed seeing the soldiers walk through the desert in the daytime in foul weather gear while its hot and they're dying of thirst. Yes, it gets cold in the desert at night. But this wasn't at night!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Average war drama based on a John Brophy novel. The immortal sergeant
is British Sgt. Kelly(Thomas Mitchell)in charge of a 14-man patrol in
the desert of WWII Libya. Kelly is tough, but compassionate and held in
high regard by the men in his unit. The group becomes smaller as only
six survive an air attack in the open desert. Kelly's corporal is Colin
Spence(Henry Fonda), a shy and laid back Canadian with enough military
smarts to impress the sergeant in picking him as his replacement. The
fatigued patrol comes face to face with a Nazi tank and after a harsh
confrontation Spence is forced to step up and take the place of their
The photography for this war drama is very good for the mid-40's. Black & White film sets the mood and feel of the movie well. The action is broken up with Spence's flashback reminiscing of the girl he left behind, the beautiful Maureen O'Hara. Also in the cast: Reginald Gardner, Allyn Joslyn, Melville Cooper, Morton Lowry, John Banner and a small role for Peter Lawford.
Henry Fonda looks just like he appeared in 1940's "The Grapes of
This is quite a good film detailing several soldiers caught in Africa during World War 11 and how they eventually overcome their perils.
Thomas Mitchell, as the old-time sergeant is a standout here. There is able support by Allyn Joslyn, Reginald Gardiner and others.
Maureen O'Hara is used mainly in flashbacks here as Fonda thinks back of his past while trying to lead his men to freedom.
The ending seems rushed up as Fonda wakes up in the hospital and is told how they got out of their predicament.
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