In this leisurely-paced Technicolor flag-waver, grizzled, beer-bellied lout Wallace Beery plays a thirty-year sergeant major stationed in the Philippines just before the war. When he's forced into retirement, long-suffering wife Fay Bainter has to cope with his refusal to adapt to civilian life in their sleepy island village. He antagonizes the peace-loving neighbors with his gross manners and anti-Japanese sentiments, trains the local children in military maneuvers, and gets into brawling confrontations with shifty Niponese sailors. But once Pearl Harbor is attacked and the enemy advances on their town, Beery rallies the villagers to defense and goes out in a blaze of glory.
The climactic combat action is a long time coming, since the bulk of the movie is devoted to Beery's fatuous, self-aggrandizing antics. Whether condescending to his native troops (he refers to them as "little fellers" as though they were exotic incarnations of Jackie Cooper) or pouring on the 'aw shucks' geniality to a passel of adoring kids, this slob-king is a grating, grandstanding humbug. (What appeal could this man have possibly held for contemporary audiences? Perhaps as a fanciful role model for home front-bound middle-aged men -- the run-to-seed but still vital codger.)
No less phony is the hubba-hubba Marilyn Maxwell as his incessantly smirking daughter; it's tough enough to believe the refined, genteel Bainter could have ever had a booty call with Beery, much less produced so dishy a specimen from such rot-gut sperm.
If one can last through all this spurious slop, the final thirty minutes deliver a Johnny-come-lately wallop. As Japanese bombers hover over a crowded church, director S. Sylvan Simon uses rapid-fire editing to build tension to a fever pitch. What follows is a grand scale action set-piece that is eye-filling and surprisingly fierce, weakened only by the unhinged spectacle of the tubby, lead-footed Beery traipsing through brush to single-handedly knock out an enemy machine gun emplacement. The movie seems to be telling us that a regiment of lumbering, dissipated fat men could have shortened the war by years. Fat chance.
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