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This is a gentle comedy wherein a Lieutenant fresh from University (Taylor) sees his first action as second in command under gruff but human Lt. Commander (Donleavy) on a recommissioned WWI vessel setting out in convoy against the Japanese following the attack on Pearl Harbor. There is good old Walter Brennan delivering an effective and sentimental supporting performance and a lifeboat full of babies to rescue. The Oscar-nominated special effects are good but not outstanding - mainly involving the unlikely old vessel maneuvering to torpedo a Japanese destroyer. What is great fun is watching Charles Laughton steal the film away from everyone else with his crotchety, caring turn as Rear Admiral Thomas. He is a delight to watch, seemingly improving at every moment but we know every twitch, every frown, every hand gesture is calculated to look fresh. An enjoyable, easy-going film that's very easy to watch.
WW II Propaganda film, good entertainment
This is the story of a young officer (Taylor) dismayed to be deployed on an old ship, a WW I destroyer with convoy escort duty. Even worse, he has to contend with a Skipper (Donlevey) who runs the ship by the book but with unseen compassion and talent. Laughton plays the fleet commander, a crotchety admiral who soon realizes the true caliber of Donlevey tho he is frustrated by the tactics Donlevey takes.
If you like WW II movies this is definitely "OK+"... not great, but entertaining throughout.
Chill Wills and Walter Brennan add to the story with both comic and tradgic portrayals.
Some very good action scenes as well.
I'd Check it out if you enjoy WW II sea stories.
The story is fiction but the war was very real when this movie was
made. While not intended to be a comedy, it has it's moments of humor.
I heard it said this was to be a British movie but was switched to
Hollywood because Britian was in deep straits and under attack at the
time. Whatever the reason, it plays pretty well except for the old US 4
piper destroyer sinking a modern Japanese battleship (not a Japanese
destroyer) . Not very likely, but that's Hollywood for you. However,
the acting by Charles Laughton is classic. He does indeed steal every
scene he's in and that takes some doing when one of the other actors is
Walter Brennan. Laughton's John Paul Jones speech to the ship's company
is superb and stirring even 60 years later.
What at first blush appears to be a throw-away Navy propaganda film,
released in Dec 1942, turns out to be a very easy-to-watch tale of war
at sea with some moments of excellence, particularly the scenes with
Charles Laughton as the crotchety Admiral Thomas.
The commissioning of the destroyer Warren includes a rousing speech by Laughton in which he inspires the new crew with a dramatic re-telling of the story of John Paul Jones giving his "I have not yet begun to fight" speech aboard the Bon Homme Richard. Off-beat plot twist includes the Warren finding a life raft filled with babies and pregnant women. The final act of the movie is an exciting depiction of the bravery of the Warren in single-handedly sinking a Japanese Battle Ship to save an entire convoy (naval convoys and battle are somewhat dated but still interesting and earned an Academy Award Nomination for special effects). Robert Taylor turns in a passable job as our hero, the spoiled LT. from Harvard. Brian Donlevy is also good as the seasoned CPT from whom Taylor learns much and later becomes his friend. Appearances by stalwart actors Chill Wills and Walter Brennan. Second half of the movie has lots of sea-battle action.
Standby For Action finds the two co-stars of Billy the Kid, Robert
Taylor and Brian Donlevy thrown together due to wartime circumstances
as executive officer and captain of the recommissioned U.S.S. Warren.
Apparently the Warren was one of the old vintage World War I destroyers
that didn't get traded to the United Kingdom in the Destroyers for
Naval Bases Deal that we did with them.
She's a worn out old tub as her caretaker, retired Chief Yeoman Walter Brennan will tell you, but she has plenty of heart and a lot of fight left in her. It's a lesson Taylor has to learn.
Had Standby For Action been filmed at 20th Century Fox, Tyrone Power would have had the role, in fact he did have a similar part in Crash Dive. Taylor's a rich kid whose family connections got him a commission and a job with Admiral Charles Laughton. Donlevy's a career Navy man who rose through the ranks to become a captain, also similar to the role Dana Andrews had in Crash Dive.
The crusty, but wise Admiral Laughton decides that his junior aide could use a bit of real sea duty and assigns him to the Warren to serve under Donlevy. It turns out to be a learning experience for both men.
Taylor and Donlevy give strong and capable performances. Taylor looks the part and in fact the following year he was wearing the uniform of Uncle Sam's Navy and seeing action in the real Pacific Theater. But both these guys had to fight against a pair of veteran scene stealers in Charles Laughton and Walter Brennan.
Laughton dominates every scene he's in and uses every trick in his considerable command to capture and hold the audience's attention. This is not Captain Bligh by any means, yet Bligh was as much a seaman as he was a sadist. This admiral is no such thing, but he knows and loves the Navy he serves with.
No more so than Walter Brennan and the high point of the film is Brennan telling Taylor and Donlevy how much the Navy means to him and how much he wants to serve his country in her hour of peril. At least it's my favorite scene.
The Warren runs into all kinds of problems from rescuing a lifeboat filled with infants to action against a Japanese battleship. Taylor and Donlevy and the crew meet all challenges.
Standby For Action is a good wartime action adventure. Robert Taylor would soon enough be dealing with the real thing.
Aside from the obvious encouragement to enlist this film has a good story line and contains truth, compassion and heroism. Stand By For Action was based on the book "Cargo of Innocents", hence the inclusion of the women and babies found in the lifeboat. This is one of my favorite roles for Charles Laughton who is quite believable as a crabby naval officer from the early 20th century. It is also a great role for Robert Taylor who portrays a character entirely lost to Americans of the last 50 years; that is an ivy-league, privileged rich young man forced to learn his experience from real working class men who, as Laughton's character exclaims "Built the navy". Walter Brennan appeals to the side of every man who comes to love a ship or car or job for its own sake. Brian Donlevy does an excellent job as the farm boy turned navy captain, and Chill Wills is good as ever as the guy everyone wishes would have been his "Chief". Youngsters need to see this movie because it reflects well on an America known to their grandparents, and the rest of us should review it once in awhile so as not to forget what we once were. Added plus: a thrilling, realistic sea battle complete with "fog-of-war".
This movie is in many ways reminiscent of several of Robert Taylor's
previous films--in particular A YANK AT OXFORD. Like YANK, in this film
Taylor is a bit of a "pretty boy" who is more concerned with sucking up
to the navy brass and parties than ever going into action. However,
with a decrepit old destroyer about to be re-commissioned, his
commanding officer (Charles Laughton) assigns him to be the first
officer--and help him be a REAL navy man. At first, Taylor thinks this
is beneath him and balks at the assignment, but through the film he
(not surprisingly) proves he's made of tougher material and by the end
of the film Taylor achieves a truly impossible deed--taking out a
Japanese battleship with this lowly destroyer.
While there is a lot of predictability about the plot and some silly clichés concerning picking up some women and babies, this film has a lot going for it. First, there are four exceptional actors all at the top of their game (Robert Taylor, Charles Laughton, Brian Donlevy and Walter Brennan). Second, the action scenes were generally exceptional in quality. While some of the scenes were obviously models (particularly before the big battle), most of the special effects were exceptional and really felt and looked real. Third, while formulaic, it was GOOD formula and featured exceptional dialog for a WWII propaganda film. All these elements worked together to make a very enjoyable film.
The description of the movie was correct with one exception. The Japanese ship that was sunk by torpedoes was a Battleship, not a destroyer. While this may seem to be only a slight detail, it is most important in the significance of our hero saving the entire convoy from eminent destruction. This movie was typical of the war era movies in that heroic Americans always overcame overwhelming odds. A real moral builder. The movie was broadcast on TCM cable channel, on May 27th as part of its salute to Memorial Day. I was glad to Robert Taylor, who I met during World War II, in Dallas when he was in the Navy. He was in is Navy uniform and looked every bit the person he played in "Stand by for Action"
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Standby for Action starts off as a conventional war movie, and a good
one at that. The tone is mostly serious, and the story very
interesting. However, transporting (and delivering) babies on a
destroyer... during combat with a Japanese battleship, mind you...
jumps the shark, so to speak. The serious war movie becomes a screwball
comedy, and then a serious war movie again.
Had they stuck to the story of the grizzled, former enlisted commanding officer, and a young, brash, never-had-responsibility Harvard first officer, it might have been a GREAT war movie. It certainly had all the elements, including special effects that were good enough to impress even today, especially the scenes where the Japanese pilots spot the convoy.
Even so, it's definitely worth watching, despite the great flaw of what feels like two distinct scripts being merged by fiat, and not very well.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Stand By For Action" has a little bit of everything: tennis, babies, head injuries, sea battles, propaganda, multiple births, and Charles Laughton milking every scene like only he could do. The film tries so hard to squeeze in so much that I was expecting Brian Donlevy to give Robert Taylor advice on how to keep his mustache properly trimmed, as well as the wisdom he gives him on commanding a ship. "Stand By For Action" is unfocused and this is why it feels like it drifts to a climax rather than steams ahead. However unrealistic the final battle scene might be, I did find myself caught up in it. It maybe helped that they had Laughton act as narrator to make some sense of what the Warren was up to.
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