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|Index||28 reviews in total|
War movies can be a tricky recipe to pull off because they've been done
so often and fall into clichés sooo easily. This film was saved by
bravura and sincerity. It's a good film. What at first may seem like a
generic Duke vehicle quickly exposes itself as a small ensemble drama
on an epic stage.
Part of the appeal of this film is to watch it with history in mind. It tackles a lesser known part of WWII history, the war and guerilla movements in the Philippines. This film is totally unselfconscious in how it deals with the war, in one scene it features real Bataan POWs marching in a parade and introduces them documentary style with a narrator, and it hired Filipino extras and actors for important roles. This is what really touched and surprised me, how it elevated and glorified Filipino nationalism, culture, and history (Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifácio are frequently quoted and reverently referred to throughout the film); and, in an age where African American actors still were unfairly stereotyped and Asian actors almost nowhere to be found in Hollywood films, this treated Pinoy characters as equals and as heroes. This openmindedness on the part of the filmmakers was refreshing, but very reflective of the US fighting men's appreciation of the contributions of the Filipino people.
The film is passionate about the people it portrays. It's common for wartime films to be full of propaganda and overly zealous, but this film is more touching and intimate in its approach. Patriotic speeches actually have meaning and tears behind them, swelling music doesn't feel manipulative, no doubt because it was filmed with so many soldiers and civilians involved and in 1945, these people had just gone through all this and everything is done with a real and raw memory. It feels like it's built on real stories and people, and the actors seem to know they're not dealing with run of the mill cutout characters. There's a sincerity inherent in all of their performances because of the immediateness of the subject matter. John Wayne is less gruff than usual (and even downright dashing). Anthony Quinn's confused young man: brooding heartbrokenly when he's away from his informant fiancée, tender when he's around her, not sure how to fulfill what many feel is his destiny, and his own personal journey is lovely. Beulah Bondi (as a teacher evacuee who helps the men out) teary eyed when she thinks of her students; the motley crew mix of American GIs and Pinoy volunteers who surrounds the two officers, casual and down to earth. It's a tight cast in a friendly fight to upstage the others, and you'd better believe they milk every scene for what it's worth.
The film moves along quickly and realistically. Instead of complicated plot movements and intricate bloated twists, the story seems like it was taken from any number of jungle war experiences which makes it fascinating and unpredictable, like real history. Director Edward Dmytryk, later blacklisted, paid no heed to Production Code regulations for violence, and filmed scenes that were fairly explicit (for the time) in their portrayal of cruelty and violence inflicted on soldiers and civilians in an attempt to realistically dramatize some of the atrocities that occurred during the war which lends the film an air of impending danger and gravitas.
From before the era of ambiguous and complex war stories (which is how I usually prefer my war flicks to be served), this one of the best "classic" war films I've ever seen. (If you like this, check out "An American Guerilla in the Philippines" which was shot on location by the great Fritz Lang in 1949/50 and very similar in many regards.)
My father, who is now in his late eighties, was one of those Philippine Scouts (of the US Army) who defended the Bataan peninsula as part of the USAFFE (US Armed Forces Far East) from early January to 9 April 1942. He was an Aid-Man in Company C, 12th Medical Bn. (Philippine Scouts), and witnessed combat at the Battle of Abucay Hacienda (around 11-13 January 1942), which is on Bataan, while supporting the 57th Infantry Regt. (PS). Later, as a Runner for the 12th Medical Bn., he came into contact with those US Army nurses at Hospital No.s 1 and 2, who were portrayed by Claudette Colbert, Paulette Goddard, Veronica Lake, and others in "So Proudly We Hail" (1943). He survived about five days walking sixty-five miles on the "March of Death," being packed with about 100 other PoWs into a rail car designed to hold maybe forty men on the last forty-mile stretch to the prison camp, and then eight months in the Hell of Camp O'Donnell, or "Camp O'Death." My Dad loves this movie because it is so moving in many ways. As a result, we, his Baby Boomer children, are also big fans of this film, and will be for the rest of our lives.
Skip "Pearl Harbor" and rent this movie instead. This is a no-holds barred view of the Imperial Japanese and their brutality toward the Filipinos in the opening stages of World War II. John Wayne, Anthony Quinn (who recently died), Beulah Bondi, et al are splendid in their roles. The hanging episode at the school is particularly moving and horrifying. That outrage encapsulates what happened to thousands of brave Filipinos who suffered under the heel of the Japanese. See this film.
While this film is a tad heavy from time to time with propaganda elements, in many ways this war film stands well above the usual crowd of jingoistic American war films. Now I am NOT being critical saying the films are "jingoistic", as this was positive propaganda that slightly exaggerated the truth in order to unify the country against the Japanese. After all, we were at war and Japan had conquered most of the Pacific. But films made during the war often sacrificed reality in order to deliver the message--such as in AIR FORCE when a B-17 bomber almost single-handedly wipes out half the Japanese planes!! Fortunately, beneath the occasionally heavy-handed patriotism, the film itself was a very good representation of the war in the Philippines. This, combined with excellent action scenes and better than average acting make this a film worth seeing. In particular, other than IN HARMS WAY, this is John Wayne's best WWII film, as his acting is a little less "bigger than life" and more realistic. Also, if you liked this film, I also strongly recommend BATAAN (starring a surprisingly macho Robert Taylor). This film focuses on the fall of Bataan and BACK TO BATAAN is a great companion piece as it focuses not only on this but its reconquest. Top notch entertainment and a decent history lesson to boot!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is the story of the suffering of the people of the Phillippines under the Japanese invaders during World War 2. There are several scenes depicting the savagery of the Japanese toward the Filipinos because they had embraced the American way of life. The Japanese hanged, beheaded, raped, beat and tortured hundreds of thousands of Filipino citizens. Enough of that sort of treatment is shown to let the viewer know why the Americans wanted to liberate the Phillippines. But the Director doesn't shove too much of that sort of thing in your face. There is savagery of another sort - combat and lots of it in this film. John Wayne is the big star of the film, with Anthony Quinn starring also. I agree with another reviewer that a Filipino should have been cast in Mr. Quinn's role. However, Quinn did a very good job, as did most of the remainder of the cast. Any John Wayne war film is going to have lots of action and this one doesn't disappoint. Overall, this is a good one!
Realistic based movie which effecively encapsulates the brutality of the Japanese during that time in the Philippines.The Philippines had basic commonality with the U.S. in basic philosophies like CHRISTIANITY(Theology) and DEMOCRACY(Politics) and this was the reason why the Japanese miss-calculated when they thought they could win the Filipinos over to their side with the propaganda they spewed forth regarding the Japanese/Filipino Asian bond.It was a very big mess and the Japanese just could not figure it out.The Filipinos just despised all the Japanese stood for no matter how noble their cause was supposed to be.This movie delivers and is ahead of it's time with gritty battle scenes and not over doing the Hollywood compromise bit.The main flaw here was the casting of Quinn as a Filipino.I am sure even at that time there were a lot of able Filipino studs who could hadle the role of Andres Bonifacio's grandson.A movie like this which emphasizes Filipino freedom and equality should have at least casted Filipino's on equal terms.Quinn did a very good job of it though,amazingly capturing the mannerisms of a typical modern Spanish Filipino well enough to pull it off.....
The film "Back to Battan" starts and ends with the January 30, 1945
US/Filipino raid on the infamous Cabanatuan Japanese prison camp on
Luzon Island as the allied troops rout the Japanese defenders, that
number some 2,000 to 5,000 men, at the cost of only 4 killed and 21
wounded with not even a single US/Filipino POW being lost in the
battle. The movie then goes back some three years to the spring of 1942
during the darkest days of the Japanese advance on Battan. US Col.
Madden, John Wayne, and his men are fighting for their lives holding
back wave after wave of suicidal Japanese Banzai attacks as the lights
slowly go out for the American and Philippine forces. With the US
general in command of the Philippines Douglas MacArthur being called
back to Australia to regroup the battered and defeated US Army for
another shot at the invincible army navy and air force of the Empire of
Japan things look very bleak for the American and Filipino troops still
left on the islands.
The film almost entirely concentrates on the guerrilla war conducted by Col. Joe Madden and Capt. Andres Bonifacio (Anthony Quinn), the grandson of the late 19th and early 20th century Filipino patriot and freedom fighter Andres Bonifacio the first. The guerrilla war lasted for two and a half years made it possible for the successful allied invasion of Latye in the fall of 1944. There's also Anders' girlfriend pretty Filipino radio personality Dolici Dalgado, Fely Franquelli, who's the Tokyo Rose of Minlia. Dolici is mouthing off on the radio Japanese propaganda to the Philippine people but in reality is working for US, which her boyfriend Andres who's totally unaware of it. Dolici puts secret code words into her commentaries to alert the US and allied, Philippine, troops where the Japanese Army is making it's next move.
One of the better WWII Hollywood war movies with John Wayne needing help from the locals and also being berated and pushed around by who I at first thought was the leader of the allied troops on the Islands,she sure as hell acted like she was, history teacher Bertha Barnes, Beulah Bondi. There's also a number of really exciting battle sequences between the US/Filipino troops and Japanese forces that didn't come across phony and overly one-sided, like in the battles of Battan and the Island fortress of Corrigidor,where the "Japs" actually won, like in most WWII movies coming out of Hollywood at that time.
There were two scenes in the movie "Back to Battan" that really moved me and that had very little to do with any fighting. The first when high school Principle J. Bello, Vladimir Sokoloff, refuses to pull down the American flag on the orders of Japanese officer Captain Abner Biberman and then was hanged in it's place. The second scene was when 15 year-old Philippine high-school student Maximo Cuerca, Duckie Louie, was forced to betray, after being tortured by the Japanese, his fellow freedom fighters and American allies. Maximo gave up his life taking the lives of his Japanese tormentors with him by forcing the truck he was on, by grabbing the steering wheel, to go off an embankment killing everyone on board in order to warn Col. Madden's men that they were soon to be ambushed.
The real heavy fighting was saved for last with the return to the Philippines of the American forces under the leadership of "I Shall Return" General Douglas MacArthur in the invasion and battle of Latye Gulf in October 1944. The invasion that culminated, in the movie, with the liberation of the Cabantuan POW Prison Camp in late January of 1945. We see, as the movie ends, a number of actual US POW's not actors in the film from some half dozen different states, Texas Alabama Kansas Tennessee Illinois and even Brooklyn New York. All these POW's who were just liberated are seen ecstatically marching to the trumping and heart-lifting tune of "California Here I Come".
The only thing that distinguishes "Back to Bataan" from scores of other
routine war films is its historical theme, which remains an uncommon
and important one. Few young Americans today have even heard of the
Filipino and American disaster at Corregidor and the Bataan Death March
that followed, during which numerous sick and hungry prisoners of war
were beaten and killed by their Japanese guards. Although the movie
accurately portrays the spirit of Filipino resistance to the Japanese,
the individual characters from John Wayne down are cut from the usual
Hollywood cardboard. Even the real American survivors of Japanese
imprisonment, filmed here some months after their liberation during the
invasion of the Philippines, are shown, supposedly right after they got
out of the Japanese prison camp, freshly shaved and with neatly trimmed
hair. Similarly, the guerrilla force led by John Wayne looks little the
worse for wear even after two and half years of jungle warfare (whixh
seem like about a week in this movie).
The Japanese lynching of the school principal is well handled. The man has not set out to be a hero, but put under the gun, literally, he is simply unable to haul down the American flag. The invaders hang him as an example.
Despite its weaknesses, "Back to Bataan" is still watchable and even enjoyable as a different view of World War II, especially if you're a high-schooler who hasn't yet become too cynical about Hollywood war movies. John Wayne and Anthony Quinn are their usual solid selves, and Beulah Bondi (as a naive but tough American matron)is an unusual asset in this kind of action film.
Back To Bataan is certainly one of the best war films ever made. John Wayne portrays Colonel Madden very well. This movie also shows that War Is Hell. Through very believable suspense, war sequences, it almost made you believe you were in the war and you could picture what it was like among the men who were actually there. When the camera was on the actor's face, you could tell whether he was scared, jumping with joy or angry. I urge all war movie buffs to check this one out, it's well worth your time. ****out of ****.
John Wayne and Anthony Quinn star in this important story about the
Philippine resistance in WWII.
Sure, you won't see the excitement of Pear Harbor or the Battle of Midway, but what you will see is a film dedicated to the Philippine heroes and patriots. There is a lot of history here, including the infamous Bataan Death March. The resistance fought the Japanese until the Americans returned to Leyte.
After over 100 westerns, this was one of Wayn'e first war films. Beulah Bondi was superb as a teacher/nurse working in the villages.
A great story of heroes that have not gotten their due.
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