Back to Bataan (1945)
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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.)
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".
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.
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.
Other reviewers have noted that the Japanese forces were using U.S. equipment. This is not entirely inaccurate. The Japanese Army was always short on weapons and like the German forces would press into service captured weapons, esp. to serve in rear areas for occupation duty. The Japanese captured a large number of 1917 Browning water cooled machine guns when American forces surrendered and did issue these to their forces in Phillipines. They also captured just under 100 M3 light tanks, and also turned these against American forces when they later landed in the islands. Even though the Japanese are show with early model Shermans (with the short M3 75mm gun, likely being used for training in the States), they did actually use captured American tanks against guerillas.
To a modern viewer, Wayne's fondness for American cigarettes in the film is a bit ironic, since he died of lung cancer.
The hanging of the school master came across to me as a rather well done and dramatic moment. It captures someone willing to die for a cause rather than merely back down.
This classic warlike movie is nicely starred by John Wayne at one of his best roles as a two-fisted Colonel , he's accompanied by a plethora of first-rate secondaries . Stirring actioner warfare completed with slice of military stereotypes although some characters are very one-dimensional . This rousing action saga results to be a a good film dealing with war in human terms . However , there are some nasty , ominous villains well played by Asian players who bear offensive racial stereotypes , as the Japanese are all nasty and evil . There is a fair bit of flag-waving and patriotism , but that was just what was needed when the picture was made . It may not be an awesome film , but this is a thrilling and well made war epic . This colorful movie contains action , breathtaking battles , thrills , stock-shots , historical events and the battle scenes are impressively made . Stalwart main cast , Wayne and Quinn , both of whom give splendid interpretations . Being stunningly supported by Belulah Bondi , Richard Loo , Lawrence Tierney Abner Biberman , Vladimir Sokoloff and Paul Fix as a grizzled as well as sympathetic veteran .
This is one of a handful of feature films that have featured the story of the World War II Battle of Bataan , they include ¨So proudly we hail¡¨ by Mark Sandrich (1943) ; ¨Bataan¨ (1943) by Tay Garnett and ¨They were expendable¨ (1945) by John Ford . The film is set into a lush , abundant jungle with a dense fog made by usual RKO production designer , Albert S. D'Agostino , and contains an atmospheric as well as evocative musical score by the ordinary Roy Webb . It is well set in South Pacific , Philippines and shot in Tarzana Ranch , Thousand Oaks , Baldwin Estate , Santa Anita , California . The motion picture was professionally directed by Edward Dmytryck , a good Hollywood craftsman . Edward has a sensitive handling of actors and provides an exact compositional sense . Edward handles in all -especially the battle scenes- with flair play and vigour . He is a classic director , his films deal with a deep description of civilized societies , he believes that corruption is an essential part of it , that society punishes sincerity , innocence and love, vengeance and greed determine the behavior of people .
The actual deeds about Bataan concern an unsuccessful attempt by US and Filipino troops under General Douglas MacArthur to defend the peninsular against the Japanese 1 Jan-9 April 1942 . Following the surrender of Bataan , MacArthur was evacuated , but Allies captives were force-marched 95 km/60 mi to the nearest railhead in the Bataan Death March,ill-treatment by the Japanese guards during the march killed about 16.000 US and Filipino troops .
This is also the product of one of the smaller studios. Had this product been made at MGM or Paramount, no doubt it would have been better done. In 1945 the studios were just starting to wind down the production of propaganda war films. The more perspective one gets about an event like World War II, the more realistic the films will be.
Nevertheless given the script and budget they had players John Wayne and Anthony Quinn do a creditable job in their roles. Wayne is an Army Colonel told by General Jonathan Wainwright to go into the hills and organize resistance. Wainwright is not expecting the Americans at Bataan and Corregidor to be holding out much longer. Wayne does so and as a propaganda move rescues Anthony Quinn who is the grandson of Andres Bonafacio who was leader of Phillipine resistance to the Spanish in the previous century.
It's a fact now acknowledged that the Japanese were seen as liberators in the Pacific war for most native populations. The only place they met real resistance was in the Phillipines among the natives. The United States had a promised deadline in 1946 to abandon its colonial status there. The Filipinos didn't want to exchange one colonial master for another.
Yet when I went to Manila in 1999 and saw the people there driving nothing but Toyotas, you kind of wonder who did win that war and what was it all about in the Pacific. What they couldn't conquer militarily the Japanese have conquered economically. What a world.
Farewell, my adored Land, region of the sun caressed, Pearl of the Orient Sea, our Eden lost, With gladness I give you my Life, sad and repressed; And were it more brilliant, more fresh and at its best, I would still give it to you for your welfare at most.
On the fields of battle, in the fury of fight, Others give you their lives without pain or hesitancy, The place does not matter: cypress laurel, lily white, Scaffold, open field, conflict or martyrdom's site, It is the same if asked by home and Country.
In short, a typical WWII era lower-budgeted war-movie. Wayne, Quinn, Bondi and co. are all fine, it's routinely handled but involving. You can certainly put 'They were expendable' w/ Duke and Robert Montgomery as a bookend for this, also in '45-set in the same time/place but bigger budgeted and frankly more believable.
You'll also see Phillip Ahn here, from 'Kung Fu' and whatever else, I should add.
*** outta ****, pretty decent.
This is not to say there wasn't any good acting at all in the movie. Beulah Bondi who played the role of an elderly American teacher in a public school deserves kudos, for instance.
The battle scenes were poorly planned and executed. A notable lack of military hardware was also apparent. Most of the tanks and armored vehicles were, after all, still being used in the battles of Northern Luzon.
Anthony Quinn is cast as a Filipino soldier. Well, at the time when Hollywood needed an actor to portray an "exotic" foreigner, they chose those who were not known for their smashing good looks. With Quinn, we've seen him as an Eskimo (Savage Innocents), a Greek (Guns of Navarone, Zorba the Greek), etc. Unfortunately, as a Filipino myself I must say he looks nothing like a Filipino.
Few people know that the gallant defense of Bataan which upset the Japanese plans of going back to Pearl Harbor for a land occupation and then proceeding to Australia and later on to California was undertaken mostly by Filipino soldiers of the Philippine Army of the Philippine Commonwealth. There were only a handful of American soldiers (not more than 5,000 combat, the rest were support) compared to about 30,000 Filipino soldiers on both Bataan and Fortress Corregidor. Churchill knew this and he uttered an uncharacteristic paean to the Filipino soldier who, after all, was not Anglo-Saxon. After the easy conquest of Singapore by the Japanese while the "Battling Bastards of Bataan" were still slugging it out toe to toe with the enemy, Churchill was asked in Parliament why that happened. He replied :"Because the Filipino soldier is the bravest in the world." The Philippine Army was attached to the American forces upon agreement of the governments of the United States and the Philippines as soon as war broke out. The joined forces were formally called United States Armed Forces in the Far East which became the famous acronym USAFFE.
Upon Bataan's surrender by the American commanders (the Filipinos were against it), the first thing the Japanese Army officers did was to segregate the Filipino officers. They were decimated by beheading with the infamous katanas carried by Japanese officers. During the Death March, many Filipino soldiers escaped to fight on as guerrillas.
As in most enemy occupied countries in WWII, the largest and most organized resistance movement in the Philippines was the front led by communist partisans. It was known as HukBalaHap, the acronym of Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa mga Hapon (The People's Army Against the Japanese). They were so effective that the Japanese felt their presence in almost the entire country but most especially in Luzon where the movement had many sympathizers because of agrarian unrest. This was because, the US colonial government did not abolish the feudal landownership system operated by the Spaniards for 300 years. This was due to the fact that the Filipinos who collaborated with the conquering American Forces during the Filipino-American War (US government historians called it an insurrection) were big landowners. Some clashes occurred between US forces and "Huk" guerrillas during the liberation of the islands by MacArthur as the Americans sought to disarm some guerrilla units because they were seen as communists, and thus, enemies.
For many years during the American colonial occupation, Filipinos resented the loss of their independence and seethed at the betrayal and atrocities committed by American forces during the Philippine - American War (cf. James H. Blount, The American Occupation of the Philippines). Somehow, however, with the universal education policy implemented by the American backed civil government and with the liberation of the islands from the Japanese, true friendship between the two peoples of different races became a reality. The most beloved American Governors General were Howard Taft who went on to become US President and Francis Burton Harrison. Taft ended the repressive military government headed by Gen. Arthur MacArthur, instituted public health and universal free education while Harrison campaigned vigorously for the granting self-government to the Filipinos culminating in the establishment of a Philippine Commonwealth Government and leading to independence. Manila's two main historical avenues are named after the two great American officials.
Another film about the Pacific War in the Philippines is The Great Raid (2005) which is based on the true story of the rescue of American POWs from a Japanese prison camp in Nueva Ecija. The prisoners were going to be murdered by the Japanese and so a small team of US crack troops were sent to rescue them with the help of Filipino guerrillas and local farmers.
We are in 1942, and after the fall of the Philippines to the Japanese, U.S. Army Col. Joseph Madden (John Wayne) stays behind to lead the local guerrilla resistance against the Japanese army. With that synopsis it isn't hard to figure out what sort of pic we are going to get, yet to purely consider this as a macho beefcake movie is a little unfair.
Sure it's bookended by blistering action, as Duke Wayne (very restrained turn actually) and Anthony Quinn cut a swathe through the RKO sound stages, but there's lots of intelligent human interactions here to mark it as being in the least knowing of the campaign.
It often grasps for the sentimental branch, while the racist barbs and portrayal of the Japanese does sting at times. But this is exciting and thoughtful stuff, boosted no end by Dmytryk's sturdy direction and Nicholas Musuraca's monochrome photography (a film noir lovers dream pairing!). Better than routine war movie. 7/10
Japan invaded the Philippines immediately after breaking the war with the US, the purpose of it was to defeat the Americans, and to invade the resource rich Indonesia from the Philippines. Japan did not have much interest on the resource poor Philippines, but Filipinos had to experience tragedy. For the USA, who had to use much of their forces to Europe, the Philippines was not that important country. Being unable to expect much support from the USA, the Americans and the Filipinos organized the guerrilla for the resistance.
Throughout the history, Filipinos have never won in fighting against foreigners. For long, they even did not have recognition of a nation state. In this guerrilla, however, they fought risking their life for their nation state, the Philippines, though not by themselves but with American's leadership. This movie is different from other war movies by giving light on this point.
Anthony Quinn lends his ambiguous racial identity to the Phillipinos, playing the mythical grandson on their former hero.
It's an old movie, so the violence and cruelty is a measure of what censors of the time (1945) would allow. Lots of people back home had sons and husbands fighting the Japs, imprisoned or returning and it probably wouldn't do to show them how bad things could actually get. Quite honestly; I've yet to see any movie that adequately portrays Japanese brutality with the kind of frankness that we see in some of the more recent movies about the Nazis. It's long past time that this was done, even at the risk of ruffling a few Nipponese feathers.
This movie gives a Hollywood take on the conflict. Allied prisoners interned by the Japanese are released full-bodied, fresh-faced and clean-shaven. Likewise the jungle fighters look as though they're on the way to a parade ground. Some set-pieces are stagy to say the least.
It's filmed in B&W which gives the movie a nice 'period' feel. The budget seems to have been pretty limited by usual standards. Even so, it still makes for an adequate watch if you've nothing better to do.
I personally like old movies. So the £2 I paid at the local supermarket represented something of an investment. I only wish they'd turn out more of 'em.
The film is a stock gung-ho war effort featuring the likable John Wayne. He's not at his best here - I preferred him in period fare - although it's quite unusual to see him unshaven. He plays a single US soldier who stays on the island when the rest of the American forces flee in the wake of a massive Japanese invasion force. Wayne's goal is to persuade the Filipino villagers to rise up and begin a guerrilla war. What follows is plenty of stock action and incident and the odd sight of Anthony Quinn playing a Filipino character. It's not bad, quite watchable in fact, but not one of the Duke's best.
**** Back to Bataan (5/31/45) Edward Dmytryk ~ John Wayne, Anthony Quinn, Beulah Bondi, Fely Franquelli