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War correspondent Ernie Pyle joins Company C, 18th Infantry as this American army unit fights its way across North Africa in World War II. He comes to know the soldiers and finds much human interest material for his readers back in the States. Later, he catches up with the unit in Italy and accompanies it through the battles of San Vittorio and Cassino. He learns from its commanding officer, Lt. (later Capt.) Bill Walker of the loneliness of command, and from the individual G.I.'s of the human capacity to survive drudgery, discomfort, and the terror of combat. Written by
Jim Beaver <email@example.com>
It's odd that a director noted for his aviation films would choose to direct a film about the infantry, but William Wellman knew a great subject when he saw it. Remember he also did the deservedly highly acclaimed Battleground.
Independent producer Lucas Cowen got together with Ernie Pyle and approached Wellman. They left copies of the stories Pyle wrote from the front in Africa and Italy and Wellman read them in a night's sitting and agreed to do the film.
The Story of GI Joe is based on the various stories and characters that World War II's most famous correspondent encountered. In fact aside from Robert Mitchum and a couple of other actors, the men in this film are real GIs who were in transit from the European to the Pacific Theater and a lot were killed after they arrived in the Pacific as did the real Ernie Pyle who never got to see the finished product.
Burgess Meredith does a fine job recreating the modest chronicler that was Ernie Pyle. In civilian life aside from news stories, Pyle was famous for his cross country travels and stories he wrote about people from all walks of life. Very much like the late television commentator Charles Kuralt did on CBS morning news on Sundays.
When war broke out Pyle did not cover the war of the generals, he spent his time with the troops and told their story. For that he was respected and beloved as now other war correspondent has ever been before or since. In this film Pyle is introduced to the men of one company which transports him to that first American battle and defeat at Kasserine Pass in north Africa. And he runs into them again and again through Sicily right to the liberation of Rome.
Robert Mitchum plays the lieutenant later captain in charge of this company. He'd broken into films with some Hopalong Cassidy pictures and did bits in other films. In fact when its cowboy star Tim Holt enlisted in the armed forces, RKO pictures had signed Mitchum to be his replacement and he'd done two films Nevada and West of the Pecos when he read for the part of Lieutenant Walker.
If it weren't for this film, Robert Mitchum might have continued to be a B picture cowboy star. For his portrayal of the stern, but compassionate officer in whom Pyle finds a kindred spirit, Robert Mitchum got his only Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He lost that year to James Dunn for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. He never received another nomination, but he certainly became a legend although he'd have been the first to debunk that title.
Lots of newsreel footage from the Mediterranean theater make The Story of GI Joe one of the most realistic war films ever done. That's remarkable too, considering most of the Hollywood product back then was propaganda hype, good and bad. It has remained a classic to this day and a wonderful tribute to that chronicler of the infantry, Ernie Pyle.
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