Construction workers in World War II in the Pacific are needed to build military sites, but the work is dangerous and they doubt the ability of the Navy to protect them. After a series of ... See full summary »
A Union Cavalry outfit is sent behind Confederate lines in strength to destroy a rail/supply center. Along with them is sent a doctor who causes instant antipathy between him and the ... See full summary »
Shortly after Pearl Harbor, a squadron of PT-boat crews in the Philipines must battle the Navy brass between skirmishes with the Japanese. The title says it all about the Navy's attitude towards the PT-boats and their crews. Written by
Near the end of filming, John Ford broke his leg when he fell 20 feet off a scaffold. While Ford spent two weeks in traction in the hospital, Robert Montgomery directed the remaining scenes - mainly inserts for the battle sequences. When shooting wrapped, Ford returned to his Field Photographic Unit in Europe, just in time to cross the Rhine with Allied forces at war's end. See more »
Obvious clock faux pas! -- In one of the opening scenes Naval, Marine, and a few Army officers along with uniformed sailors are seen in a civilian night club. The locale is "Cavite" just 'south' of the Philippine capital of Manila.
The Naval Officers are conspicuous in the wearing of "dress whites"- as opposed to khakis, and the women seen are all in evening attire. The setting clearly appears to be after hours' "cocktails" - not earlier dinner, and thereby places the time-frame at about 8pm local time plus-or-minus an hour or so. This scene is interrupted by a civilian making the FIRST announcement of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The attack at Pearl commenced at\between 7:48 to 7:55am Hawaiian time - sources vary. Time-wise there is an 8-hour 'negative' differential from Hawaii to the Philippines making that nominally 12:52AM - the wee-small hours of the morning and certainly not evening. Historically the first information about the attack WAS known by the Military throughout the Philippines starting roughly minutes after attacked had started via multiple receptions of the famous "Air Raid Pearl harbor, this is No Drill" radio message also picked-up by the Navy & War Depts. in WDC! (In fact, midnight hour "atmospherics" would have favored clearer reception at Manila far better than anywhere on the east coast of the US mainland.) Therefore the scene is simply a propaganda ploy or if preferred, "dramatic license" on the part of the Director (John Ford) and at the time of the movie's release all too obvious to Vets & civilians alike. See more »
I have very strong feelings about this film. As a baby boomer, I have always felt that mine and future generations owe an eternal debt to those who didn't come back.
One way of acknowledging this debt is the way we watch war films, not as bloody spectacles but as tributes and reminders.
And what kind of tribute and reminder is "They Were Expendable"? Consider the rueful irony of the title. Such a sentiment is quite uncharacteristic of director John Ford's other work, especially his westerns (possibly excepting "Fort Apache"), which border on jingoism. Yes, there's a scene that's pretty hard to take: When the boats are detailed to take MacArthur out of harm's way, Ford tries to make out like they're rescuing Lincoln, complete with "Battle Hymn of the Republic" soundtrack. Today we know MacArthur as an overrated blow-hard, but 1945 was too early to see past the hype. And yes, there's some of the usual Ford corn-ball and the familiar Ford players, with John Wayne and Ward Bond doing their thing. But then, there's the great Robert Montgomery, who did active duty (unlike Wayne), and I truly believe he was playing this film, both as actor and co-director, straight from the heart. You can see it in a scene in which he realizes his duty means his death. Much of that scene is shot in shadow, but paradoxically the darkness serves to enhance Montgomery's underplayed emotions. The emotions are similar when Montgomery and Wayne are later confronted with an order that saves their lives but dooms their men.
Implicit in the belief that war is sometimes necessary is the inevitability of some of the most excruciating moral dilemmas imaginable. And when I see these dilemmas imposed on men and women, boys and girls, demanding their lives in payment for their sacred honor, I'm humbled beyond words.
Life magazine used to do huge layouts of kids killed in World War II combat. When I look at these faces and think of the words "They Were Expendable," I . . .
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