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 »
The US Army's defense of its Philippines colony and the allied Malay countries/colonies behind it counted on its island fortress of Corregidor on Luzon -and a few others- but loses it in ... See full summary »
Aboard the freighter Glencairn, the lives of the crew are lived out in fear, loneliness, suspicion and cameraderie. The men smuggle drink and women aboard, fight with each other, spy on ... See full summary »
Rio Grande takes place after the Civil War when the Union turned their attention towards the Apaches. Union officer Kirby Yorke is in charge of an outpost on the Rio Grande in which he is ... 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
A frame at the end of the movie said, "We shall return - General Douglas MacArthur". In fact, the White House tried to get the general to change his famous quote to "we" but he refused, saying he failed to see the purpose. It should read, "I shall return." 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 . . .
56 of 69 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?