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
John Ford left the post-production and scoring of the film to others. He later objected to some of the "heavy music" added, but the leisurely, assured pace of the editing is clearly in keeping with Ford's wishes. See more »
The same scene with a PT boat running under some air burst shells and dodging some water explosions is shown twice, reusing the footage to extend the fighting scene. See more »
They Were Expendable is John Ford's first Hollywood feature since his discharge from the U.S. Navy and the same can be said for Robert Montgomery. Both had served in the Navy and Montgomery in fact on P.T. Boats. From the last presidential election we now know them as Swift Boats.
It's an unusual John Ford film because the usual heavy comedic monkeyshines are rather subdued here. I'm thinking that John Ford wisely decided that World War II being recently over, the country's mood was joyous, but somber in terms of the heavy human cost.
They Were Expendable has the benefit though of the American audience knowing the ultimate victory. The story begins in the Phillipines in 1941 with Robert Montgomery as real life naval hero John Bulkeley, renamed Brickley for the film, trying to convince the brass of the usefulness of the P.T. Boat in combat, not just for scouting and courier duty. Of course that experiment is cut short and the P.T. Boats and their crews are rushed into some on the job experience.
During the film MacArthur, you might recall Gregory Peck saying that he was going to be evacuated from Corregidor by "one of Johnny Bulkeley's torpedo boats." That scene is dramatized as a wordless Robert Barrat plays MacArthur traveling on the boat commanded by John Wayne.
Wayne is Montgomery's second in command of the P.T. boat squadron who is not thrilled to be there. He'd like to be on at least a destroyer. He gradually comes around though. He also gets a fling in the romance department with Navy nurse Donna Reed.
During that interlude John Ford had some of the crew outside singing Dear Old Girl in a comic vein. Ford was never one to not let a good bit of business die with one film. You might remember in Fort Apache and Rio Grande there was some serenading done. And Donna Reed got serenaded on her "Hawaiian" honeymoon with James Stewart in It's a Wonderful Life with Ward Bond once again being one of the serenaders. I'm sure Frank Capra would have conceded he stole that from Ford.
The story is first and foremost about some very desperate American armed forces who after Pearl Harbor were at the Japanese mercy. Pearl Harbor had totalled our Pacific fleet and no supplies could get through. Still the troops there fought on bravely, they were in fact by geography expendable.
Wayne and Montgomery give good but subdued performances. No do or die heroics here, just a sobering reminder of a terrible beginning for the Americans in the Pacific theater of World War II.
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