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Three Marines take shore leave in San Francisco during World War II. Frankie O'Neill visits his lower-class dysfunctional family; Nico Kantaylis visits his pregnant fiancée; and the upper-class Alan Newcombe visits his high-living playgirl girlfriend. Each must decide whether to make the best of his situation or break out of it. O'Neill drowns his troubles in alcohol, losing the respect of a potential lover; Kantaylis marries his fiancée, but realizes he may not survive the war to see his child; while Newcombe sheds his decadent girlfriend for a pure-hearted Hawaiian nurse. Later, in battle, a heroic act costs one of the Marines his life. Written by
Anton Myrer's novel, "The Big War," was published in 1957 with some degree of success and, not surprisingly, 20th Century-Fox bought the film rights. After all, World War II movies were a staple of this time and Myrer's novel provided a number of parts for those rising young performers then being groomed by 20th. The novel's three central Marine characters remained in Edward Anhalt's screenplay but their backgrounds were simplified, various supporting characters were eliminated, and the background for the domestic scenes shifted from the East Coast to California. Robert Wagner's back-story remains truest to the book. He has a doting mother and adoring younger siblings but fights with his hateful step-father. Bradford Dillman plays the rich, college-educated Marine and the movie sketches in his background but now gives him a drunken socialite of a fiancée, Dana Wynter, who's largely a screenwriter's invention. (His new girlfriend, France Nuyen, seems to have been inspired by another, unrelated character in the book.) Dillman's fate has also been re-written from Myrer's version. Jeffrey Hunter plays the conscientious Marine with the pregnant wife but his strained relationship with his mother-in-law goes unmentioned in the movie. (He does, however, get a bare-chest scene.) The second half of the movie shifts from homefront scenes in California to battle scenes in the Pacific. These scenes are done in a perfunctory style -- laced with occasional footage from actual World War II photographers -- and the actors' identities sometimes blur in those similar uniforms and under those metallic helmets. The result of all this is a glossy, mildly entertaining, but unmemorable movie which never rises above the "B" level of its "B" level performers. (Acting honors, such as they are, go to Sheree North as a practical-minded WAC.)
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