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Captain Rockwell Torrey and Commander Paul Eddington are part of the Navy's effort to recuperate from, and retaliate for, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Torrey is romantically involved with nurse Maggie Haynes, and also tries to restore his relationship with his estranged son, Jeremiah, a young Naval officer. Written by
Jim Beaver <firstname.lastname@example.org>
"All battles are fought by scared men who'd rather be someplace else."
In Harm's Way is a film that is historically important in the career of its star, John Wayne, for two reasons. First, it marked his last appearance in a Black and White film, and second, it was his last film before undergoing surgery for lung cancer. It also marks Wayne's first of three films with Kirk Douglas, and his only film with director Otto Preminger.
As for the film itself, it is a character-driven story with the World War II setting used as a backdrop. Like other Preminger pictures of the time (Exodus, Advise and Consent) it has a big-name cast and an "epic" feel. Watch for Henry Fonda in a small part as Admiral Nimitz (referred to as "CINCPAC II"). Wayne plays Rockwell Torrey, a naval officer blamed for the Pearl Harbor disaster, and demoted. But Nimitz (Fonda) knows that Torrey is a good commander, and when timorous politician-turned-Admiral Broderick (Dana Andrews) botches a key operation, Nimitz turns control over to Torrey, giving him a second chance.
On the personal side, Torrey tries to help his second-in-command, Paul Eddington (Kirk Douglas), who, as they say, is going through some personal problems of his own. Torrey also tries to repair his relationship with his estranged son Jeremiah (Brandon De Wilde), and finds time to conduct a "twilight romance" with nurse Lieutenant Maggie Haynes (Patricia Neal).
Two scenes in particular make this film stand out. The first occurs when Wayne and Neal are alone together in his apartment, the night before she is about to be shipped out. I won't spoil it for anyone, but let me say that it is a classic example of how a scene can ooze with "sex" without actually "showing" a single thing. It's a perfect example of how this kind of scene can be handled tastefully and professionally. It's called class, folks, and it is apparently something that modern Hollywood cannot or will not understand. The second is a discussion on cowardice between Wayne and Burgess Meredith as the fleet is preparing to meet the Japanese in battle. Once again, I won't spoil it, but it a memorable and classic scene, the quote that I have used to head my review is delivered by Wayne during it.
While In Harm's Way may, at first, seem to be simply a film about the politics of Navy hierarchy, it is really a film about the personal lives and struggles of the men and women of World War II.
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