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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>
John Wayne spent much of his later career foolishly playing much younger characters (e.g. "McQ" or "Brannigan") or indulging in clearly conscious self-parodies such as "True Grit." Most of his roles in the 60s and 70s were unworthy of his talents, but in 1964 he turned in one of his finest performances in Otto Preminger's "In Harms Way." His portrayal of Captain (later Rear Admiral) Rockwell Torrey saves an elaborate war film and shows that the Duke was a very capable actor.
Wayne will always be remembered as an action hero - riding, brawling, and shooting his way across the screen, stopping now and then for a drink or, less often, a kiss. But in this film, there are no horses, his one brawl is verbal, and he doesn't even carry a gun. Shorn of his usual props and plot devices, Wayne has no choice but to act and he delivers an extremely effective performance. He commands, he counsels, and in his own understated way, he loves. The picture's soap opera structure actually works to his advantage, giving him many opportunities to show different sides of his character's personality and to interact with almost every other performer in the film.
The rest of the huge cast is generally strong. Patricia Neal is fine as Wayne's romantic interest, playing a nurse who, as she says, is not a lady; Kirk Douglas is a bit overbearing at times as his exec, but then the role calls for it; Dana Andrews has one of his few good mature roles as the overly cautious Admiral Broderick. Everyone is up to the task but it's Wayne who carries the picture.
"In Harm's Way" is a heavily fictionalized account of the attack on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent campaign to take and hold Guadalcanal. Although the story owes more to the source novel than to real history, the tone of the film reasonably reflects the anxieties and uncertainties the Navy faced during the first year of the Pacific War.
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