In the wake of Pearl Harbor's surprise attack, World War II hero, Lt. John Brickley's experimental squadron of agile fast-attack Patrol Torpedo boats is sent to warm and humid Manila to avert a potentially imminent Japanese invasion. As he and his second-in-command, Lieutenant "Rusty" Ryan, desperately try to prove the newly-founded naval unit's worth, the enemy launches a devastating all-out attack--and despite the PT boat flotilla's undeniable success--the considerably outnumbered and outgunned American soldiers are fighting a losing battle. Little by little, the Philippine campaign is doomed to cave in, as comrades-in-arms perish in the sea. Is there glory in defeat?Written by
During production, John Ford had put John Wayne down every chance he got, because Wayne had not enlisted to fight in World War II. Ford commanded a naval photographic unit during the war, rising to the rank of captain and thought Wayne a coward for staying behind. After months of Ford heaping insults on Wayne's head, co-star Robert Montgomery finally approached the director and told him that if he was putting Wayne down for Montgomery's benefit (Montgomery had also served as a naval officer in the war), then he needed to stop immediately. This brought the tough-as-nails director to tears and he stopped abusing Wayne. See more »
On one of the postings indicating torpedo-boat scores and losses, one line reads "Supported army - straffed jap landing party." Of course, the word should be "strafed," not "straffed." See more »
Opening credits prologue: Manila Bay In the Year of Our Lord Nineteen hundred and Forty-one See more »
MGM produced a different version, dubbed and with credits in Spanish, probably to be used by television stations. This version omits the final sequence (nearly more than 15 minutes of running time) and the film ends a previous scene with Robert Montgomery and John Wayne saying farewell to the soldiers that had to remain in the Phillipines, then the scene cuts to a plane leaving the island and to a "The End" title in Spanish. This version aired in Argentina in a cable station called "Space". Turner Network Televsion, in all Latin American countries, used to air the film in its original form. However, they lifted the Spanish language dubbing from the old version and, without any explanation why, the last minutes of the film play in English. 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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