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Brigadier General Frank D. Merrill leads the 3,000 American volunteers of his 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), aka "Merrill's Marauders", behind Japanese lines across Burma to Myitkyina, pushing beyond their limits and fighting pitched battles at every strong-point.Written by
Martin H. Booda <firstname.lastname@example.org>
General Stilwell tells Merrill that he is concerned about the Japanese linking up with the Germans in India. This was a fear in 1942, when the Germans had conquered a vast expanse of Soviet territory, and it looked like they would reach the Caspian Sea and then Persia. But the German advance was turned back at Stalingrad in February 1943. At the time of the conversation in the movie, in early 1944, the Germans were being pushed out of Ukraine. They had no chance of linking up with the Japanese any more. See more »
Do you know what I'm going to do after the war? I'm going to get married and have six kids. Then I'm going to line them up and tell them what Burma was like. And if they don't cry, I'll beat the hell out of them.
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Though a war movie, "Merrill's Marauders" makes its deepest impressions in the scenes between the battles.
As a unit of exhausted American soldiers claw their way along a rocky slope, one falls to a screaming death. The others pause a moment to watch, then resume climbing.
At one village, a boy gives a crusty sergeant played by Claude Akins a bowl of rice. The sergeant tries to smile, only to break down instead.
"When you lead, you have to hurt people," General Merrill (Jeff Chandler) tells his prize officer "Stock" (Ty Hardin). "The enemy, and sometimes your own."
Sam Fuller was a war vet as well as a director. In making his war films, he struggled to keep it real while at the same time delivering popular entertainment. "Merrill's Marauders" leans too much in the latter direction, with hokey battle scenes and gung-ho narration. But Chandler and Hardin provide sympathetic rooting interests. The cinematography by William Clothier captures riverine landscapes in all their harsh and wild beauty.
The real story of the 5307th Composite Unit and its role in retaking Burma provides a solid backdrop for Fuller's cold view of war and its human toll. Of the 3,000 troops that started out, only 100 remained standing at the end, typhus and Japanese taking equal measure of the rest. Merrill's decision to press forward ("If they've got a single ounce of strength left, they can fight!") is portrayed as a cruel necessity, this much softened from the real GI take on Merrill's boss, Vinegar Joe Stilwell. Stilwell was roundly hated by the Marauders for pushing his boys too hard.
This is something we don't see here. Cooperation with the U.S. military required some futzing on Fuller's part, which he did in hopes of following it with a pet project regarding his own World War II experience that would only emerge 18 years later: "The Big Red One".
The battle scenes feel forced and phony. Fuller himself would complain nobody dies in war as neatly as in movies, and you see that a lot here. A perversely favorite moment for me is when a soldier named "Bullseye" shoots a Japanese soldier off of a watchtower. The soldier starts to fall, then pauses, grabs a baluster, and performs a neat tuck-and-roll in the direction of an offscreen mat.
The one battle scene that works, even with the inane fanfare scoring that is this film's single worst element, is a fight through a maze-like warren of train-support blocks at the railhead town of Shaduzup. Japanese and American soldiers appear and fall in random, endless waves. I don't think soldiers in World War II really called each other "knothead", but moments like those at Shaduzup really connect and help to pull this film over the finish line - however raggedly.
Though probably a bit too rah-rah for Fuller's fans, "Merrill's Marauders" packs a punch and some moments of affecting surprise.
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