War, Drama, Action | 88 Mins | Released: 1943
Director: Ray Enright
Starring: Robert Mitchum, Randolph Scott, Alan Curtis, Noah Beery Jr., J. Carrol Naish, Sam Levene, David Bruce
Our Rating: 7
Black & White
The film begins with a tough Greek Lieutenant (J. Carrol Naish) announcing that the United States Marine Corps is seeking volunteers for a hazardous mission and special unit. Sergeant “Transport” Anderof (Sam Levene) meets the commander of the unit, Lieutenant Colonel Thorwald (Randolph Scott) who he has served with in the China Marines. Thorwald explains that he left the Corps to serve with the Chinese guerrillas fighting the Japanese during the Second Sino-Japanese War to learn their methods and has decided to form a unit using the qualities of Gung Ho or “work together”.
Amongst the volunteers for the unit are a hillbilly (Rod Cameron) who responds to the Marine Gunner’s (Walter Sande) question whether he can kill someone with the fact that he already has; specifically a romantic rival. Alan Curtis is an ordained minister keeping his vocation a secret. Robert Mitchum is “Pig Iron”; a boxer from a background of poverty and hard work. Harold Landon is a young and small street kid who is initially rejected by Naish but wins him over as both worked as dishwashers on ships bound to the United States from Piraeus. Noah Beery Jr and David Bruce are rivals for United States Navy Nurse Corps Lt. Grace McDonald. Volunteers with brief screen time include a Filipino wishing to avenge his sister (who was raped and killed in Manila) who teaches the Raiders knife fighting, a veteran of the Spanish Civil War who sees the war as a continuation of the fight against Fascism, and a Marine who honestly admits “I just don’t like Japs”.
The film moves rapidly in a documentary style with stock footage of training narrated by Chet Huntley. The survivors of the training are sent to Hawaii for further jungle warfare training where they witness the damage of the attack on Pearl Harbor. In Hawaii, they hear a radio bulletin of the announcement of the Battle of Guadalcanal. The Marines are ordered to board two submarines, the USS Nautilus and the USS Argonaut destined for a commando raid on a Japanese-held island.
After a claustrophobic voyage, the Raiders invade the island from rubber boats. The Marine landing is met by fire from snipers hiding in palm trees. The Marines dispose of them, attack the Japanese headquarters, wipe out the Japanese garrison, destroy installations with explosives, then board the submarines for their return home.
The fast-moving film is a template for many war films and other adventure or western films where a group of professional killers and misfits in polite society are handpicked by an inspiring leader, trained to perfection, then use their initiative and skills in marksmanship, combatives and knife fighting on an enemy who greatly outnumber them.
Thorwald/Carlson lectures throughout the film that the Japanese have no initiative and can not think for themselves or deviate from a plan; thus unexpected action pays off. This is demonstrated in several scenes in the film where a Marine defeats his opponent in unarmed combat by spitting tobacco in his opponent’s eyes, a small but fast runner strips down to his trousers and quickly zig zag runs through enemy fire to deliver hand grenades, Marines destroy a Japanese pillbox and its occupants by squashing both with a road construction steamroller, and a speechless Robert Mitchum who has been shot in the throat and is unable to give warning kills a Japanese infiltrator attempting to kill the battalion surgeon (Milburn Stone) by throwing his knife in the Japanese soldier’s back. The climax of the film has the Raiders painting a giant American flag on the roof of a building, then luring the counterattacking Japanese to the area where their own air force bombs and strafes them.
In contrast to the Japanese and the rest of the American military, Thorwald orders that his officers wear no rank insignia and have no special privileges. He tells his Raiders “I will eat what you eat and sleep where you sleep” and participate in the same training. Thorwald’s Marines participate in “Gung Ho Sessions” where they discuss the unit’s plans and each man participates without regard to rank.