Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Guadalcanal Diary

Guadalcanal is another campaign that I researched for my World War II series, and one way I did that was by reading GUADALCANAL DIARY, the bestselling book by Richard Tregaskis, a war correspondent who was there with the Marines for the battle. As successful as the book was, it's not surprising that it was made into a movie of the same name, which came out in 1943.

As was the fashion at the time, the film's screenplay comes up with some fictional characters to plug into the history, including a taxi driver from Brooklyn (William Bendix), who roots for "dem bums", meaning the Brooklyn Dodgers, of course. He's part of a squad that includes a veteran sergeant, well-played by Lloyd Nolan, a green kid (Richard Jaeckal), and a Hispanic Marine played by a young Anthony Quinn. (The same sort of character shows up in BATTLEGROUND, played by Ricardo Montalban.) Preston Foster plays the chaplain who serves as the emotional center of the film, which starts on the troop carrier bringing the soldiers to the battle, follows on through the landing on Guadalcanal, and stays with the action until the Marines are relieved after securing the island several months later.

The movie glosses over somewhat the intensity of the fighting, although it does a good job of representing the danger from Japanese snipers, which was one of the main threats the Marines faced. There are several good battle scenes, though, and it does a fine job of portraying the heat and boredom, interspersed with desperate peril, of jungle fighting. Since the movie was made in 1943, when the outcome of the war was still in doubt, there's a little more patriotic drum-beating than you might find in films that came later, but I certainly don't mind that. It fits the era.

I thought this was an excellent film, and it brings to an end my string of World War II movie posts. I'm sure I'll be watching more of them in the future, but probably not for a while.


Neil A. Waring said...

As a big fan of WW2 movies and westerns, I do not remember seeing this one. Sounds pretty good. My dad was a Navy guy in WW2 and I have read and watched everything I could about the fighting in the Pacific. Wish I would have asked him more questions when he was alive. Enjoyed looking through your posts.

Walker Martin said...

I'm sorry to hear that this is the end of your WW II movie reviews, at least for now. But I honestly don't know how you find the time to write so many books, read, and host ROUGH EDGES and the western pulpmags group.

James Reasoner said...

I'm not stretched to the breaking point yet, Walker . . . but I think I can see it from where I am. The problem is that there are just so blasted many interesting things I want to do.

Anonymous said...

Since I've not read it, I decided to order GUADALCANAL DIARY yesterday.

Cap'n Bob said...

Is this the one where William Bendix says, "It's not the bullet with my name on me that I'm worried about, it's the one marked 'To whom it may concern.'" Or words to that effect.
My father was also in the Pacific. He was a Navy corspman attached to the Marines and was wounded in action on one of those islands.

James Reasoner said...

That's the one, Cap'n. I think you've quoted the line exactly right.