Directed by Mark Sandrich
Written by Allan Scott
Musical Score by Miklos Rozsa
I'm not sure how many women have heard the story about Warner Brothers President Jeff Robinov stating in 2007 that they will be making no more films with women leads because two such films, The Brave One with Jodie Foster and The Invasion with Nicole Kidman had both lost money along with Emma Robert's Nancy Drew, a movie that I wrote about HERE in which I cited the reasons for its failure.
Robinov later said he didn't really mean it. Of course, all the movies he mentioned also had male leads and the ones that didn't were aimed strictly at thirteen and fourteen year old's. In other words, mature adult female leads need not apply. So in today's climate when sexism and misogyny have become the norm, I'm not buying Robinov's backtrack. And although I’m no Gloria Allred fan, she had the perfect response: So when movies with male leads fail at the box office, does that mean Warner's will stop making movies with men?
Frankly, with attitudes such as that of Robinov and as long as similar attitudes prevail in Hollywood, one can understand why it’s so difficult for women to sometimes get a role they can really sink their teeth into.
In the 1940’s, one has to then wonder how a film like So Proudly We Hail ever made it into the theaters. It stars not just one mature female lead, it boasts three of the best ever in Claudette Colbert, Paulette Goddard, and Veronica Lake. But maybe that’s it. If you’re going to give a dance, you have to bring the triple threat.
Getting these gals together couldn’t have been easy. Big stars have egos, and sometimes those egos can get in the way. I’ve heard and read different stories in regards to whether or not they got along. Some say that Claudette and Paulette feuded, and in this clip by Robert Osborne, Lake indicated none of them could get along with Colbert but co-star George Reeves said that it was actually Lake who caused all the problems on the set. George was a man though so women will probably retort, “what did he know?” What I find amazing is that 70 years later, people still gossip about what may or may not have happened in 1943.
How often have we forgotten the role that women played in World War II? Sometimes we have to be reminded that it just wasn't the men in the trenches. I know it must have been a shock to moviegoers of the 40’s to see these three woman disembarking from a plane looking anything but Hollywood type glamorous in the opening. It is obvious that they had all been to hell and back, a point emphasized even more so when Lt. Janet "Davey" Davidson (Claudette Colbert) is removed from the aircraft on a stretcher. She is awake, but she is unresponsive to any kind of stimulus. Later, as the women gather together on the ship which will transport them back to the United States, they tell their story which begins at the exact day they shipped out for the land of fun and folic known as Hawaii.
So Proudly We Hail is the story of Marine Nurses who are sent to the Bataan Peninsula to help with the wounded during the initial days of World War II. The head nurse is Lieutenant Janet “Davey” Davidson. She’s the boss, but only up to the point where somebody comes along who outranks her. If you know anything about the armed forces, that happens a lot. There’s always one person with one more star or one more stripe than you. You can only beat that wrap by being elected president, but then you have no stripes and no stars and may not even know the difference between a rifle butt and a rifle barrel. .
Under her tutelage are Lt. Joan O'Doul (Goddard) and Lt. Rosemary Larson (Britton). O’ Doul is man crazy, She is engaged to two guys at the same time, both of them in the military, both of whom have come to kiss her goodbye, thus creating a problem that requires Davey’s help so that Joan can squirm away without causing any bad feelings. Fighting the Japanese is difficult enough without fights breaking out among each other over some dame.
Rosemary is leaving home for the first time and is being seen off by her parents who ask Davey to make sure that their daughter gets back home safely. And since Hawaii seems to be such a nice provincial place to visit, it’s a promise Davey readily assents to.
The destination of the nurses is suppose to be Pearl Harbor, but in the middle of their voyage, the Japanese poop on everybody’s party and as we all know launch a sneak attack. So instead of Pearl Harbor, their ship is left wandering kind of aimlessly on the open sea, accompanied by a convoy until they can get new orders. As we all know though, things were pretty much a mess directly after December 7th, so it could take a while for everybody to get their shit together and get on the same page.
Unfortunately, the accompanying convoy is torpedoed by a sub, and although most of the crew is killed, some do manage to survive. One of these is injured Lieutenant Medical Technician John Summers (Reeves) who although bedridden, refuses to let any of the nurses bathe him. Davy steps in and shows him who the boss really is, and never has love blossomed so quickly with so little soap.
Having escaped the carnage uninjured is Lt. Olivia D'Arcy (Lake) who is placed under Davy’s command and comes aboard with a major chip on her shoulder. She hates camaraderie, and wants to be left alone to do her job. She doesn’t want advice and she doesn’t want friendship.
Also on board is a former collegiate football player that goes by the name of "Kansas" (Tufts) and he develops an instant attraction to boy crazy Rosemary. Kansas is an ex-football jock who acquired the name Weepy Willocheck in college because he became a super human grid iron star only after getting mad and shedding a few tears. He is also a klutz, pretty much a doofus, and is kind of funny. He has a habit of saying things that eventually seem to come true: I never catch a cold, I never get sunburned, I never get wounded, and I never get killed.
Eventually, after a big fight with Davy and the rest of the girls, Olivia breaks down to tell us what her problem is. Hint: It isn’t hemorrhoids.
The boy that Olivia was going to get married to was slaughtered during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Her only goal now is not to heal the sick at all, but to kill Japs. Lots and lots of Japs. Her words, not mine. Watch the video for confirmation.
Shortly after that the nursing corps is ordered to Bataan where Captain "Ma" McGregor (Mary Servoss) is in charge of the medical personnel. Once there, Davy and the gang find out how bad the situation really is. There is never enough doctor or nurses. Medical equipment and medicine is in short supply or non existent. Sleep or rest comes only when one is exhausted and can go on no further. They are constantly being bombarded by the Japanese, and the war seems to be lost before it has even begun. It is up to Ma to make sure the girls do their nurse thing without any distractions. That means it is also her duty to put the kibosh on the ever blossoming romance between Davey and John. The nurses are there to attend the wounded, not to be out wooing and screwing.
Ma also has a son who is in the Philippines fighting. From the little information provided, I guess they are descendents from a family with a long history of military service. It’s an honorable profession if there ever was one I guess, but one can’t help but feel that at times it’s a dead end job.
Joan is assigned to take care of the Filipino children while unbeknownst to Davy and the others, Olivia volunteers to take care of the Japanese wounded to extract her single minded revenge.
Rosemary assists a Filipino surgeon, Dr. Jose Bardia (Ted Becht), who speaks endlessly of the tragedy and consequences of war while he patches men, women, and children up only to see them killed again. While delivering a breach birth from a woman who will die soon Dr. Bardia lectures as if he is still at the university, and already has learned about the uselessness and the heartbreak of war:
You must forgive me if I talk while I'm operating. I'm so used to lecturing my students. Sometimes I thank my stars for my scientific education. A baby to be born, breach delivery, only three out of five live. Live for what? Don't people die fast enough without destroying each other? Is life too long? No, we mustn't ask that. I wonder how scientific those heaps out on the battlefield feel. Guns, machines, so much rubbish. What was it in my student days? Chemically a man is worth 97 cents. Probably $1.05. What with the shortage of parts and monopoly now, the dead have risen in value. Two for $1.98 on dollar day. This little fellow we're about to introduce to the world tonight, what for him? I don't know. They forgot to teach me about spirit somewhere. Ninety seven cents worth of body but a priceless spirit. May he be born to live in freedom."It is small details like that which can lift a movie such as this from being just run of the mill. But I am wondering if we were worth 97 cents in the early forties, how much are we worth now when adjusted for inflation? I guess I’ll look that up. Before long, Rosemary becomes his second set of hands and they are inseparable.
When not taking care of the medical needs of the children, Joan entertains the children with wondrous tails about the heroic deeds of Superman until one of the children asks if Superman is so good, why isn't he here helping them. Joan's reply, "He just landed with the marines, his name is Kansas." (On a side note: the irony here is that George Reeves who plays John Summers would go on to play Superman on TV.)
As the Japanese close in, the nurses are forced to evacuate the wounded in the hospitals from one base to the next. And evacuation is not always easy, as some will sacrifice, some will die, and a few will live on with lives that will forever be altered.
At one stopping point there is no hospital. It is nothing more than a jungle where the patients are kept hidden as much as possible even though there are between five and eight thousand patients. Malaria and dysentery became common among the patients and those attending them. This film was released in 1943, in the middle of the war. Do not expect any kind words in regards to the Japanese. They were our enemy at the time, and So Proudly We Hail makes doubly sure that they are painted with the strokes of the broad brush of wickedness, even down to calling a pet monkey Tojo because “he looks just like him.” Him being Prime Minister Hideki Tojo. And no, I won’t condemn a film for displaying what were U.S. sentiments at the time.
When the bombing attacks do come, director Mark Sandrich and his special effects crew do an outstanding job of making them as realistic as any I've seen in films from that era. They are intense which is why the film was nominated for an Academy Award for it's special effects. Writer Allan Scott's Oscar nominated script is also much better than what one usually finds in some of the by the numbers war films of the forties. But I did began to get annoyed with Walter Abel’s chaplain, whose preachiness got to be a bit way too much at the time. They are more like rambling political speeches instead of prayer. He was better and funnier playing Fred Astaire’s agent in Holiday Inn. Here, he is just downbeat, downcast, and dour. Bring on Father Mulcahy.
The romance between Davy and John is sometimes dwelled on more than it should be and threatens to derail the film but only occasionally. Reeves is good here, and so is Colbert. I just wish every one of their scenes together didn’t have to be played as if they were totally star struck. But what can I say except that if War is Hell, Love on the Battlefield is a bittersweet catastrophe.
But writer Scott manages to balance things out by having the type of non-romantic romance between Kansas and Joan become more of a battle of wits with Goddard always having the upper hand over the love struck and hapless Kansas in a role Tufts was probably born to play. Although judging from the men running today's studios and what they DECIDE women want to see, they would probably make it ALL about the romance and the war and sacrifice would be an afterthought. What I found most amazing is that Scott was not only able to insert Dr. Bardia 's clearly anti war speech into film, but also has Davey lamenting about our own failures as a country:
"Why isn't there any quinine? Why isn't there any food? Why isn't there any supplies? Why are we waiting here like rats in a cage waiting for the man to come and pour scalding water over us?But there is plenty of rah rah patriotic cheerleading as well as to why it’s necessary to fight, and why we have to die which generally ends with the observation that we didn’t start this war but we sure as hell were going to finish it. Those kind of proclamations kind of went hand in hand with every war movie released during the early and mid forties.
Why was nothing done? Why? I'll tell you why, it's our own fault. Because we believed WE WERE the world. That the United States was the whole wide world.
Those outlandish places, Bataan, Corregidor, and Mindanao. They're not American Names. They're just American graveyards."
Stir in Miklos Rozsa's emotion laden memorable score and Charles Lang's topnotch black and white cinematography which will make it seem as if the bombs are exploding in your face as they fall. Rozsa did stellar work for MGM for years, including greats such as Ben-Hur, Julius Caesar, Quo-Vadis, and The Asphalt Jungle. Lang has a list of credits a mile long and was one of the greats directors of photography. I wonder if any of today’s young audiences could actually appreciate what people like Rozsa and Lang brought to the art of film making. Many of his films are on my list of favorites. But let's be real here.
This is Colbert, Goddard's, and Lake's film and they are magnificent in it. To be able to see these three greats working together would be enough to make this film worth renting or purchasing, but they put everything they have into these roles and it shows in every single scene. They didn't just show up to get screen time and a paycheck. They go from being just being nurses to becoming every bit as tough and gritty as any man ever thought of being during war. And in two unforgettable scenes that by themselves make this film unforgettable, Veronica Lake almost steals the film out from under her costars.
It was Paulette Goddard who received a best actress in a supporting role nomination. Certainly deserved, as her and Tuft’s scenes together are a joy to watch, and Joan is easily the most entertaining character on board. Without her, the film would be way too downbeat and dour to even contemplate. And me being the nosy reviewer that I am went back to check on the Oscars given out that year for best actress. It seems one beatified nun trumps three WWII nurses as Jennifer Jones took home the prize for Song of Bernadette. It’s been way too many years since I’ve seen that film, so I’m not going to pass judgment. At least not today.
And although one certainly can’t argue against the fact that Casablanca deservedly won Best Picture, this film certainly should have at least been nominated over such forgettable fare as The Human Comedy and For Whom The Bell Tolls. But it’s kind of tough to rehash 70 year old Oscar history.
The men aren’t too shabby either. Sonny Tufts, in his film debut, won a nomination for Best Supporting Actor and does a stellar job bringing the character of Kansas to life. Unfortunately, it was the beginning of a long downward slide for him. From the IMDB:
An old college football injury had disqualified him for military duty, and so, with many of Hollywood's younger leading men serving overseas in World War II, this tall, blond, blue-eyed actor became something of a star, if only by default. But by the turn of the decade he had found his name in print on account of his off-screen activities. In 1949 he had been found drunk on a Hollywood sidewalk. In 1950 he was sued by two women for allegedly biting each of them in the thigh. In 1951 his wife had him jailed for drunkenness. The name Sonny Tufts itself became a joke. Thereafter he made few films, but could be found in occasional guest appearances on inconsequential TV shows. He died of pneumonia at age 58.
Poor George Reeves. He’s actually very good in this film as the romantic lead. Unfortunately, beyond that he never really gets a chance to stretch his acting legs. At least not here. He has a long list of credits to his name, but roles like that of John Stephens have been largely forgotten as he was typecast forever as being Superman in the hit TV show of the 50’s. And whether or not he was murdered or committed suicide, is way beyond my expertise on the subject. I was all of six years old when that event occurred. If he did hate having been typecast as the Man of Steel, it’s kind of unfortunate that it is forever inscribed on his tomb marker.
It doesn't matter if you are a man or a woman though. So Proudly We Hail is the kind of film that every person regardless of sex should see and is certainly the kind of film that they should be making even today featuring what women are really capable of. It's amazing that a film of this quality seldom gets any notice, even when they trot out every war movie ever made for Memorial Day Weekend. No, it may not have John Wayne battling it out on the front lines, but it has so much more to offer in so many ways and you know when a film has that I have no choice but to give it my grade which would be an A.
So Proudly We Hail is available on DVD rental from Netflix or to purchase from Universal Home Video. Use the provided links if you so desire. Here’s a word of caution. Don’t think these films will be available forever. It’s getting harder and harder to find some of the classics on Netflix, and in many cases on Amazon. Just keep that in mind.
The film also appears from time to time on Turner Classic Movies so check the listings on their web site. Recently, it was introduced in a showing on TCM by Cher on 4/12/2013, so maybe we’ll have a second go round of that eventually. Great choice by her for this movie and the one following it, Since You Went Away.
And before I forget, adjusted for inflation, the cost of the human body is now worth $14.92 cents. Isn’t life grand?