Down and dirty in the Pacific theater

When Hollywood turned its cameras away from Europe, film audiences saw a different take on World War II.

January 03, 1999|By Susan King | Susan King,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Steven Spielberg's ``Saving Private Ryan'' graphically examined the horrors U.S. soldiers faced fighting World War II in Europe. Terrence Malick's ``The Thin Red Line,'' based on James Jones' novel, vividly depicts the brutalities our men endured in the Pacific theater.

Movies made about World War II in the Pacific - starting with 1942's ``Wake Island'' - have been vastly different in tone and style from ones made about fighting the Nazis. And for good reason - it was a different world. Not only were the soldiers fighting the Japanese, they also had to combat disease, bugs, heat and starvation.

The war was even more personal because the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor without warning. The 1940s films set in the Pacific were dosed with propaganda meant to boost American morale. They must be viewed with their historical context in mind. Still, seen today, many of these war films - all available on video - are politically incorrect, and some downright racist.

* ``Bataan'': Robert Taylor heads the cast of this 1943 combat drama focusing on a small platoon of Yanks in the Philippines and their attempt to blow up an important Japanese bridge. The always wonderful Robert Walker, Thomas Mitchell and Desi Arnaz co-star.

* ``Bombardier'': Creaky but compelling 1943 adventure about a squad of cadets who learn about the horrors of war when they fly bombing raids over Japan. Pat O'Brien and Randolph Scott star.

* ``The Bridge on the River Kwai'': David Lean directed this Oscar-winning 1957 drama based on the novel by Pierre Boulle. It's a riveting story about the battle of wills that develops between a brutal Japanese POW commander (the marvelous Sessue Hayakawa) and a by-the-book British commander (Alec Guinness, in his Academy Award-winning role) over the building of a rail bridge. William Holden stars as an American officer who escapes from the camp, only to be ordered back to destroy the bridge.

* ``Destination Tokyo'': Despite his British accent, Cary Grant plays an American submarine commander in this 1943 action film about the sub's seek-and-destroy mission into Tokyo Harbor. John Garfield and Dane Clark also star.

* ``Empire of the Sun'': Steven Spielberg's underrated 1987 epic based on J.G. Ballard's novel about a rich young boy (Christian Bale) living in Shanghai who is separated from his parents and sent to a POW camp after Japan invades China. John Malkovich also stars.

* ``Flying Leathernecks'': This gritty 1951 action movie directed by Nicholas Ray stars John Wayne as a tough squadron leader who clashes with officer Robert Ryan on Guadalcanal. Terrific aerial footage and fine performances.

* ``From Here to Eternity'': Based on James Jones' novel, this 1953 Oscar winner is set in Hawaii just before the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. The re-creation of the bombing raid on Dec. 7 is still terrifying. Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr, Montgomery Clift, Frank Sinatra and Donna Reed star.

* ``Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison'': John Huston directed this 1957 drama - a two-character study about a tough but tender Marine sergeant (Robert Mitchum) who is stranded with an Irish nun (Deborah Kerr) on a Pacific island occupied by Japanese soldiers.

* ``In Harm's Way'': - ``Subtle'' is not the apt word to describe director Otto Preminger's 165-minute 1965 opus about two Navy officers (John Wayne and Kirk Douglas) and how they deal with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

* ``Mister Roberts'': Henry Fonda repeats his Broadway triumph in this 1955 comedy-drama as an officer on a Pacific cargo ship who wants to be transferred to a battleship. A brilliant mix of laughter and pathos with delightful performances from Fonda, James Cagney, William Powell (in his last role) and Jack Lemmon, who received an Oscar as the enterprising Ensign Pulver.

*``Objective, Burma'': Raoul Walsh directed this stirring 1945 hit about a group of American paratroopers who are dropped over Burma to destroy a Japanese radar station. After completing their mission, they are spotted by the Japanese and must survive in the jungle until they are rescued. Errol Flynn stars.

* ``The Purple Heart'': Lewis Milestone directed this 1944 release about the brutalities suffered by an American air crew put on trial in a Japanese court. Dana Andrews and Farley Granger star.

* ``Run Silent, Run Deep'': Robert Wise directed this gritty, rugged 1958 drama starring Clark Gable as a submarine commander who clashes with his officers, especially Burt Lancaster, while stalking the Japanese sub that destroyed his last command.

* ``So Proudly We Hail'': It may seem hokey today, but this 1943 drama about the heroism of the nurses serving in the Pacific theater struck a chord with audiences and critics alike. Claudette Colbert, and Veronica Lake headline this drama.

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