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It's ironic that Edward Dmytryk and John Wayne teamed up to bring AmericaBack to Bataan, a rousing piece of World War II propaganda that hadpatriotic audiences cheering in 1945. Dmytryk, the director, was a political leftistwho would eventually, and tragically, buckle to the intense pressure to namenames during the McCarthy era. Wayne, of course, was an iconic action hero who formed the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of AmericanIdeals, an organization that did more than its share to encourage theCommunist witch hunts. Talk about mixing oil and water.
Wayne plays Col. Joseph Madden, a rugged American who valiantly fights inthe South Pacific with Capt. Andres Bonifacio (Anthony Quinn) of thePhilippine Scouts. The soldiers on Bataan are in a hopeless situation. TheJapanese are wearing them down, and badly needed supplies can't reach them.To make matters worse - and to supply the required love interest -Bonifacio's girlfriend, a former Filipino movie star named Dolici Delgado(Fely Franquelli), has been broadcasting on Japanese radio, trying to getthe men to surrender.
Bataan will surely fall, so Madden is ordered to put together guerillaresistance among U.S. and Filipino troops. When the Japanese army finallymoves in and starts brutalizing the citizenry, an American school teacher(Beulah Bondi) escapes and joins Madden and his men. The plot getssurprisingly convoluted from there, as Madden attempts to aid a secret groupof Filipino revolutionaries, through the help of the increasingly doubtfulBonifacio. It all leads to a showdown between the Japanese and Madden'smen, and if you think the U.S.A. gets whipped, you either don't read historybooks or have never seen a John Wayne movie.
The situation in the South Pacific was changing from day to day duringproduction. For instance, Gen. MacArthur returned to the Philippines, as hepromised, and prisoners were released from the infamous camp, Cabanatuan.Both of these incidents were quickly incorporated into the script. Dmytrykalso tried to accurately portray modern military service through theassistance of a Colonel Clarke of the U.S. Army, who was a character in hisown right.
One afternoon, while the production was shooting in San Bernadino, Clarkedisappeared. When he finally materialized several hours later, he explainedthat he always checked the signs at the entrance to any town where he'd bestaying, to see if there was a local Lions or Rotary club. If a clubhappened to be having its weekly or monthly lunch while he was there, he'dshow up unannounced and inevitably be asked to speak about his militaryexperiences - if the club members paid a small fee. And thegambit worked in San Bernadino.
Clarke was extremely vocal about his distaste for Gen. MacArthur, a stancethat surely didn't endear him to Wayne. He liked to tell the story of thetime he was wounded and was shipped to a nearby base in a submarine thatcontained the General's personal furniture, rather than American soldiers.Clarke also inexplicably insisted to Dmytryk that actual Filipino guerillaswould never be as filthy as the ones depicted in the film. He evencomplained to his superiors in Washington when Dmytryk refused to alter thelook. But Dmytryk had photographs that showed the guerillas in ragged,mud-covered uniforms that were far shabbier than the ones worn by theextras.
Wayne and Dmytryk, for their part, got along very well, even though, asDmytryk states in his autobiography, Wayne "was already beginning toconsider himself some kind of political thinker, but we all make mistakes."Dmytryk later realized that, because of his work with the Alliance, Waynealready knew some very damaging things about the director's political past.Dmytryk also recalled Wayne's unexpected physical grace, and a few drunkenattempts by their mutual manager's nephew to get the Duke to punch outJohnny Weissmuller. That surely would have been a brawl for the ages: TheGreat American Cowboy vs. Tarzan.
Directed by: Edward Dmytryk
Screenplay: Ben Barzman
Producer: Robert Fellows
Cinematography: Nicholas Musuraca
Editing: Marstan Fay
Music: Roy Webb
Production Design: Geoffrey Kirkland
Principal Cast: John Wayne (Col. Joseph Madden), Anthony Quinn (Capt. AndresBonifacio), Beulah Bondi (Bertha Barnes), Fely Franquelli (Dolici Delgado),Richard Loo (Maj. Hasko), Lawrence Tierney (Lt. Cmdr. Waite).
BW-95m. Closed captioning.
by Paul Tatara