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First To Fight

First To Fight(1967)

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teaser First To Fight (1967)

First to Fight

"The blockbusting story of a fighting marine that comes mortar-screaming out of green hells and jungles!"
Tag line for First to Fight

The theme of patriotism is explored in First to Fight (1967), a stirring dramatic tale of Jack Connell, a World War II hero, who earns the right to stay home training recruits only to defy his wife's wishes and sign on for one more tour of duty in the Pacific. Once Connell is back on the front lines, he realizes his decision may cost him more than he bargained for. Chad Everett stars as the conflicted Marine and Marilyn Devin plays the new bride he leaves behind.

The title First to Fight refers to the practice of sending in the Marines first for key battles, largely because of their versatility in being trained to arrive on the scene by land, sea and air. As a key factor in the U.S. military's preparedness, the Marines have played major roles in films about both world wars, particularly World War II, when they spearheaded many of the landing forces reclaiming territories held by the Japanese. For First to Fight, the battle scenes on Guadalcanal and Saipan were shot at Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, CA., the Bell Ranch and Africa U.S.A. (a wildlife tourist attraction in Boca Raton, Florida).

Like many low-budget studio films of the late 1960s, First to Fight features a fascinating assemblage of talent. Director Christian Nyby had made his name with The Thing from Another World (1951), though historians now credit the film to its producer, Howard Hawks. Nonetheless, the directing credit helped Nyby move into a long career directing television series, with occasional forays into low-budget films like First to Fight. Also from television was writer Gene L. Coon, who would become a writer and producer for Star Trek, for which he penned 38 episodes, including "Errand of Mercy," the 1967 entry that introduced the Klingons.

Leading man Everett was one of the last actors developed under a long-term contract at Warner Bros. before moving on to MGM, where he was the studio's last contract player. For Warner he starred in The Dakotas, which gave him the visibility to move into more prominent film roles in MGM programmers like Get Yourself a College Girl (1964) and Made in Paris (1966). MGM loaned him back to Warner's for First to Fight, which took good advantage of his dramatic skills and imposing physique.

Everett's leading lady, Marilyn Devin, was making her film debut after a few TV guest shots. Never comfortable acting, she would move into TV news casting by the '70s. More experienced was Dean Jagger, an Oscar®-winner for another war film, Twelve O'Clock High (1949). Jagger had been acting in films since 1929 and was considered one of the industry's most reliable character players, particularly in roles requiring quiet authority like Everett's commanding officer in First to Fight.

The film, produced by William Conrad, is particularly noteworthy for the up-and-coming talent in its supporting cast. Jazz singer Bobby Troup, who performs his own song "Daddy" on the soundtrack, would find TV stardom with wife Julie London in the series Emergency. Claude Akins, already a veteran of TV and feature films by 1968, had guested on The Dakotas. He would develop a devoted fan following late in life when he spun off his supporting character in B. J. and the Bear to star in The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo. James Best also achieved fame as a TV lawman, playing Sheriff Roscoe Coltrane on 141 episodes of The Dukes of Hazzard. By contrast, Gene Hackman would stick with features, eventually winning Oscars® for The French Connection (1971) and Unforgiven (1992). First to Fight actually came out a year after Hackman's breakthrough role in Bonnie and Clyde (1967).

First to Fight also features two casting oddities. Far down in the cast list is Bobs Watson, the former child star of such classics as Boys Town (1938) and On Borrowed Time (1939) and a particular favorite of studio head Louis B. Mayer. A year before the release of First to Fight, he was ordained as a Methodist minister. Film scorer Basil Poledouris, then fresh out of film school, made his sole on-screen acting appearance in an unbilled bit as an officer. He would be best known for his work with former college friends-turned-directors John Milius (Conan the Barbarian, 1982) and Randal Kleiser (The Blue Lagoon, 1980) and his Emmy-winning score for the miniseries Lonesome Dove (1989).

Producer: William Conrad
Director: Christian Nyby
Screenplay: Gene L. Coon
Cinematography: Harold E. Wellman
Art Direction: Art Loel
Music: Fred Steiner
Film Editing: George R. Rohrs
Cast: Chad Everett (Jack Connell), Marilyn Devin (Peggy Sanford), Dean Jagger (Lt. Col. Baseman), Bobby Troup (Lt. Overman), Claude Akins (Capt. Mason), Gene Hackman (Sgt. Tweed), James Best (Sgt. Carnavan), Norman Alden (Sgt. Schmidtmer), Bobs Watson (Sgt. Maypole), Ken Swofford (O'Brien).

by Frank Miller

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