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After a long career in the Marines, a retired Sergeant Major ends up performing his most heroic duty as a civilian in Salute to the Marines (1943). Set in the Philippines near the start of WWII, Wallace Beery plays Sgt. Bailey, a gruff Marine leader with a secret - he's never actually seen combat. When his men are called into action in China and he's not granted permission to go with them, Bailey angrily starts a brawl that lands him in the brig. Bailey's wife (Fay Bainter) convinces him to retire, but the civilian life doesn't sit well with the former officer. It's not long before the Japanese invade the island and the untested marine sergeant does see battle, ironically as a civilian in charge of organizing the citizens' withdrawal.
Filmed on the heels of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Salute to the Marines pulsates with the patriotism of its era, which also includes the expected cultural stereotypes and derogatory depiction of the enemy. But the film can also be viewed as an allegory about the U.S. entry into WWII. Bailey had never seen combat, until his home was attacked, and he stepped up to do his duty. Likewise, Bailey's daughter Helen (Marilyn Maxwell) begins the movie as a pacifist, more interested in dating than patriotism. And not to give away the ending, but a tragic event makes Helen understand the sacrifice of war, just as it took Pearl Harbor to motivate America to enter World War II.
From Sergeant Bailey on down, Salute to the Marines fills the ranks with familiar faces. Wallace Beery takes the lead, with a successful Hollywood career that had already spanned over 20 years by the time he appeared in this movie. Beery got his start in show biz at the age of 16 when he joined the circus. He began as an assistant to the elephant trainer but left Ringling Bros. two years later after a leopard clawed his arm. From there, Beery hit the Big Apple, performing in variety shows and Broadway musicals. As most performers of that time, Beery eventually ended up in Hollywood to try his hand in silent pictures. His break came with a rather interesting part, Sweedie the Swedish maid in a series of shorts for Essanay Studios. During this period, Beery also met and married actress Gloria Swanson, with whom he starred in a series of Mack Sennett comedies. Unfortunately, however, the marriage was short lived, lasting only a few years from 1916-18. But Beery's luck in the silents was better. He starred in numerous hits like The Last of the Mohicans (1920), Robin Hood (1922) and The Lost World(1925). In 1931, Beery won the Best Actor Oscar for The Champ and proved that despite his surly looks and rough voice, he could play the hero, as he later did in MGM successes like Hell Divers (1931) and Viva Villa! (1934).
Of course Wallace Beery wasn't the only one in his family in the business. His half-brother Noah Beery, Sr. also had quite a long Hollywood career, with movies likeThe Mark of Zorro (1920), Beau Geste (1926) and Riders of the Purple Sage (1931). Likewise, nephew Noah Beery, Jr. made a name for himself in movies like Of Mice and Men and Only Angels Have Wings (both 1939). Brother Noah also appears in Salute to the Marines as a Marine Adjutant.
Oscar winner Fay Bainter starred in the supporting role of Sergeant Bailey's wife. The actress made Oscar history in 1938, when she was nominated for two Academy Awards in different categories. First, Bainter received a Best Actress nod for her part in White Banners (1938). Then, she was nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category (it was her second nomination in this category) for her role as Bette Davis' aunt in Jezebel (1938). Bainter would take home the Best Supporting Actress statuette for Jezebel.
Future blonde bombshell Marilyn Maxwell also received her first substantial part in Salute to the Marines. A relative newcomer to Hollywood, Maxwell's previous parts had included small roles in Stand By For Action, with Judy Garland in Presenting Lily Mars and in the Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Gene Kelly vehicle Du Barry Was a Lady all in 1943. But Maxwell really shines in Salute to the Marines as the Marine's idealistic daughter who comes to symbolize young America.
Two other minor players in Salute to the Marines became more famous in later years. Future TV father Hugh Beaumont appears uncredited in the film as a Sergeant. Though Beaumont had a mildly successful movies career, he's probably best remembered as Ward Cleaver on Leave It To Beaver. Recent newsmaker Robert Blake also turns up in Salute to the Marines. Credited as Bobby Blake, the ten-year-old plays a character named Little Beaver.
Producer: John W. Considine, Jr.
Director: S. Sylvan Simon
Screenplay: George Bruce, Wells Root, based on the novel by Robert D. Andrews
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Stan Rogers
Cinematography: W. Howard Greene, Charles E. Schoenbaum
Film Editing: Fredrick Y. Smith
Special Effects: A. Arnold Gillespie, Warren Newcombe
Original Music: Lennie Hayton
Cast: Wallace Beery (Sgt. Maj. William Bailey), Reginald Owen (Mr. Caspar), William Lundigan (Rufus Cleveland), Keye Luke ('Flashy' Logaz), Fay Bainter (Jennie Bailey), Marilyn Maxwell (Helen Bailey), Noah Beery (Adjutant), Ray Collins (Colonel Mason).
by Stephanie Thames