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The Battle of Midway, which took place in early June of 1942, proved to be a turning point in the U.S. campaign in the Pacific during World War II. Intercepting Japanese naval communications, the U.S. was able to head off an assault on Midway Island. As a result of the battle, the Japanese lost four aircraft carriers, a cruiser, over 300 aircraft and some 3,500 men. The film Midway (1976) introduces the story of a fictional Captain Matt Garth, a Naval Air Wing commander who is recuperating from wounds suffered during Pearl Harbor. His relationship with his son, Thomas (Edward Albert), becomes strained when the latter marries a woman of Japanese descent, providing the main dramatic thread. The film also vividly depicts the battle and the military personages involved, chief among them Admiral Chester W. Nimitz (Henry Fonda).
Midway incorporates actual Word War II color battle footage as well as stock footage from other films in its combat sequences. The newly shot footage was photographed by Harry Stradling, Jr., son of the great cinematographer Harry Stradling and a talented artist in his own right. He received Academy Award nominations for his work on 1776 (1972) and The Way We Were (1973). For added authenticity, an actual World War II-era aircraft carrier, the Lexington, was used for location shooting. Charlton Heston recalls: "Planning was crucial during the time we were at sea aboard the Lexington: we could only film on the flight deck, the hangar deck, and the bridge at specified and rigidly circumscribed times, but the whole voyage was exciting. I even did several carrier landings and takeoffs."
Director Jack Smight got his start directing Twilight Zone episodes and continued to make a number of television films, including the underrated Frankenstein: the True Story (1973). His most interesting feature film of the period is arguably the pitch-black comedy No Way to Treat a Lady (1968). During the mid-70s he achieved his greatest notoriety as a director of action films, among them the popular Airport 1975 (1975), Midway (both of which star Heston) and Damnation Alley (1977). Supporting actor Cliff Robertson, who won an Academy Award for Best Actor in Charly (1968), was at the peak of his career, having recently made his directing debut with J. W. Coop (1972) and giving strong showings as an actor in Ace Eli and Roger of the Skies (1973), Three Days of the Condor (1975) and Obsession (1976). However, the following year his position in Hollywood would become precarious when he accused David Begelman at Columbia Pictures of forging his signature on a $10,000 check from the studio, resulting in the exposure of Begelman's embezzlement scheme. Many executives resented Robertson for embarrassing the industry; for some time afterward he had difficulty finding work.
According to Robert Mitchum biographer George Eells, Mitchum was originally approached by producer Walter Mirisch to play Admiral Nimitz, but he refused the offer and proposed Henry Fonda in his place. Mirisch then offered him the part of Rear Admiral Spruance, which went to Glenn Ford. Mitchum, who wanted to work as little as possible, ended up taking the role of Admiral Halsey, which required only one day of shooting since Halsey was bedridden during the battle. Mitchum later donated his fee to charity. However, the standout performance among the film's many major actors is generally regarded to be Henry Fonda as Admiral Nimitz. At the time of the film's release Variety wrote: "Perhaps because Henry Fonda is old enough to know about, and care about, the actual environment of the film, his performance as....Nimitz towers over everything else."
Midway was one of a handful of films - including Earthquake (1974) and Rollercoaster (1977) - to use the Sensurround process. Designed by Universal Studios for Earthquake, it involved a specially designed sound system which produced ultra low frequency vibrations during action sequences, via special encoding on the film's soundtrack. Only first-run theaters equipped with the costly Sensurround sound system and decoder were able to reproduce the effect. Allegedly the rumbles produced by the system were so loud (up to 120 decibels) that they occasionally caused damage to the actual theater buildings.
Director: Jack Smight
Producer: Walter Mirisch
Screenplay: Donald S. Sanford
Cinematographer: Harry Stradling, Jr.
Editor: Robert Swink, Frank J. Urioste
Music: John Williams
Art Director: Walter Tyler
Principal Cast: Charlton Heston (Capt. Matt Garth), Edward Albert (Ensign Tom Garth), Christina Kokubo (Haruko Sakura), Henry Fonda (Adm. Chester W. Nimitz), James Coburn (Capt. Vinton Maddox), Glenn Ford (Rear Adm. Raymond A. Spruance), Hal Holbrook (Cmdr. Joseph Rochefort), Toshiro Mifune (Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto), Robert Mitchum (Adm. William F. Halsey), Cliff Robertson (Cmdr. Carl Jessop), Robert Wagner (Lt. Commander Ernest Blake), James Shigeta (Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo).
C-131m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by James Steffen