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In his long and prolific tenure as MGM production chief, during an era in which controversial subject matter did not usually result in a box office hit, Dore Schary was not one to flinch at the prospect of mounting a "message picture." Indeed, it was his distress at a then-recent and less-than-proud chapter in American history that spurred Go for Broke! (1951), one of the most unique and inspiring stories of WWII ever mounted for the screen.
As stated in his autobiography Heyday, Schary had been desirous of a script dealing with the stateside detention centers to which Americans of Japanese ancestry had been interred for the duration of the hostilities. "To have rushed Japanese, who were American citizens, into those faraway areas--treeless, barren, lonely, surrounded by vistas of flat, scrubby plains--was unconscionable," Schary wrote. "The Nisei were not guilty of anything but became victims of terror and panic, losing their homes, farms, equipment and security."
After kicking it around with Robert Pirosh, the screenwriter who took home the Oscar® for Schary's Battle of the Bulge chronicle Battleground (1949), the producer decided to take a different tack with the issue. "The accent on the affirmative was the story of the 442nd Infantry Battalion, the Nisei combat unit that earned more medals and suffered more casualties than any other combat unit and proved more than any other factor the absurdity and shame of the internment camps."
Pirosh's script, which would land him another Academy Award nomination, focused on Michael Grayson (Van Johnson), an untested Army lieutenant whose anticipation for his first command evaporates when he learns that he'll be the topkick for the "Butterheads" of the 442nd. While initially not bothering to disguise his contempt for his new charges (played largely by actual veterans of the 442nd), Grayson's prejudices give way to grudging respect for their efforts in basic training, and he's ultimately humbled by the valor they display when sent off to combat in Italy. Bonded by their shared experience, Grayson and his unit must rise to the occasion when Grayson's old Texas battalion--the one he'd once hoped to lead--is pinned down by enemy fire in France.
Pirosh did a sterling job of directing his own scenario, and Johnson, for whom Battleground proved a stepping stone from juvenile roles to parts with more heft, also came through with another thoughtful effort. Go for Broke! ultimately met with strong reviews and receipts upon its release. "The picture was a success," Schary reminisced. "[A]s an ironic lagniappe, it was a roaring hit in Japan."
Producer: Dore Schary
Director: Robert Pirosh
Screenplay: Robert Pirosh
Cinematography: Paul Vogel
Film Editing: James E. Newcom
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Eddie Imazu
Music: Alberto Colombo
Cast: Van Johnson (Lt. Michael Grayson), Lane Nakano (Sam), George Miki (Chick), Akira Fukunaga (Frank), Ken K. Okamoto (Kaz), Henry Oyasato (Ohara).
BW-91m. Closed captioning.
by Jay S. Steinberg