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Brimming with all the patriotic rhetoric typical of war flicks of the time, So Proudly We Hail! (1943) was nevertheless something of a change of pace for audiences as it followed the adventures and hardships of a troupe of military nurses through some of the darkest hours of the war in the Pacific. Told in flashback as the women arrive home, it takes them from December 1941, with their Hawaii-bound ship diverted to Bataan after the attack on Pearl Harbor, through Corregidor and finally back to the U.S. about a year later.
Those Philippine islands were the sites of two of the most crushing Allied defeats in World War II. On Bataan, thousands of U.S. and Filipino troops died in a brutal "death march" to a prison camp after their capture by Japanese forces. And Corregidor was bombarded for five months by the Japanese, finally forcing the May 1942 surrender of 10,000 U.S. and Filipino troops. Although So Proudly We Hail! was fairly typical for a Hollywood war film, its glamorous stars were dragged down into the mud and gore that the realistic story required.
After reading a news report about ten nurses who escaped the fall of Corregidor in 1942, producer-director Mark Sandrich (known for his Astaire-Rogers musicals of the 1930s) and screenwriter Allan Scott (who received an Academy Award nomination for this script) tracked down the survivors and got their story. Sandrich also hired one of them, Lt. Eunice Hatchitt, as a technical adviser.
Critical praise for the film's authenticity (it gives "a shattering impression of the tragedy of Bataan," said Bosley Crowther in The New York Times), and the popularity of the three female leads guaranteed big box office. But the stars also gave Sandrich some headaches. A feud erupted when Paulette Goddard upset Claudette Colbert by telling a reporter that she preferred working with Veronica Lake because they were closer in age (when in fact, she was 9 or 10 years older than Lake and only 7 years younger than Colbert - who at 39 was far from past her prime). There were arguments over how they were to be photographed (Colbert was famous for having an aversion to having her right profile filmed). Often Sandrich had to reshoot scenes the more experienced Colbert nailed in the first few takes in order to get something worthwhile from the other two actresses. But it was Goddard who was singled out for praise at Oscar® time with a Best Supporting Actress nomination, her only such recognition; although passed over for her fine work here, Colbert was nominated three times for Best Actress and won for It Happened One Night (1934). The most recent star of the trio, Lake got attention in this role for tucking up her trademark peek-a-boo bangs; at the time her hairdo was considered a bad influence on female home front defense plant workers because long, flowing hair could get caught in factory machinery.
Actually, it was newcomer Sonny Tufts who critics said stole the show with his portrayal of the likable lummox "Kansas," Goddard's love interest. Although Lake's character spends the movie in bitter anti-Japanese hatred after the death of her husband at Pearl Harbor, Colbert is also given a romantic angle in the person of George Reeves, later famous as TV's Superman. Later critics have said the inclusion of the men put too much emphasis on the nurses' relationships, when the film would have been stronger concentrating solely on their work and personal sacrifices. But audiences and reviewers at the time welcomed the picture as a fairly accurate account of the contributions women made to the war effort on the front lines.
The Office of War Information (OWI), the chief military propaganda unit, was not always so pleased and put Sandrich and Scott through a number of hoops to make sure the film conformed to their notion of what the public needed to see of the war. OWI Hollywood Chief Nelson Poynter meddled in almost every aspect of the script. Some of his suggestions were on target: his insistence that the U.S. be seen as part of an allied team, rather than the single best hope for the world; his demand to temper the more blatant anti-Asian aspects of the script; and his feeling (echoed by those later critics mentioned above) that the portrayal of women was often derogatory. "The worst feminine characteristics have been emphasized," said Poynter (in Hollywood Goes to War by Clayton R. Koppes and Gregory D. Black). "The girls" quarreled with each other, gossiped constantly, grew "petulant under any strain," were insubordinate, and ignored regulations against fraternization with enlisted men." But when Poynter started offering detailed dialogue rewrites, including a lengthy, overblown monologue for the troops' chaplain that equated democracy and the American way with God's will, he aroused the ire of Paramount head Y. Frank Freeman.
In the end, however, just about all concerned were pleased with the outcome. Poynter sent the studio a congratulatory note, in which he stated, "So Proudly We Hail! demonstrates what film can do toward interpreting the war without sacrificing dramatic and entertainment values." One of Paramount's biggest releases of the year, it ran with a trailer in which the Army Nurses Corps appealed for volunteers. The picture also received Oscar® nods for Best Black and White Cinematography and Best Special Effects.
Director/Producer: Mark Sandrich
Screenplay: Allan Scott
Cinematography: Charles Lang
Editing: Ellsworth Hoagland
Art Direction: Hans Dreier, Earl Hedrick
Original Music: Miklos Rozsa
Cast: Claudette Colbert (Lt. Janet Davidson), Paulette Goddard (Lt. Joan O'Doul), Veronica Lake (Lt. Olivia D'Arcy), George Reeves (Lt. John Summers), Sonny Tufts (Kansas).
BW-126m. Closed Captioning.
by Rob Nixon