Back to Bataan
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It's ironic that Edward Dmytryk and John Wayne teamed up to bring America Back to Bataan, a rousing piece of World War II propaganda that had patriotic audiences cheering in 1945. Dmytryk, the director, was a political leftist who would eventually, and tragically, buckle to the intense pressure to name names during the McCarthy era. Wayne, of course, was an iconic action hero who formed the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, an organization that did more than its share to encourage the Communist witch hunts. Talk about mixing oil and water.
Wayne plays Col. Joseph Madden, a rugged American who valiantly fights in the South Pacific with Capt. Andres Bonifacio (Anthony Quinn) of the Philippine Scouts. The soldiers on Bataan are in a hopeless situation. The Japanese are wearing them down, and badly needed supplies can't reach them. To make matters worse - and to supply the required love interest - Bonifacio's girlfriend, a former Filipino movie star named Dolici Delgado (Fely Franquelli), has been broadcasting on Japanese radio, trying to get the men to surrender.
Bataan will surely fall, so Madden is ordered to put together guerilla resistance among U.S. and Filipino troops. When the Japanese army finally moves in and starts brutalizing the citizenry, an American school teacher (Beulah Bondi) escapes and joins Madden and his men. The plot gets surprisingly convoluted from there, as Madden attempts to aid a secret group of Filipino revolutionaries, through the help of the increasingly doubtful Bonifacio. It all leads to a showdown between the Japanese and Madden's men, and if you think the U.S.A. gets whipped, you either don't read history books or have never seen a John Wayne movie.
The situation in the South Pacific was changing from day to day during production. For instance, Gen. MacArthur returned to the Philippines, as he promised, and prisoners were released from the infamous camp, Cabanatuan. Both of these incidents were quickly incorporated into the script. Dmytryk also tried to accurately portray modern military service through the assistance of a Colonel Clarke of the U.S. Army, who was a character in his own right.
One afternoon, while the production was shooting in San Bernadino, Clarke disappeared. When he finally materialized several hours later, he explained that he always checked the signs at the entrance to any town where he'd be staying, to see if there was a local Lions or Rotary club. If a club happened to be having its weekly or monthly lunch while he was there, he'd show up unannounced and inevitably be asked to speak about his military experiences - if the club members paid a small fee. And the gambit worked in San Bernadino.
Clarke was extremely vocal about his distaste for Gen. MacArthur, a stance that surely didn't endear him to Wayne. He liked to tell the story of the time he was wounded and was shipped to a nearby base in a submarine that contained the General's personal furniture, rather than American soldiers. Clarke also inexplicably insisted to Dmytryk that actual Filipino guerillas would never be as filthy as the ones depicted in the film. He even complained to his superiors in Washington when Dmytryk refused to alter the look. But Dmytryk had photographs that showed the guerillas in ragged, mud-covered uniforms that were far shabbier than the ones worn by the extras.
Wayne and Dmytryk, for their part, got along very well, even though, as Dmytryk states in his autobiography, Wayne "was already beginning to consider himself some kind of political thinker, but we all make mistakes." Dmytryk later realized that, because of his work with the Alliance, Wayne already knew some very damaging things about the director's political past. Dmytryk also recalled Wayne's unexpected physical grace, and a few drunken attempts by their mutual manager's nephew to get the Duke to punch out Johnny Weissmuller. That surely would have been a brawl for the ages: The Great American Cowboy vs. Tarzan.
Directed by: Edward Dmytryk
Screenplay: Ben Barzman
Producer: Robert Fellows
Cinematography: Nicholas Musuraca
Editing: Marstan Fay
Music: Roy Webb
Production Design: Geoffrey Kirkland
Principal Cast: John Wayne (Col. Joseph Madden), Anthony Quinn (Capt. Andres Bonifacio), Beulah Bondi (Bertha Barnes), Fely Franquelli (Dolici Delgado), Richard Loo (Maj. Hasko), Lawrence Tierney (Lt. Cmdr. Waite).
BW-95m. Closed captioning.
by Paul Tatara