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One of the strongest war films ever to come out of Hollywood, Objective, Burma! (1945) enjoyed excellent reviews and was a big hit at the box office, particularly in the climate of fervent patriotic sentiment ignited by the closing days of World War II. But the film - which depicts the exploits of Major Nelson (Errol Flynn) and his men as they parachute into Burma to destroy a Japanese radar station - has been criticized in recent years for its negative portrayal of the Japanese people. One of the more notorious sequences has the Henry Hull character screaming, "They're [the Japanese] immoral, degenerate idiots! Wipe them out, I say! Wipe them off the face of the earth." Yet, when the film was first released in 1945, controversy surrounded the film because of what it did not portray.
When Objective, Burma! was distributed in England, the British public protested angrily, claiming that the Raoul Walsh-directed film completely ignored the efforts of the British in Burma, a theater of operations the Brits always claimed as their own. The slight resulted in a ferocious attack on the film by the British press, resulting in a total ban before a general release. The ban was also coupled with an effort to demonize the film's star, after some newsprint illustrations of Errol Flynn holding a machine gun over the grave of a British officer were distributed throughout England. When the movie was finally shown in England in 1952, Warner Brothers placed a conciliatory prologue of newsreel footage of the British in combat at Burma, thus acknowledging American and Allied indebtedness to British bravery in Burma.
Objective, Burma! is particularly interesting for its setting which, of course, was not filmed on actual locations, but in some swampy areas of Orange County, California. Errol Flynn later commented: "We simulated the conditions of the Burma campaign. We had a technical adviser who had actually been all through the whole British retreat. He was a Britisher, a Major Watkins. We had been gravely wounded there, and Jerry Wald, with his flair for bringing people together, dug him up for counseling on this film. That picture so delineated the conditions in Burma that even people who had been in the Burma campaign came out of the theatre asking, 'What part of Burma was that?' They were dubious, disbelieving, when they were told that was Santa Anita Ranch in California, the ranch of Lucky Baldwin. We built sets there so lifelike that even the experts couldn't tell them from the originals. Warner Brothers took a lot of trouble over location, under very trying circumstances, to make it rough, rugged, tough."
Although Flynn had a reputation for excessive partying on and off the sets of his movies, he was on his best behavior during the filming of Objective, Burma! and, as a result, it's one of his best performances. Director Raoul Walsh later revealed the reason: "Errol was on his good behavior because he was writing a book when I was not using him. Between being gung ho with his men and typing his life story, he had no time for anything more than half a dozen drinks, which to him was almost total abstention."
Objective, Burma! was nominated for three Academy Awards, though it didn't win in any category. The Oscar nods were for Best Film Editing (George Amy), Best Scoring for a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (Franz Waxman), and Best Original Story by Alvah Bessie, who later became infamous as one of the "Hollywood Ten" during the "Red Scare" of the late forties/early fifties. Ironically, Lester Cole, another future "Hollywood Ten" member, adapted Bessie's patriotic war story for the final screenplay, along with fellow scripter Ranald MacDougall.
Producer: Jerry Wald, Jack L. Warner
Director: Raoul Walsh
Screenplay: Alvah Bessie (story), Ranald MacDougall, Lester Cole
Art Direction: Ted Smith
Cinematography: James Wong Howe
Film Editing: George Amy
Original Music: Franz Waxman
Principal Cast: Errol Flynn (Captain Nelson), William Prince (Lt. Sid Jacobs), James Brown (Sgt. Treacy), George Tobias (Gabby Gordon), Henry Hull (Mark Williams), Warner Anderson (Colonel Carter), Mark Stevens (Lt. Baker).
BW-142m. Closed captioning.
by Scott McGee