Cast & Crew
In 1943, after battling the Germans in the San Pietro Mountains of Italy, the exhausted survivors of the 36th Division are given five days of rest, but are, at first, too exhausted to enjoy it. While other men sleep, Sgt. Peterson, who is troubled over the death of his runner, Pfc. Minto, wanders through the rest camp and ends up at a cemetery. There he meets a WAC, Lt. Eleanor MacKay, and tired and bitter, he is rude when she refuses to have a drink with him. The next day, Pete's superior officer, Maj. Blackford, tells him he is being promoted to lieutenant, and after the ceremony, takes him to a popular cafe, Mamma Mia's, to celebrate. The cafe is filled with servicemen, including one of Pete's men, Sgt. McFee, who is upset because he has received no letters from his wife. Assuring him that the mail has been misdirected, Pete takes McFee to the mail center to straighten it out and again encounters Eleanor, who, finding him different than the night before, offers to buy him a drink. They proceed to Mamma Mia's, but seeing them together, Blackford takes Pete aside and warns him that he is wasting his time with Eleanor. Eleanor overhears the conversation and leaves, and when Pete catches up, she assures him that the major is correct. After agreeing that they will just have a drink, they go to a hillside restaurant, where Eleanor laments how war has degraded relationships between men and women. On the rainy ride back, Eleanor tells Pete how she joined the Army to preserve a way of life, and although she admits that she likes him, she repels his advances. An air raid sends them for cover, but still she resists him, saying she does not want to fall in love and then lose him. Frustrated, he takes her home, refusing to listen when she tells him about the man she knew who is buried in the cemetery where they met. They separate unhappily and at breakfast the next day at Mamma's, Pete is still moping. Seeing that McFee has finally received letters from his wife, Pete discusses love with Blackford, who is skeptical of it all. Orders come in canceling the rest of the men's leave, but before returning, Pete looks for Eleanor and finally finds her waiting for him at the camp. After talking about their feelings, they decide to marry during Pete's next leave, and Pete goes off to battle. Blackford is killed the next day, and although Pete knows he could not have helped him, he also knows that he has been playing it safe because of Eleanor. Shortly after, Pete is wounded and wakes up in a hospital fifteen days later. The healing of his leg, according to the doctor, is being impeded by the psychological wounds he is harboring. Eleanor comes to him after she gets word through the mail room of his whereabouts, and he begins to convalesce and is later reclassified by the Army to a non-combat status. Wanting some time alone together, Eleanor arranges with her friend, Lea Maduvalli, to spend a few days at her family's home with Pete, and while they are there, they marry in a local church. However, on their last night at the Maduvallis', Pete is restless with memories of his colleagues' deaths and makes the decision to return to combat, as he has acquired some of Eleanor's idealism and desire to preserve a way of life. They part after agreeing to meet later in Rome, and Pete jumps on a truck heading toward his former battalion. Later, while scouting the village of Veletri, which turns out to be German-occupied, Pete is separated from his men and fired upon. Meanwhile, Eleanor has learned that she is pregnant and her supervisor, Maj. Waldron, is required to send her back to the States. As Eleanor begs to be released in Italy, so she can meet Pete in Rome as they have planned, McFee shows up and tells her that Pete has been reported missing in action and presumed dead. Refusing to believe he is dead, Eleanor proceeds to headquarters to find out what happened, asking and searching everywhere. When she hears that the Germans have pulled out of Rome, she goes there and searches the crowded streets for any sign of him. Finally, she talks to a man who knew a Peterson at the work camp where he was imprisoned. Following the man's lead, she finds Pete hobbling up the steps of a hospital. His leg injury has returned and will probably be permanent, but they are finally reunited as victory bells peal.
Capt. James J. Altieri
Sgt. William J. Crawford
David C. Gardner
Lyle B. Reifsnider
Force of Arms
The movie opens inside a battle tent in Italy during World War II. Sgt Joe "Pete" Peterson (William Holden) is talking with Sgt Smiley "Mac" McFee (Gene Evans) about taking the platoon out on a mission. Their Lieutenant was killed and Pete's now in charge. The men rally around him as he leads them into battle, a firefight that takes up most of the first twenty minutes of film. Along the way, their Captain gets killed too and Pete ends up with a field promotion to lieutenant.
Back in safe territory the night after the battle, Pete wanders around a military cemetery until he's startled by someone else there, Lieutenant Eleanor MacKay (Nancy Olson). He tells her it's been a while since he's seen a woman and doesn't know how to act around them. As he relaxes, he invites her out only to be rebuked. He chalks it up to his being a Sergeant (she doesn't yet know he's now a Lieutenant) to which she takes offense.
The next day they meet again as Pete tries to find a letter for Mac at the mail center where Eleanor works. Seeing his Lieutenant bars, she apologizes and asks him if she could buy him a drink, as an apology. The two go out and get to know each other well, opening up for the first time during the war. Later, when they get caught in an air raid, they kiss and admit their love for each other. Eventually, Pete has to go back into battle but now that he has an emotional connection to hold on to, will he have the same bravery in battle or be over-cautious and get himself and his men killed?
Michael Curtiz had the rare ability to make any movie work, up to a point. He was a strong director who kept action moving even if there was no action to move. From his earliest works in horror (Doctor X , The Mystery of the Wax Museum ) and adventure (Captain Blood , The Adventures of Robin Hood ) to biography (Yankee Doodle Dandy, 1942) and all-time classic romances (Casablanca, 1942), he made sure that pacing and editing made even the talkiest scenes move briskly. He doesn't falter here either but is saddled with a problem that he had little power to control. The studios threw Nancy Olson and William Holden together four times in the hopes that lightning would strike twice after the success of Sunset Boulevard. The problem was, the relationship of Holden and Olson had almost nothing to do with the success of Sunset Boulevard. Actually, scratch the "almost."
Force of Arms is part war movie, part romance movie but it's the war story, and William Holden leading it, that carries the film. The relationship between Holden and Olson doesn't hold up nearly as well. In fact, it could've been cut back a bit more and made into more of a side story that affects Holden's character in battle, much like their relationship in Sunset Boulevard was a side story that affected the main story but had no burden of carrying it.
The movie is populated with reliable character actors known to most fans of Hollywood in the forties and fifties. Dick Wesson, best known as the engineer in Destination Moon (1950) joins Frank Lovejoy (I Was a Communist for the FBI , The Sound of Fury ) and Gene Evans (The Steel Helmet , Ace in the Hole ) to round out the cast.
In the end, Force of Arms works because the war movie works. William Holden carries the film and keeps the audience interested in the romance if only to see how the romance affects him in battle. It's an interesting story and told with the usual finesse by Curtiz and possessing some terrific camera work by Ted McCord. Nancy Olson and William Holden work well together, and the studios would give the couple one more pairing in Submarine Command a year later, but they never quite clicked as a great onscreen couple. Fortunately, Curtiz, Holden and the war story more than make up for it.
By Greg Ferrara
Force of Arms
You mean you were a civilian once?- Sgt. Joe Peterson
Oh, if you consider schoolteachers civilians.- Lt. Eleanor MacKay
You, honest?- Sgt. Joe Peterson
Mm-hmm.- Lt. Eleanor MacKay
Well, and me without an apple!- Sgt. Joe Peterson
The working title of the film was The Dawn Is Ours. Opening credits are followed by voice-over narration that sets the scene. A written acknowledgment of the assistance of the United States Department of Defense and the United States Army follows the film. Portions of the film were shot at Serra Retreat in Malibu, CA, and in the Santa Susanna Mountains, according to a March 1951 Hollywood Reporter news item and Warner Bros. production notes. James Millican tested for a role, according to a February 1951 Hollywood Reporter news item, but did not appear in the picture. A February 1951 Los Angeles Times news item reported that Warner Bros. was negotiating with Associated British Pictures Corp. to cast Richard Todd as the lead opposite Ruth Roman, who was set as the female lead. However, neither appeared in the picture.
Hollywood Reporter news items add the following actors to the cast: Fred Stevens, Philip Zanghi, Bruce Morgan and Robert Bricewood, but their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Force of Arms marked the screen debuts of Amelia Cova, Ron Hargrave, Frances Canto, Joel Marston and Jay Richards, according to April 1951 Hollywood Reporter news items. Reviews note that actual combat footage was used in the film. Although Force of Arms is not an adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's novel A Farewell to Arms, or a remake of the 1932 Paramount film of the same name, both the Time and New York Times reviews noted its resemblance to the other works.