They Were Expendable


2h 15m 1945
They Were Expendable

Brief Synopsis

A Navy commander fights to prove the battle-worthiness of the PT boat at the start of World War II.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
War
Adaptation
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Dec 1945
Premiere Information
World premiere in Washington, D.C.: 19 Dec 1945
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Distribution Company
Loew's Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the book They Were Expendable by William L. White (London, 1942).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 15m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
12,121ft

Synopsis

In 1941, the 3rd Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron of the U.S. Navy is sent to Manila Bay to help defend the Philippine Islands against invasion by the Japanese army. The squadron, under the command of Lt. John Brickley, arrives at its island post only to be ridiculed by some of the top military leaders, who do not believe that the small torpedo boats can be effective. Brick, who is fiercely proud of his squadron, is angered by the insults and vows to prove his detractors wrong. His first opportunity to put the squadron to good use finally comes when news arrives that the Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor.

Though initially assigned to messenger duty, Brick's squadron is later pressed into combat duty when Japanese warplanes descend on the island in a surprise attack. The torpedo squadron shoots down three of the Japanese planes, but the Japanese succeed in destroying much of the base, which is later ordered closed by Admiral Blackwell. Brick's squadron is then sent to Sisiman Cove, on the island of Bataan, to run a messenger service. The new assignment infuriates one of Brick's men, Lt. "Rusty" Ryan, who is eager to be involved in serious combat and has repeatedly asked Brick to be reassigned to a destroyer. When Blackwell assigns the 3rd Squadron to send two boats to sink a Japanese cruiser that is shelling positions at Bataan, Brick chooses his boat and Rusty's for the job.

Just as they are about to ship out, though, Brick notices a cut on Rusty's arm and sends him to a military hospital for treatment. There, Rusty is diagnosed with blood poisoning and placed under the care of nurse Lt. Sandy Davyss. While Rusty awaits surgery at the hospital, Brick's boats destroy the Japanese cruiser. Rusty pursues a romance with Sandy after his operation, but their romance is cut short when Brick orders Rusty to return to the squadron. The torpedo squadron's attacks against the Japanese forces continue with great success, though Brick loses some of his men and boats in combat. One day, Brick and Rusty are assigned the important task of transporting Admiral Blackwell and General Douglas MacArthur to the island of Mindanao. Before embarking on the dangerous journey, Rusty telephones Sandy to bid her what may be a final farewell.

When only three of the four boats in Brick's squadron arrive at their destination, Brick sends out a search party for the missing boat. It is eventually found, but because it has suffered serious damage, it is taken out of service. Brick's force is now reduced to only two boats, his and Rusty's. Brick is assigned his most challenging mission yet when he is ordered to destroy a Japanese cruiser headed toward Corregidor. The two torpedo boats encounter a barrage of enemy fire at sea, but succeed in destroying their target.

Though both boats survive the mission, Rusty's boat is later destroyed in an aerial attack. When news arrives that 36,000 American soldiers have surrendered at Bataan, and that the Japanese are now battling at Corregidor, the last American strong point in the Philippines, Rusty and Brick are given orders to leave their squadron and go to Australia to train a new torpedo boat force. Despite promises by the Army that they will be returned to the Philippines with a stronger force to fight the Japanese, Brick and Rusty refuse the reassignment and try to stay on the island with the rest of their squadron. Their attempt to stay fails, however, and they are flown out on the last plane leaving the Philippines, not knowing if they will ever see their squadron again.

Cast

Robert Montgomery

Lt. John Brickley

John Wayne

Lt., J.G., "Rusty" Ryan

Donna Reed

Lt. Sandy Davyss

Jack Holt

General Martin

Ward Bond

"Boats" Mulcahey, C.R.M.

Marshall Thompson

Ens. "Snake" Gardner

Paul Langton

Ens. "Andy" Andrews

Leon Ames

Major James Morton

Arthur Walsh

Seaman Jones

Donald Curtis

Lt., J.G., "Shorty" Long

Cameron Mitchell

Ens. George Cross

Jeff York

Ens. Tony Aiken

Murray Alper

"Slug" Mahan T.M. 1c

Harry Tenbrook

"Squarehead" Larsen, S.C. 2c

Jack Pennick

"Doc" [the storekeeper]

Alex Havier

"Benny" Lecoco, S.T. 3c

Charles Trowbridge

Admiral Blackwell

Robert Barrat

The General [Douglas MacArthur]

Bruce Kellogg

Elder Tompkins, M.M. 2c

Tim Murdock

Ens. Brant

Louis Jean Heydt

"Ohio"

Russell Simpson

"Dad" Knowland

Vernon Steele

Army doctor [at Corregidor]

Pedro De Cordoba

The Priest

Trina Lowe

Gardner's girl friend

Robert Shelby Randall

Boat crew member

Sammy Stein

Boat crew member

Art Foster

Boat crew member

Frank Mcgrath

Boat crew member

Larry Dods

Boat crew member

Jack Stoney

Boat crew member

Duke Green

Boat crew member

Stubby Kruger

Boat crew member

Phil Schumacher

Boat crew member

Frank Pershing

Boat crew member

Joey Ray

Boat crew member

Dan Borzage

Boat crew member

Blake Edwards

Boat crew member

Del Hill

Boat crew member

Bill Barnum

Boat crew member

Ted Lundigan

Boat crew member

Michael Kirby

Boat crew member

Wm. Mckeever Riley

Boat crew

Ernest Saftig

Navy officer

Stephen Barclay

Navy officer

Franklin Parker

Navy officer

Robert E. O'connor

Bartender at the Silver Dollar

Leslie Sketchley

Marine orderly

Phillip Ahn

Army orderly

Pacita Tod-tod

Filipino singer

Robert Homans

Bartender at the Manila Hotel

William B. Davidson

Hotel manager

Jack Cheatham

Commander

Forbes Murray

Navy captain

Emmett Vogan

Capt., Navy doctor

Sherry Hall

Marine major

Alan Bridge

Lieutenant colonel

Jack Luden

Naval air captain

Jon Gilbreath

Sub commander

Marjorie Davies

Nurse

Eve March

Nurse

Karl Miller

Admiral's office employee

Les Stanford

Admiral's office employee

George Bruggeman

Admiral's office employee

Reginald Simpson

Admiral's office employee

James Carlisle

Admiral's office employee

Dutch Schlickenmayer

Admiral's office employee

Tony Carson

Admiral's office employee

Jack Lorenz

Admiral's office employee

Brad Towne

Admiral's office employee

Charles Calhoun

Admiral's office employee

Leonard Mellin

Admiral's office employee

Frank Donahue

Admiral's office employee

Dan Quigg

Admiral's office employee

Clifford Rathjen

Admiral's office employee

Dick Earle

Admiral's office employee

Jack Lee

Admiral's office employee

Wedgewood Nowell

Admiral's office employee

Dick Thorne

Admiral's office employee

Leonard Fisher

Admiral's office employee

Jack Shea

Admiral's office employee

John Roy

Admiral's office employee

Michael Kostrick

Admiral's office employee

Jimmy Magill

Admiral's office employee

George Magrill

Admiral's office employee

Sam Simone

Admiral's office employee

Paul Kruger

Admiral's office employee

Bruce Carruthers

Admiral's office employee

Jack Semple

Admiral's office employee

Roy Thomas

Admiral's office employee

Bob Thom

Admiral's office employee

Larry Steers

Admiral's office employee

Gary Delmar

Admiral's office employee

Eleanor Vogel

Officer's wife

Jane Crowley

Officer's wife

Leota Lorraine

Officer's wife

Almeda Fowler

Officer's wife

Betty Blythe

Officer's wife

Charles Murray Jr.

Jeep driver

Margaret Morton

Bartender's wife

George Economides

Bartender's child

Michael Economides

Bartender's child

Roque Ybarra Jr.

Bartender's child

Nino Pipitone Jr.

Bartener's child

Ralph Soncuya

Filipino orderly

Vincent Isla

Filipino schoolteacher

Max Ong

Mayor of Cebu/Filipino man

William Neff

Sub skipper

Jim Farley

Mate

Ernest Dominguez

Filipino boy

Henry Mirelez

Filipino boy

Lee Tung Foo

Bartender

Tom Tyler

Capt. of airport

Bill Wilkerson

Sgt. Smith

John Carlyle

Lt. James

Patrick Davis

Pilot

Mary Jane French

Lost nurse

Roger Cole

Officer at airport

Fred Beckner

Officer at airport

Jack Ross

Officer at airport

Brent Shugar

Officer at airport

Kermit Maynard

Officer at airport

Bill Donahue

Officer at airport

Frank Eldredge

Officer at airport

Jack Carrington

Officer at airport

Hansel Warner

Officer at airport

Charles Ferguson

Officer at airport

Jack Trent

Officer at airport

Robert Strong

Officer at airport

William Mccormick

Officer at airport

John Eppers

Officer at airport

Bill Nind

Officer at airport

Don Lewis

Officer at airport

Photo Collections

They Were Expendable - Behind-the-Scenes Photos - John Ford
Here are several behind-the-scenes photos of John Ford directing the wartime drama They Were Expendable (1945), starring John Wayne, Robert Montgomery, and Donna Reed.

Videos

Movie Clip

Trailer

Hosted Intro

Film Details

Genre
Drama
War
Adaptation
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Dec 1945
Premiere Information
World premiere in Washington, D.C.: 19 Dec 1945
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Distribution Company
Loew's Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the book They Were Expendable by William L. White (London, 1942).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 15m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
12,121ft

Award Nominations

Best Sound

1945

Best Special Effects

1946

Articles

The Essentials (5/28) - THEY WERE EXPENDABLE


SYNOPSIS

They Were Expendable is based on the real-life heroics of PT Boat squadron leader John Bulkeley, and the defense of the Philippines from December 1941 through April 1942. During World War II, Lt. Brickley and Lt. Ryan put on a demonstration of PT Boat speed and maneuverability in combat for the top Navy brass. The Lieutenant and his commanding officer are frustrated that the PT boat squadron is assigned unimportant duties, even after Pearl Harbor and a Japanese attack on their base in Manila Bay. Lt. Ryan is wounded in the skirmish and sent to sick bay in Corregidor, where he recovers under the care of an attractive nurse, Lt. Davys. Despite a strong mutual attraction, the couple must face an inevitable separation due to their orders and the advancing Japanese troops.

Director: John Ford
Producers: John Ford, Cliff Reid
Screenplay: Frank Wead
Based on the book by William L. White
Cinematography: Joseph H. August
Costume Design: Yvonne Wood
Film Editing: Douglass Biggs, Frank E. Hull
Art Direction: Malcolm Brown, Cedric Gibbons
Original Music: Earl K. Brent, Herbert Stothart
Makeup: Jack Dawn
Cast: Robert Montgomery (Lt. John Brickley), John Wayne (Lt. J.G. "Rusty" Ryan), Donna Reed (Lt. Sandy Davys), Cameron Mitchell (Ensign George Cross), Jack Holt (General Martin), Ward Bond (Boots Mulcahey), Marshall Thompson (Ens. Snake Gardner).
BW-135m.

Why WERE EXPENDABLE is Essential

They Were Expendable was conceived by MGM and the Navy in 1942 as a vehicle for wartime propaganda, but by the time he directed it in 1945, John Ford had experienced war first-hand. As a result, he brought a solemn sense of purpose to the story of a PT Boat squadron leader and the defenders of the Philippines. The resulting film is a somber, poetic study of courage, loneliness, and sacrifice. In addition to Ford, a number of the men in the cast and crew had just returned from combat, lending the film a palpable authenticity. The performances are first-rate, the photography by Joseph August is crisp and immediate, but it is clearly John Ford's picture ¿ his eloquent authority colors every frame of the film. They Were Expendable is not only a great war movie, it shares with other Ford pictures like The Grapes of Wrath (1940) the universal themes of dignity, loyalty, and strength during grief.

As its title suggests, They Were Expendable does not try to push the same buttons as most war movies made during wartime. There are no stirring patriotic speeches about God and Country, no overt references to the home front and those waiting and praying for the soldier's safe return, and no depictions of the enemy as sub-human and godless. In fact, in They Were Expendable we never see a Japanese soldier - just the distanced enemy ships and a healthy respect for the power of their advance. Ford keeps the film focused on the men of the squadron and their duty and responsibility. If the result is a film that plays as somber and downbeat, Ford was unapologetic. As he told Peter Bogdanovich, "I despise happy endings - with a kiss at the finish - I've never done that. Of course, they were glorious in defeat in the Philippines - they kept on fighting."

Filming started February 1, 1945, Ford's 51st birthday. The location was Key Biscayne, Florida, which was a substitute for the actual Philippines. The Navy supplied actual PT boats for the filming and Navy officers would stop by occasionally to watch the filming. Robert Montgomery was able to draw on his activity as an actual PT commander at Guadalcanal and Normandy and Ford poured a lot of himself into the film as well. John Wayne said Ford "was awfully intense on that picture and working with more concentration than I had ever seen. I think he was really out to achieve something."

Near the end of filming, Ford broke his leg when he fell 20 feet off a scaffold. During his absence Robert Montgomery directed the remaining scenes, even though Ford had publicly upbraided him earlier for trying to suggest a different way to handle a scene. Montgomery wasn't the only future director observing Ford at work. John Wayne already had ideas for a film about the Alamo and was learning film technique from Ford, and future director Blake Edwards was an extra, playing a crewman aboard one of the boats. The postproduction work on They Were Expendable was performed while Ford was away in Washington and didn't sit well with him at all; in particular, he objected to some of the heavy music added (though you can still hear Ford's signature tune, "Red River Valley").

The acting in the film is naturalistic and convincing. That Robert Montgomery's technique is invisible should come as no surprise, as he had already spent years in the Navy as a PT boat commander. James Agee called his performance "sober, light, [and] sure... the one perfection to turn up in movies during the year." John Wayne, Ward Bond, and other Ford stalwarts also turn in solid work, occasionally providing welcome moments of humor and camaraderie. Donna Reed brings great humanity to a role in which she is not only required to be the quasi-love interest, but also personify civility and femininity in the desolate locale.

They Were Expendable features some exciting and well-staged action sequences in which the speed and agility of the PT boats are convincingly displayed. Ford does not alter his shooting style for these scenes, whether it's a night raid or an airplane attack drenched in sunlight; Joseph August's photography is sharp and precise, Ford's attention is unblinking, and there is beauty even in the sprays of water erupting around the darting boats. The compositions are just as thoughtfully shot for every other type of scene - from a touching formal dinner party in a jungle hut, to the squadron visiting a dying skipper in a blackened Corregidor hospital corridor, to an impromptu funeral service in a remote island chapel - one powerful and poignant visual follows another.

Although it depicted events that had occurred only a few years earlier, They Were Expendable has immediacy and a documentary feel brought about by Ford's fresh exposure to the war. It was released on December 7, 1945, but with the war dying down, it was not as big a hit as expected. It did receive two Oscar® nominations for Best Sound and Best Special Effects. It also became entangled in two lawsuits. Commander Robert Kelly (the basis for John Wayne's character) sued MGM for libel and was awarded $3,000. Lieutenant Beulah Greenwalt (played by Donna Reed) said the portrayal of her in a fictitious romance was damaging and an invasion of privacy; she was awarded $290,000. Despite these setbacks, They Were Expendable is now recognized as one of the best war films and a high point in the careers of everybody involved with it.

by John Miller & Lang Thompson
The Essentials (5/28) - They Were Expendable

The Essentials (5/28) - THEY WERE EXPENDABLE

SYNOPSIS They Were Expendable is based on the real-life heroics of PT Boat squadron leader John Bulkeley, and the defense of the Philippines from December 1941 through April 1942. During World War II, Lt. Brickley and Lt. Ryan put on a demonstration of PT Boat speed and maneuverability in combat for the top Navy brass. The Lieutenant and his commanding officer are frustrated that the PT boat squadron is assigned unimportant duties, even after Pearl Harbor and a Japanese attack on their base in Manila Bay. Lt. Ryan is wounded in the skirmish and sent to sick bay in Corregidor, where he recovers under the care of an attractive nurse, Lt. Davys. Despite a strong mutual attraction, the couple must face an inevitable separation due to their orders and the advancing Japanese troops. Director: John Ford Producers: John Ford, Cliff Reid Screenplay: Frank Wead Based on the book by William L. White Cinematography: Joseph H. August Costume Design: Yvonne Wood Film Editing: Douglass Biggs, Frank E. Hull Art Direction: Malcolm Brown, Cedric Gibbons Original Music: Earl K. Brent, Herbert Stothart Makeup: Jack Dawn Cast: Robert Montgomery (Lt. John Brickley), John Wayne (Lt. J.G. "Rusty" Ryan), Donna Reed (Lt. Sandy Davys), Cameron Mitchell (Ensign George Cross), Jack Holt (General Martin), Ward Bond (Boots Mulcahey), Marshall Thompson (Ens. Snake Gardner). BW-135m. Why WERE EXPENDABLE is Essential They Were Expendable was conceived by MGM and the Navy in 1942 as a vehicle for wartime propaganda, but by the time he directed it in 1945, John Ford had experienced war first-hand. As a result, he brought a solemn sense of purpose to the story of a PT Boat squadron leader and the defenders of the Philippines. The resulting film is a somber, poetic study of courage, loneliness, and sacrifice. In addition to Ford, a number of the men in the cast and crew had just returned from combat, lending the film a palpable authenticity. The performances are first-rate, the photography by Joseph August is crisp and immediate, but it is clearly John Ford's picture ¿ his eloquent authority colors every frame of the film. They Were Expendable is not only a great war movie, it shares with other Ford pictures like The Grapes of Wrath (1940) the universal themes of dignity, loyalty, and strength during grief. As its title suggests, They Were Expendable does not try to push the same buttons as most war movies made during wartime. There are no stirring patriotic speeches about God and Country, no overt references to the home front and those waiting and praying for the soldier's safe return, and no depictions of the enemy as sub-human and godless. In fact, in They Were Expendable we never see a Japanese soldier - just the distanced enemy ships and a healthy respect for the power of their advance. Ford keeps the film focused on the men of the squadron and their duty and responsibility. If the result is a film that plays as somber and downbeat, Ford was unapologetic. As he told Peter Bogdanovich, "I despise happy endings - with a kiss at the finish - I've never done that. Of course, they were glorious in defeat in the Philippines - they kept on fighting." Filming started February 1, 1945, Ford's 51st birthday. The location was Key Biscayne, Florida, which was a substitute for the actual Philippines. The Navy supplied actual PT boats for the filming and Navy officers would stop by occasionally to watch the filming. Robert Montgomery was able to draw on his activity as an actual PT commander at Guadalcanal and Normandy and Ford poured a lot of himself into the film as well. John Wayne said Ford "was awfully intense on that picture and working with more concentration than I had ever seen. I think he was really out to achieve something." Near the end of filming, Ford broke his leg when he fell 20 feet off a scaffold. During his absence Robert Montgomery directed the remaining scenes, even though Ford had publicly upbraided him earlier for trying to suggest a different way to handle a scene. Montgomery wasn't the only future director observing Ford at work. John Wayne already had ideas for a film about the Alamo and was learning film technique from Ford, and future director Blake Edwards was an extra, playing a crewman aboard one of the boats. The postproduction work on They Were Expendable was performed while Ford was away in Washington and didn't sit well with him at all; in particular, he objected to some of the heavy music added (though you can still hear Ford's signature tune, "Red River Valley"). The acting in the film is naturalistic and convincing. That Robert Montgomery's technique is invisible should come as no surprise, as he had already spent years in the Navy as a PT boat commander. James Agee called his performance "sober, light, [and] sure... the one perfection to turn up in movies during the year." John Wayne, Ward Bond, and other Ford stalwarts also turn in solid work, occasionally providing welcome moments of humor and camaraderie. Donna Reed brings great humanity to a role in which she is not only required to be the quasi-love interest, but also personify civility and femininity in the desolate locale. They Were Expendable features some exciting and well-staged action sequences in which the speed and agility of the PT boats are convincingly displayed. Ford does not alter his shooting style for these scenes, whether it's a night raid or an airplane attack drenched in sunlight; Joseph August's photography is sharp and precise, Ford's attention is unblinking, and there is beauty even in the sprays of water erupting around the darting boats. The compositions are just as thoughtfully shot for every other type of scene - from a touching formal dinner party in a jungle hut, to the squadron visiting a dying skipper in a blackened Corregidor hospital corridor, to an impromptu funeral service in a remote island chapel - one powerful and poignant visual follows another. Although it depicted events that had occurred only a few years earlier, They Were Expendable has immediacy and a documentary feel brought about by Ford's fresh exposure to the war. It was released on December 7, 1945, but with the war dying down, it was not as big a hit as expected. It did receive two Oscar® nominations for Best Sound and Best Special Effects. It also became entangled in two lawsuits. Commander Robert Kelly (the basis for John Wayne's character) sued MGM for libel and was awarded $3,000. Lieutenant Beulah Greenwalt (played by Donna Reed) said the portrayal of her in a fictitious romance was damaging and an invasion of privacy; she was awarded $290,000. Despite these setbacks, They Were Expendable is now recognized as one of the best war films and a high point in the careers of everybody involved with it. by John Miller & Lang Thompson

Pop Culture (5/28) - THEY WERE EXPENDABLE


Pop Culture 101 - THEY WERE EXPENDABle

John Ford was a long-time friend of screenwriter Frank "Spig" Wead who wrote the screenplay for They Were Expendable. Wead had a colorful career, first as a Navy test pilot and later as a writer. He was one of the earliest proponents for military aviation, beginning before WWI. After serving in the War, he set many flying records for speed, duration, and distance ¿ all intended to push the design limits of Navy aircraft. In 1926 he broke his neck and was paralyzed, so he turned to writing for the screen. In this capacity he continued to tout military aviation, and he had a hand in the story or screenplay for almost every movie on the subject for almost 20 years, including Airmail (1932), Ceiling Zero (1936), Test Pilot (1938), I Wanted Wings (1941), and Dive Bomber (1941). Ford would later direct Wead's life story as The Wings of Eagles (1957), with John Wayne as Wead and Ward Bond as a movie director based on Ford.

They Were Expendable turned out to be the next-to-the-last film for cinematographer Joseph H. August, a two-time Oscar® nominee whose career of nearly 150 films stretched back to 1912. He died during the filming of Portrait of Jennie in 1947.

Although Ford was later to complain about the "heavy" scoring of They Were Expendable, even saying that he would have preferred almost no music at all, Herbert Stothart provided a varied, evocative score. In the tradition of several other Ford movies, it is peppered with snatches of popular tunes. "Anchors Aweigh", "My Country `Tis of Thee" and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" are heard, as is one of Ford's favorite folk tunes, "Red River Valley."

by John Miller

Pop Culture (5/28) - THEY WERE EXPENDABLE

Pop Culture 101 - THEY WERE EXPENDABle John Ford was a long-time friend of screenwriter Frank "Spig" Wead who wrote the screenplay for They Were Expendable. Wead had a colorful career, first as a Navy test pilot and later as a writer. He was one of the earliest proponents for military aviation, beginning before WWI. After serving in the War, he set many flying records for speed, duration, and distance ¿ all intended to push the design limits of Navy aircraft. In 1926 he broke his neck and was paralyzed, so he turned to writing for the screen. In this capacity he continued to tout military aviation, and he had a hand in the story or screenplay for almost every movie on the subject for almost 20 years, including Airmail (1932), Ceiling Zero (1936), Test Pilot (1938), I Wanted Wings (1941), and Dive Bomber (1941). Ford would later direct Wead's life story as The Wings of Eagles (1957), with John Wayne as Wead and Ward Bond as a movie director based on Ford. They Were Expendable turned out to be the next-to-the-last film for cinematographer Joseph H. August, a two-time Oscar® nominee whose career of nearly 150 films stretched back to 1912. He died during the filming of Portrait of Jennie in 1947. Although Ford was later to complain about the "heavy" scoring of They Were Expendable, even saying that he would have preferred almost no music at all, Herbert Stothart provided a varied, evocative score. In the tradition of several other Ford movies, it is peppered with snatches of popular tunes. "Anchors Aweigh", "My Country `Tis of Thee" and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" are heard, as is one of Ford's favorite folk tunes, "Red River Valley." by John Miller

Trivia (5/28) - THEY WERE EXPENDABLE


Trivia & Other Fun Stuff on THEY WERE EXPENDABLE

John Ford cast They Were Expendable himself, and as usual, had a part in mind for one of his regular players, Ward Bond. Shortly before shooting, however, Bond was struck by a car and almost incapacitated. Ford had the script altered so that Bond could maneuver through parts of the picture on crutches.

Robert Montgomery, who got his first chance to direct when Ford injured his leg on the set of They Were Expendable, went on to helm such features as Lady in the Lake (1947) and Ride the Pink Horse (1947). Montgomery wasn't the only future director observing Ford at work. John Wayne already had ideas for a film about the Alamo and was learning film technique from Ford, and future director Blake Edwards plays a crewman aboard one of the boats.

MGM had planned to release They Were Expendable in September 1945, but the Japanese surrendered aboard the battleship Missouri on September 2nd. Avoiding the awkward timing, MGM delayed the release until December 7th, the fourth anniversary of Pearl Harbor.

They Were Expendable became entangled in two lawsuits. Commander Robert Kelly (the basis for John Wayne's character) sued MGM for libel and was awarded $3,000. Lieutenant Beulah Greenwalt (played by Donna Reed) said the portrayal of her in a fictitious romance was damaging and an invasion of privacy; she was awarded $290,000.

John Ford was concerned about appearing to profit from a commercial film during wartime, so he had his salary go to a recreation center for the 180 veterans of his Field Photographic Unit. At a cost of $225,000 he bought a twenty acre estate in the San Fernando Valley. The resulting Field Photo Farm was active from 1946 to 1966.

by John Miller

Famous Quotes from THEY WERE EXPENDABLE

Lt. Ryan (John Wayne) to Lt. Brickley (Robert Montgomery): It's wonderful the way people believe in those high powered canoes of yours.

Lt. Brickley: So you're really quitting the squadron, eh, Rusty?
Lt. Ryan: You can't build a Navy reputation riding a plywood dream.
Lt. Brickley: What're you aiming at - building a reputation, or playing for the team?

Admiral (Charles Trowbridge) to Lt. Brickley: Listen, son. You and I are professionals. If the manager says `Sacrifice,' we lay down the bunt and let somebody else hit the home run. Our job is to lay down that sacrifice. That's what we were trained for and that's what we'll do.

Sandy (Donna Reed): You'd better lie down and take it easy; you've got a temperature of 103.
Lt. Ryan: So I've heard.
Sandy: You Navy boys always run about two degrees above normal - must be that time you spend at sea.
Lt. Ryan (angrily): What is your rank?
Sandy: 2nd Lieutenant.
Lt. Ryan: Well I'm a J.G., so watch your language.
Sandy: Oh, I thought you were a motorcycle cop. Despite your gold braid, you don't tell us - we tell you. So lie down.

Lt. Brickley (to men in his Squadron assigned to the Army): You're a swell bunch. I'm glad to have been able to serve with you. I'd like to be able to tell you that we were going out to bring back help, but that wouldn't be the truth. We're going down the line to do a job, and you're going to Bataan with the Army. That isn't what you've been trained for, but they need your help. You older men with longer service records, take care of the kids. Maybe...That's all. God bless you.

Old Trader (guarding his post from the oncoming Japanese): I've worked forty years for this, son. If I leave it they'll have to carry me out.

Admiral: I have orders to fly you and Ryan to Australia.
Lt. Ryan: Why us? We're just a couple of snotty Lieutenants.
Admiral: You men have proved the PT Boats have some value in this war. Washington wants you back in the States to build them up.
Lt. Brickley: What about the men?
Admiral: There isn't room for them.

Lt. Brickley (to ensign as they take last plane out): Look, son, we're going home to do a job. And that job is to get ready to come back. Check?

Compiled by John Miller

Trivia (5/28) - THEY WERE EXPENDABLE

Trivia & Other Fun Stuff on THEY WERE EXPENDABLE John Ford cast They Were Expendable himself, and as usual, had a part in mind for one of his regular players, Ward Bond. Shortly before shooting, however, Bond was struck by a car and almost incapacitated. Ford had the script altered so that Bond could maneuver through parts of the picture on crutches. Robert Montgomery, who got his first chance to direct when Ford injured his leg on the set of They Were Expendable, went on to helm such features as Lady in the Lake (1947) and Ride the Pink Horse (1947). Montgomery wasn't the only future director observing Ford at work. John Wayne already had ideas for a film about the Alamo and was learning film technique from Ford, and future director Blake Edwards plays a crewman aboard one of the boats. MGM had planned to release They Were Expendable in September 1945, but the Japanese surrendered aboard the battleship Missouri on September 2nd. Avoiding the awkward timing, MGM delayed the release until December 7th, the fourth anniversary of Pearl Harbor. They Were Expendable became entangled in two lawsuits. Commander Robert Kelly (the basis for John Wayne's character) sued MGM for libel and was awarded $3,000. Lieutenant Beulah Greenwalt (played by Donna Reed) said the portrayal of her in a fictitious romance was damaging and an invasion of privacy; she was awarded $290,000. John Ford was concerned about appearing to profit from a commercial film during wartime, so he had his salary go to a recreation center for the 180 veterans of his Field Photographic Unit. At a cost of $225,000 he bought a twenty acre estate in the San Fernando Valley. The resulting Field Photo Farm was active from 1946 to 1966. by John Miller Famous Quotes from THEY WERE EXPENDABLE Lt. Ryan (John Wayne) to Lt. Brickley (Robert Montgomery): It's wonderful the way people believe in those high powered canoes of yours. Lt. Brickley: So you're really quitting the squadron, eh, Rusty? Lt. Ryan: You can't build a Navy reputation riding a plywood dream. Lt. Brickley: What're you aiming at - building a reputation, or playing for the team? Admiral (Charles Trowbridge) to Lt. Brickley: Listen, son. You and I are professionals. If the manager says `Sacrifice,' we lay down the bunt and let somebody else hit the home run. Our job is to lay down that sacrifice. That's what we were trained for and that's what we'll do. Sandy (Donna Reed): You'd better lie down and take it easy; you've got a temperature of 103. Lt. Ryan: So I've heard. Sandy: You Navy boys always run about two degrees above normal - must be that time you spend at sea. Lt. Ryan (angrily): What is your rank? Sandy: 2nd Lieutenant. Lt. Ryan: Well I'm a J.G., so watch your language. Sandy: Oh, I thought you were a motorcycle cop. Despite your gold braid, you don't tell us - we tell you. So lie down. Lt. Brickley (to men in his Squadron assigned to the Army): You're a swell bunch. I'm glad to have been able to serve with you. I'd like to be able to tell you that we were going out to bring back help, but that wouldn't be the truth. We're going down the line to do a job, and you're going to Bataan with the Army. That isn't what you've been trained for, but they need your help. You older men with longer service records, take care of the kids. Maybe...That's all. God bless you. Old Trader (guarding his post from the oncoming Japanese): I've worked forty years for this, son. If I leave it they'll have to carry me out. Admiral: I have orders to fly you and Ryan to Australia. Lt. Ryan: Why us? We're just a couple of snotty Lieutenants. Admiral: You men have proved the PT Boats have some value in this war. Washington wants you back in the States to build them up. Lt. Brickley: What about the men? Admiral: There isn't room for them. Lt. Brickley (to ensign as they take last plane out): Look, son, we're going home to do a job. And that job is to get ready to come back. Check? Compiled by John Miller

The Big Idea (5/28) - THEY WERE EXPENDABLE


The Big Idea Behind THEY WERE EXPENDABLE

Director John Ford had the desire to start a motion picture unit for the upcoming war effort well before the United States entered WWII. After initial resistance, the Navy accepted Ford and his volunteer cameramen and editors as a reserve unit and broke them up into several combat camera teams. In time, John Ford was a captain in the Navy Photographic Field Unit, and won Oscars® for his documentaries The Battle of Midway (1942) and December 7th (1943). Ford personally saw action on several important front lines. In addition to Midway (where he was wounded and won a Purple Heart), Ford was with the Doolittle squadron in raids over Tokyo, filmed battles on Marcus Island and Wotje, and took part in the invasion of North Africa.

In 1942, MGM purchased the film rights to the then-current bestseller They Were Expendable, written by William L. White. Jim McGuinness was the executive put in charge of the project. He had the wisdom to hire Frank "Spig" Wead to write the screenplay. Wead had been one of the biggest proponents of military aviation, first through his test flights for the Navy, and later through stories and screenplays for motion pictures. He was also good friends with John Ford, the director that McGuinness hoped to persuade to direct They Were Expendable. White's book was dry and straightforward, composed primarily of interviews with John Bulkeley and other principal PT boat officers. Wead's script gave the story a grandeur and poignancy. Now McGuinness had the task of persuading Navy officer Ford to direct the picture.

McGuinness and Wead flew to Washington D.C. to make the offer to Ford, and convince him that the Navy picture would be as great a service to the country as his war documentaries had been. Ford was unconvinced and didn't want to take a leave of absence while his Field Photographic Unit was busy in many far-flung, dangerous locations. He was also worried about taking the salary for the work with MGM. Meanwhile, Eddie Mannix, the MGM production manager, had another writer, Sidney Franklin, do rewrites on Wead's script. Ford thought the new script weakened the intensity of the story, and used it as an excuse to back out of the project. In addition, he had a new Navy assignment in August of 1943 and was shipped off to the Far East Theater.

When Ford returned to California in March of 1944, McGuinness again took up the cause. According to Dan Ford's biography of his grandfather, McGuinness told Ford that the depiction of Bulkeley and the PT boats would be "...part of America's heroic tradition. It's like the Alamo or Valley Forge. It would be like recreating a great moment of history while it's still fresh in people's minds. It would be available for our youth, generation after generation." The pleadings were still in vain - Ford was not swayed.

In April 1944, Ford left for London and preparations to film the upcoming secret D-Day invasion. The head of the London branch of the Field Photographic Unit was Mark Armistead - he and his men had been photographing the beaches of Normandy for months. Helping the reconnaissance effort, as the officer in charge of the English Channel squadron of PT boats, was none other than John Bulkeley! In a now famous incident, Armistead brought Bulkeley to Ford's hotel to introduce the two men. Ford had been asleep, but when he learned who had just stepped into his room, he leapt to his feet to salute the Medal of Honor recipient - without a stitch of clothing on.

Two months later, Ford found himself on the U.S.S. Augusta as part of the great armada that took part in the Normandy invasion. He wanted to get closer to the combat, and had Armistead and Bulkeley pick him up in their PT boat. They patrolled the beachheads, including Omaha Beach where some of the thickest fighting occurred. Ford spent five days on the patrol, and developed a rapport with Bulkeley. Dan Ford described the irony: "Here he was at Normandy with John Bulkeley, the subject of a best-selling book that half the people he respected in Hollywood wanted him to make into a film. But he wasn't making that film because he was too busy fighting the war - with Bulkeley!"

Experiencing the war side-by-side with Bulkeley convinced Ford to finally direct They Were Expendable. Upon his return to Los Angeles, he told McGuinness he would start, as long as he could throw out the latest version of the script and have Wead do the revisions instead. The producer agreed, and Ford went on detached duty from the Navy in October 1944. After two years of uncertainty and delays, shooting began on February 1st, 1945. That day was also John Ford's fifty-first birthday.

by John Miller

The Big Idea (5/28) - THEY WERE EXPENDABLE

The Big Idea Behind THEY WERE EXPENDABLE Director John Ford had the desire to start a motion picture unit for the upcoming war effort well before the United States entered WWII. After initial resistance, the Navy accepted Ford and his volunteer cameramen and editors as a reserve unit and broke them up into several combat camera teams. In time, John Ford was a captain in the Navy Photographic Field Unit, and won Oscars® for his documentaries The Battle of Midway (1942) and December 7th (1943). Ford personally saw action on several important front lines. In addition to Midway (where he was wounded and won a Purple Heart), Ford was with the Doolittle squadron in raids over Tokyo, filmed battles on Marcus Island and Wotje, and took part in the invasion of North Africa. In 1942, MGM purchased the film rights to the then-current bestseller They Were Expendable, written by William L. White. Jim McGuinness was the executive put in charge of the project. He had the wisdom to hire Frank "Spig" Wead to write the screenplay. Wead had been one of the biggest proponents of military aviation, first through his test flights for the Navy, and later through stories and screenplays for motion pictures. He was also good friends with John Ford, the director that McGuinness hoped to persuade to direct They Were Expendable. White's book was dry and straightforward, composed primarily of interviews with John Bulkeley and other principal PT boat officers. Wead's script gave the story a grandeur and poignancy. Now McGuinness had the task of persuading Navy officer Ford to direct the picture. McGuinness and Wead flew to Washington D.C. to make the offer to Ford, and convince him that the Navy picture would be as great a service to the country as his war documentaries had been. Ford was unconvinced and didn't want to take a leave of absence while his Field Photographic Unit was busy in many far-flung, dangerous locations. He was also worried about taking the salary for the work with MGM. Meanwhile, Eddie Mannix, the MGM production manager, had another writer, Sidney Franklin, do rewrites on Wead's script. Ford thought the new script weakened the intensity of the story, and used it as an excuse to back out of the project. In addition, he had a new Navy assignment in August of 1943 and was shipped off to the Far East Theater. When Ford returned to California in March of 1944, McGuinness again took up the cause. According to Dan Ford's biography of his grandfather, McGuinness told Ford that the depiction of Bulkeley and the PT boats would be "...part of America's heroic tradition. It's like the Alamo or Valley Forge. It would be like recreating a great moment of history while it's still fresh in people's minds. It would be available for our youth, generation after generation." The pleadings were still in vain - Ford was not swayed. In April 1944, Ford left for London and preparations to film the upcoming secret D-Day invasion. The head of the London branch of the Field Photographic Unit was Mark Armistead - he and his men had been photographing the beaches of Normandy for months. Helping the reconnaissance effort, as the officer in charge of the English Channel squadron of PT boats, was none other than John Bulkeley! In a now famous incident, Armistead brought Bulkeley to Ford's hotel to introduce the two men. Ford had been asleep, but when he learned who had just stepped into his room, he leapt to his feet to salute the Medal of Honor recipient - without a stitch of clothing on. Two months later, Ford found himself on the U.S.S. Augusta as part of the great armada that took part in the Normandy invasion. He wanted to get closer to the combat, and had Armistead and Bulkeley pick him up in their PT boat. They patrolled the beachheads, including Omaha Beach where some of the thickest fighting occurred. Ford spent five days on the patrol, and developed a rapport with Bulkeley. Dan Ford described the irony: "Here he was at Normandy with John Bulkeley, the subject of a best-selling book that half the people he respected in Hollywood wanted him to make into a film. But he wasn't making that film because he was too busy fighting the war - with Bulkeley!" Experiencing the war side-by-side with Bulkeley convinced Ford to finally direct They Were Expendable. Upon his return to Los Angeles, he told McGuinness he would start, as long as he could throw out the latest version of the script and have Wead do the revisions instead. The producer agreed, and Ford went on detached duty from the Navy in October 1944. After two years of uncertainty and delays, shooting began on February 1st, 1945. That day was also John Ford's fifty-first birthday. by John Miller

Behind the Camera (5/28) - THEY WERE EXPENDABLE


Behind the Camera on THEY WERE EXPENDABLE (1945)

The filming location for They Were Expendable was Key Biscayne, Florida, with a lot of design and set work giving it a passable resemblance to the Philippines. The Navy supplied actual PT boats to the company and Navy officers would stop by occasionally to watch the filming. Robert Montgomery was able to draw on his activity as an actual PT commander (at Guadalcanal and Normandy), as could Jim Havens, one of the second unit directors and the film's explosives expert. Perhaps due to his cumulative experiences in the war, Ford poured a lot of himself into the filming. John Wayne said Ford "was awfully intense on that picture and working with more concentration than I had ever seen. I think he was really out to achieve something."

Ford was quick to show newcomers to his set who was in control. Robert Montgomery would later direct some fine films, but he received an amusing rebuke from Ford early in the shooting for They Were Expendable after suggesting a different way to compose a shot. Ford listened, then made the shot Montgomery's way. Asking if he thought it went well, Montgomery replied that the shot went fine. Ford asked, "Did you really like it?" and Montgomery replied that he did. Ford then opened the camera, yanked the film out, and handed it to his actor, saying, "Here - take it home with you."

John Wayne later recalled the re-creation of an intense chapter in Navy history, the evacuation of General MacArthur and his family from the Philippines. As Wayne related, "there were a number of top Navy brass at the location, and there were quite a few disparaging remarks like `This is where the old bastard ran out' and that sort of thing. But by God, when the scene started and the guy who was playing MacArthur walked out... you could see the look in their eyes change. Jack had created such a sense of awe that even among these Navy men there was a feeling of respect for this man."

Since Ford had surrounded himself with so many fellow Navy personnel during the filming, Wayne, being a civilian, felt out of place at times. In particular, he perceived a favoritism occurring on the set regarding his co-star. As he later said, "Bob Montgomery was [Ford's] pet on that picture. He could do no wrong. ...Jack picked on me all the way through it. He kept calling me a `clumsy bastard' and a `big oaf' and kept telling me that I `moved like an ox'."

Screenwriter and Ford pal Frank Wead was kept close at hand for any required rewrites, as Ford would delight in changing scenes or taking advantage of breaks. One day a fire broke out on nearby Key Biscayne, so Ford sent a second unit there to film it for the attack on Manila Bay. "Ford was always taking unexpected shots, like this one of Manila burning," Wayne later remembered. "He would use any situation that developed. If it was raining when the script did not call for rain, he shot it in the rain and changed the script. He had this blueprint, sure, but he was always looking to change it."

Near the end of filming, Ford broke his leg when he fell 20 feet off a scaffold. While Ford spent two weeks in traction in the hospital, Robert Montgomery directed the remaining scenes - mainly inserts for the battle sequences. When shooting wrapped, Ford returned to his Field Photographic Unit in Europe, just in time to cross the Rhine with Allied forces at war's end. Ford left the post-production and scoring of They Were Expendable to others. He later objected to some of the "heavy music" added, but the leisurely, assured pace of the editing is clearly in keeping with Ford's wishes.

By the time They Were Expendable was finished the Japanese had surrendered, so MGM pushed the release date back to December 1945. With the war over, the film opened to enthusiastic reviews but low turnout at the box office. As John Wayne later said, "People had seen eight million war stories by the time the picture came out, and they were tired of them."

by John Miller

Behind the Camera (5/28) - THEY WERE EXPENDABLE

Behind the Camera on THEY WERE EXPENDABLE (1945) The filming location for They Were Expendable was Key Biscayne, Florida, with a lot of design and set work giving it a passable resemblance to the Philippines. The Navy supplied actual PT boats to the company and Navy officers would stop by occasionally to watch the filming. Robert Montgomery was able to draw on his activity as an actual PT commander (at Guadalcanal and Normandy), as could Jim Havens, one of the second unit directors and the film's explosives expert. Perhaps due to his cumulative experiences in the war, Ford poured a lot of himself into the filming. John Wayne said Ford "was awfully intense on that picture and working with more concentration than I had ever seen. I think he was really out to achieve something." Ford was quick to show newcomers to his set who was in control. Robert Montgomery would later direct some fine films, but he received an amusing rebuke from Ford early in the shooting for They Were Expendable after suggesting a different way to compose a shot. Ford listened, then made the shot Montgomery's way. Asking if he thought it went well, Montgomery replied that the shot went fine. Ford asked, "Did you really like it?" and Montgomery replied that he did. Ford then opened the camera, yanked the film out, and handed it to his actor, saying, "Here - take it home with you." John Wayne later recalled the re-creation of an intense chapter in Navy history, the evacuation of General MacArthur and his family from the Philippines. As Wayne related, "there were a number of top Navy brass at the location, and there were quite a few disparaging remarks like `This is where the old bastard ran out' and that sort of thing. But by God, when the scene started and the guy who was playing MacArthur walked out... you could see the look in their eyes change. Jack had created such a sense of awe that even among these Navy men there was a feeling of respect for this man." Since Ford had surrounded himself with so many fellow Navy personnel during the filming, Wayne, being a civilian, felt out of place at times. In particular, he perceived a favoritism occurring on the set regarding his co-star. As he later said, "Bob Montgomery was [Ford's] pet on that picture. He could do no wrong. ...Jack picked on me all the way through it. He kept calling me a `clumsy bastard' and a `big oaf' and kept telling me that I `moved like an ox'." Screenwriter and Ford pal Frank Wead was kept close at hand for any required rewrites, as Ford would delight in changing scenes or taking advantage of breaks. One day a fire broke out on nearby Key Biscayne, so Ford sent a second unit there to film it for the attack on Manila Bay. "Ford was always taking unexpected shots, like this one of Manila burning," Wayne later remembered. "He would use any situation that developed. If it was raining when the script did not call for rain, he shot it in the rain and changed the script. He had this blueprint, sure, but he was always looking to change it." Near the end of filming, Ford broke his leg when he fell 20 feet off a scaffold. While Ford spent two weeks in traction in the hospital, Robert Montgomery directed the remaining scenes - mainly inserts for the battle sequences. When shooting wrapped, Ford returned to his Field Photographic Unit in Europe, just in time to cross the Rhine with Allied forces at war's end. Ford left the post-production and scoring of They Were Expendable to others. He later objected to some of the "heavy music" added, but the leisurely, assured pace of the editing is clearly in keeping with Ford's wishes. By the time They Were Expendable was finished the Japanese had surrendered, so MGM pushed the release date back to December 1945. With the war over, the film opened to enthusiastic reviews but low turnout at the box office. As John Wayne later said, "People had seen eight million war stories by the time the picture came out, and they were tired of them." by John Miller

The Critics Corner (5/28) - THEY WERE EXPENDABLE


The Critics' Corner on THEY WERE EXPENDABLE

"The most thrilling and electrifying passages in the film are those which show the torpedo-boat action - the midgets closing boldly on their prey, slamming their 'fish' out of the raked tubes then wheeling around in their white wakes, Mr. Ford and his watchful photographers have caught battle action at the full, even to the dying appearance of spent cartridge cases on the decks. But the drama and essence of the story are most movingly refined in those scenes which compose the pattern of bravery and pathos implicit in the tale. Mr. Ford, and apparently his scriptwriter, Frank Wead, have a deep and true regard for men who stick to their business for no other purpose than to do their jobs. To hold on with dignity and courage, to improvise when resources fail and to face the inevitable without flinching - those are the things which they have shown us how men do. Mr. Ford has made another picture which, in spirit, recalls his 'Lost Patrol.' It is nostalgic, warm with sentiment and full of fight in every foot." - Bosley Crowther, The New York Times, December 26, 1945.

"Produced and photographed excellently, it's highly interesting if too long. Regardless of any actual or supposed reaction against war films, this one is virtually certain to go over big. It has as a box-office aspect in the fact that the book on which it's based was a bestseller. Also, it's the first pic for Robert Montgomery since he was mustered out of the Navy, with which he served as a lieutenant-commander...The battle scenes in which the P-Ts go after Jap cruisers and supply ships were exceptionally well directed and photographed...Running time of 135 minutes could have been cut way down." Char., Variety, November 21, 1945.

"For what seems at least half of the dogged, devoted length of They Were Expendable all you have to watch is men getting on or off PT boats, and other men watching them do so. But this is made so beautiful and so real that I could not feel one foot of the film was wasted. The rest of the time the picture is showing nothing much newer, with no particular depth of feeling, much less idea; but, again, the whole thing is so beautifully directed and photographed, in such an abundance of vigorous open air and good raw sunlight, that I thoroughly enjoyed and admired it. Visually, and in detail, and in nearly everything he does with people, I think it is John Ford's finest movie." James Agee, The Nation, January 5, 1946.

"Ford...has framed sequence after sequence with such consummate skill and knowledge that one is given a key to recent conflict as well as a fiercely moving account of that conflict. [The film] is way up in the top brackets of movie making...The actors have obviously had something to do with this. Montgomery is especially striking as the commander of the expendable little squadron¿ He plays with a quiet authority which always defines a scene in its human aspects. John Wayne is excellent as another skipper and so are too many performers to list here..." Howard Barnes, New York Herald Tribune, December, 1945.

"...the film is not flag-waving propaganda or hero worship. It does have an almost reverential attitude toward the armed services...At the same time, though, Ford is aiming for a degree of realism that films made earlier in the war lacked...If John Wayne and Donna Reed have the most emotional dramatic moments, the film rests on Robert Montgomery's understated work. When the film was made, Montgomery had just left the Navy. Perhaps that experience gives him the aura of quiet conviction that provides the balance to Wayne's louder, more bellicose character. Ford works with the difference between the two throughout, but brings it to the surface only in the final scene, where he plays against all of the audience's heroic expectations. It's an unusual conclusion to an unusually complex film." - Mike Mayo, Videohound's War Movies: Classic Conflict on Film.

"The tugs of docudrama, emotionalism and sheer timing produced a major work of surprisingly downbeat romanticism...A curious movie, whose premises Ford would obsessively rework in his subsequent cavalry pictures, with the luxury of historical distance." - Paul Taylor, TimeOut Film Guide.

Awards and Honors:

The film received only two Academy Award Nominations in lesser categories: Best Special Effects and Best Sound Recording.

by John Miller

The Critics Corner (5/28) - THEY WERE EXPENDABLE

The Critics' Corner on THEY WERE EXPENDABLE "The most thrilling and electrifying passages in the film are those which show the torpedo-boat action - the midgets closing boldly on their prey, slamming their 'fish' out of the raked tubes then wheeling around in their white wakes, Mr. Ford and his watchful photographers have caught battle action at the full, even to the dying appearance of spent cartridge cases on the decks. But the drama and essence of the story are most movingly refined in those scenes which compose the pattern of bravery and pathos implicit in the tale. Mr. Ford, and apparently his scriptwriter, Frank Wead, have a deep and true regard for men who stick to their business for no other purpose than to do their jobs. To hold on with dignity and courage, to improvise when resources fail and to face the inevitable without flinching - those are the things which they have shown us how men do. Mr. Ford has made another picture which, in spirit, recalls his 'Lost Patrol.' It is nostalgic, warm with sentiment and full of fight in every foot." - Bosley Crowther, The New York Times, December 26, 1945. "Produced and photographed excellently, it's highly interesting if too long. Regardless of any actual or supposed reaction against war films, this one is virtually certain to go over big. It has as a box-office aspect in the fact that the book on which it's based was a bestseller. Also, it's the first pic for Robert Montgomery since he was mustered out of the Navy, with which he served as a lieutenant-commander...The battle scenes in which the P-Ts go after Jap cruisers and supply ships were exceptionally well directed and photographed...Running time of 135 minutes could have been cut way down." Char., Variety, November 21, 1945. "For what seems at least half of the dogged, devoted length of They Were Expendable all you have to watch is men getting on or off PT boats, and other men watching them do so. But this is made so beautiful and so real that I could not feel one foot of the film was wasted. The rest of the time the picture is showing nothing much newer, with no particular depth of feeling, much less idea; but, again, the whole thing is so beautifully directed and photographed, in such an abundance of vigorous open air and good raw sunlight, that I thoroughly enjoyed and admired it. Visually, and in detail, and in nearly everything he does with people, I think it is John Ford's finest movie." James Agee, The Nation, January 5, 1946. "Ford...has framed sequence after sequence with such consummate skill and knowledge that one is given a key to recent conflict as well as a fiercely moving account of that conflict. [The film] is way up in the top brackets of movie making...The actors have obviously had something to do with this. Montgomery is especially striking as the commander of the expendable little squadron¿ He plays with a quiet authority which always defines a scene in its human aspects. John Wayne is excellent as another skipper and so are too many performers to list here..." Howard Barnes, New York Herald Tribune, December, 1945. "...the film is not flag-waving propaganda or hero worship. It does have an almost reverential attitude toward the armed services...At the same time, though, Ford is aiming for a degree of realism that films made earlier in the war lacked...If John Wayne and Donna Reed have the most emotional dramatic moments, the film rests on Robert Montgomery's understated work. When the film was made, Montgomery had just left the Navy. Perhaps that experience gives him the aura of quiet conviction that provides the balance to Wayne's louder, more bellicose character. Ford works with the difference between the two throughout, but brings it to the surface only in the final scene, where he plays against all of the audience's heroic expectations. It's an unusual conclusion to an unusually complex film." - Mike Mayo, Videohound's War Movies: Classic Conflict on Film. "The tugs of docudrama, emotionalism and sheer timing produced a major work of surprisingly downbeat romanticism...A curious movie, whose premises Ford would obsessively rework in his subsequent cavalry pictures, with the luxury of historical distance." - Paul Taylor, TimeOut Film Guide. Awards and Honors: The film received only two Academy Award Nominations in lesser categories: Best Special Effects and Best Sound Recording. by John Miller

They Were Expendable


Set at the start of World War II, They Were Expendable (1945) follows a PT boat captain (Robert Montgomery) and his commanding officer (John Wayne) as they try to convince the Navy that PT boats are in fact useful weapons, good for more than just the military equivalent of errands. Donna Reed provides a love interest while the cast is populated with several of director John Ford's regular actors such as Ward Bond. Even though They Were Expendable was created more or less as propaganda, the title clues you in that this won't be your usual war film. Ford told Peter Bogdanovich, "I despise happy endings - with a kiss at the finish - I've never done that. Of course, they were glorious in defeat in the Philippines - they kept on fighting."

The story behind They Were Expendable goes back to 1942 when MGM bought the rights to a best-selling book about PT boat commander John Bulkeley, a Medal of Honor recipient. When the time came to bring it to the screen, John Ford was already a captain in the Navy Photographic Field Unit, having won Oscars for The Battle of Midway (1942) and December 7th (1943). MGM and the Navy put Ford on leave in October 1944 so he could direct the film, even though he always insisted he didn't want to do it and was under orders. It helped that the writer was his old buddy, Frank "Spig" Wead (Ford would later direct Wead's life story as The Wings of Eagles, 1957), who really convinced Ford this movie would be a good deed for the war effort. Still concerned about appearing to profit from a commercial film during wartime, Ford had his salary go to a center for veterans of his unit, the Field Photo Farm, which was active from 1946 to 1966. Oddly enough, in the summer of 1944, while Ford was resisting making the film, he spent several days actually fighting alongside the real-life Bulkeley aboard a PT boat during the Normandy invasion.

Filming started February 1, 1945, Ford's 51st birthday. The location was Key Biscayne, Florida, with a lot of design and set work giving it a passable resemblance to the Phillippines. The Navy supplied actual PT boats for the filming and Navy officers would stop by occasionally to watch the filming. Robert Montgomery was able to draw on his activity as an actual PT commander at Guadalcanal and Normandy, as could one of the second unit directors. Perhaps due to his cumulative experiences in the war, Ford poured a lot of himself into the film. John Wayne said Ford "was awfully intense on that picture and working with more concentration than I had ever seen. I think he was really out to achieve something." Even with his reputation, Ford hadn't been allowed to use men from his photographic unit in the crew. They Were Expendable turned out to be the next-to-the-last film for cinematographer Joseph H. August, a two-time Oscar nominee whose career of nearly 150 films stretched back to 1912.

Near the end of filming, Ford broke his leg when he fell 20 feet off a scaffold. During his absence Robert Montgomery directed the remaining scenes, even though Ford had publicly upbraided him earlier for trying to suggest a different way to handle a scene. Montgomery wasn't the only future director observing Ford at work. John Wayne already had ideas for a film about the Alamo and was learning film technique from Ford, and future director Blake Edwards supposedly plays a crewman aboard one of the boats. The postproduction work on They Were Expendable was performed while Ford was away in Washington and didn't sit well with him at all; in particular, he objected to some of the heavy music added (though you can still hear Ford's signature tune, "Red River Valley").

The film was released on December 7, 1945, but with the war dying down, it was not as big a hit as expected. It did receive two Oscar nominations for Best Sound and Best Special Effects. It also became entangled in two lawsuits. Commander Robert Kelly (the basis for John Wayne's character) sued MGM for libel and was awarded $3,000. Lieutenant Beulah Greenwalt (played by Donna Reed) said the portrayal of her in a fictitious romance was damaging and an invasion of privacy; she was awarded $290,000. Despite these setbacks, They Were Expendable is now recognized as one of the best war films and a high point in the careers of everybody involved with it.

Producer: John Ford, Cliff Reid
Director: Robert Montgomery, John Ford
Screenplay: Frank Wead
Art Direction: Malcolm Brown, Cedric Gibbons
Cinematography: Joseph H. August
Costume Design: Yvonne Wood
Film Editing: Douglas Biggs, Frank E. Hull
Original Music: Earl K. Brent, Herbert Stothart
Principal Cast: Robert Montgomery (Lt. John Brickley), John Wayne (Lt. J.G. "Rusty" Ryan), Donna Reed (Lt. Sandy Davyss), Cameron Mitchell (Ensign George Cross), Jack Holt (General Martin), Ward Bond (Boots Mulcahey), Marshall Thompson (Ens. Snake Gardner).
BW-135m. Closed captioning. Descriptive video.

by Lang Thompson

They Were Expendable

Set at the start of World War II, They Were Expendable (1945) follows a PT boat captain (Robert Montgomery) and his commanding officer (John Wayne) as they try to convince the Navy that PT boats are in fact useful weapons, good for more than just the military equivalent of errands. Donna Reed provides a love interest while the cast is populated with several of director John Ford's regular actors such as Ward Bond. Even though They Were Expendable was created more or less as propaganda, the title clues you in that this won't be your usual war film. Ford told Peter Bogdanovich, "I despise happy endings - with a kiss at the finish - I've never done that. Of course, they were glorious in defeat in the Philippines - they kept on fighting." The story behind They Were Expendable goes back to 1942 when MGM bought the rights to a best-selling book about PT boat commander John Bulkeley, a Medal of Honor recipient. When the time came to bring it to the screen, John Ford was already a captain in the Navy Photographic Field Unit, having won Oscars for The Battle of Midway (1942) and December 7th (1943). MGM and the Navy put Ford on leave in October 1944 so he could direct the film, even though he always insisted he didn't want to do it and was under orders. It helped that the writer was his old buddy, Frank "Spig" Wead (Ford would later direct Wead's life story as The Wings of Eagles, 1957), who really convinced Ford this movie would be a good deed for the war effort. Still concerned about appearing to profit from a commercial film during wartime, Ford had his salary go to a center for veterans of his unit, the Field Photo Farm, which was active from 1946 to 1966. Oddly enough, in the summer of 1944, while Ford was resisting making the film, he spent several days actually fighting alongside the real-life Bulkeley aboard a PT boat during the Normandy invasion. Filming started February 1, 1945, Ford's 51st birthday. The location was Key Biscayne, Florida, with a lot of design and set work giving it a passable resemblance to the Phillippines. The Navy supplied actual PT boats for the filming and Navy officers would stop by occasionally to watch the filming. Robert Montgomery was able to draw on his activity as an actual PT commander at Guadalcanal and Normandy, as could one of the second unit directors. Perhaps due to his cumulative experiences in the war, Ford poured a lot of himself into the film. John Wayne said Ford "was awfully intense on that picture and working with more concentration than I had ever seen. I think he was really out to achieve something." Even with his reputation, Ford hadn't been allowed to use men from his photographic unit in the crew. They Were Expendable turned out to be the next-to-the-last film for cinematographer Joseph H. August, a two-time Oscar nominee whose career of nearly 150 films stretched back to 1912. Near the end of filming, Ford broke his leg when he fell 20 feet off a scaffold. During his absence Robert Montgomery directed the remaining scenes, even though Ford had publicly upbraided him earlier for trying to suggest a different way to handle a scene. Montgomery wasn't the only future director observing Ford at work. John Wayne already had ideas for a film about the Alamo and was learning film technique from Ford, and future director Blake Edwards supposedly plays a crewman aboard one of the boats. The postproduction work on They Were Expendable was performed while Ford was away in Washington and didn't sit well with him at all; in particular, he objected to some of the heavy music added (though you can still hear Ford's signature tune, "Red River Valley"). The film was released on December 7, 1945, but with the war dying down, it was not as big a hit as expected. It did receive two Oscar nominations for Best Sound and Best Special Effects. It also became entangled in two lawsuits. Commander Robert Kelly (the basis for John Wayne's character) sued MGM for libel and was awarded $3,000. Lieutenant Beulah Greenwalt (played by Donna Reed) said the portrayal of her in a fictitious romance was damaging and an invasion of privacy; she was awarded $290,000. Despite these setbacks, They Were Expendable is now recognized as one of the best war films and a high point in the careers of everybody involved with it. Producer: John Ford, Cliff Reid Director: Robert Montgomery, John Ford Screenplay: Frank Wead Art Direction: Malcolm Brown, Cedric Gibbons Cinematography: Joseph H. August Costume Design: Yvonne Wood Film Editing: Douglas Biggs, Frank E. Hull Original Music: Earl K. Brent, Herbert Stothart Principal Cast: Robert Montgomery (Lt. John Brickley), John Wayne (Lt. J.G. "Rusty" Ryan), Donna Reed (Lt. Sandy Davyss), Cameron Mitchell (Ensign George Cross), Jack Holt (General Martin), Ward Bond (Boots Mulcahey), Marshall Thompson (Ens. Snake Gardner). BW-135m. Closed captioning. Descriptive video. by Lang Thompson

They Were Expendable - They Were Dependable


A World War II naval tale centering on sailors' nobility in the face of defeat in the Philippines, director John Ford's visually sublime They Were Expendable (1945) remains one of the best war movies ever made. It was released just months after V-J Day, but in its mournfulness and elegiac tone, it was years ahead of its time.

Its screenplay was based on a real officer, Lt. John Bulkeley, who was a close friend of Ford's. For the film he was renamed John Brickley and played by Robert Montgomery. As the leader of the Navy's new PT Boat squadron in 1941, he along with his executive officer, Lt. (J.G.) "Rusty" Ryan (John Wayne), are desperate to prove to their superiors that the boats are valid, worthy equipment. But the top Navy brass are only mildly impressed, and after Pearl Harbor the squadron is relegated to messenger duty in the Philippines. Eventually they get a few shots at real combat, picking off Japanese shipping, but the reality of the oncoming Japanese force is quickly overwhelming the entire American presence on the islands, and the PT boats' importance fades in the eyes of the Navy. A lovely respite from the business of war comes in the form of a touching, believable romance between Wayne and Donna Reed, who plays an Army nurse.

But, as its bleak title implies, They Were Expendable is largely about loss and death. Though it contains some exciting combat scenes, the tone is not falsely glamorous or jingoistic. The characters' heroism comes across through their sense of duty and dignity, by the way they improvise, and by the way, as the New York Times review put it, "they face the inevitable without flinching." The film also powerfully illustrates the daunting pressures and loneliness of wartime leadership, especially in its depiction of the Robert Montgomery character.

Montgomery, who gives one of his finest performances, served with distinction in the Navy during WWII - including a stint in the Pacific as an actual PT boat commander. Ford used Montgomery's experience to the extent of letting the actor direct a few sequences when Ford fell ill. The industrious Montgomery then parlayed that work into a directorial career of his own, going on to direct five features over the next 15 years, starting with Lady in the Lake (1947).

Director John Ford, of course, is best known for his westerns, but he directed films in many genres. What unites his best films is not a setting but rather a deeply-felt tenderness between characters and camaraderie among men, as well as a poetic sense of composition. The images tell everything in Ford's movies. Look, for instance, at the masterful sequence in which several officers are informed, one by one, of the Pearl Harbor attack while they dine in a Manila restaurant. No dialogue is needed for us to know what is happening, an effect which adds tremendously to the scene's poignance. (Of course, Ford also collaborated with some of Hollywood's finest cinematographers, including Joseph August on They Were Expendable.)

Ford served in the Field Photographic Branch of the OSS during WWII and directed the famous war documentaries December 7th and The Battle of Midway, both Oscar winners. In They Were Expendable, his credit appears as "Directed by John Ford, Captain U.S.N.R." Several other names in the credits also appear with their military ranks, and the entire production has a feel of great authenticity.

Warner Home Video's new DVD boasts a crisp transfer but little in the way of extras; just the theatrical trailer. Still, the movie is so thoughtful, intelligent and beautiful that the disc is a must-have for any serious film buff.

To order They Were Expendable, go to TCM Shopping.

by Jeremy Arnold

They Were Expendable - They Were Dependable

A World War II naval tale centering on sailors' nobility in the face of defeat in the Philippines, director John Ford's visually sublime They Were Expendable (1945) remains one of the best war movies ever made. It was released just months after V-J Day, but in its mournfulness and elegiac tone, it was years ahead of its time. Its screenplay was based on a real officer, Lt. John Bulkeley, who was a close friend of Ford's. For the film he was renamed John Brickley and played by Robert Montgomery. As the leader of the Navy's new PT Boat squadron in 1941, he along with his executive officer, Lt. (J.G.) "Rusty" Ryan (John Wayne), are desperate to prove to their superiors that the boats are valid, worthy equipment. But the top Navy brass are only mildly impressed, and after Pearl Harbor the squadron is relegated to messenger duty in the Philippines. Eventually they get a few shots at real combat, picking off Japanese shipping, but the reality of the oncoming Japanese force is quickly overwhelming the entire American presence on the islands, and the PT boats' importance fades in the eyes of the Navy. A lovely respite from the business of war comes in the form of a touching, believable romance between Wayne and Donna Reed, who plays an Army nurse. But, as its bleak title implies, They Were Expendable is largely about loss and death. Though it contains some exciting combat scenes, the tone is not falsely glamorous or jingoistic. The characters' heroism comes across through their sense of duty and dignity, by the way they improvise, and by the way, as the New York Times review put it, "they face the inevitable without flinching." The film also powerfully illustrates the daunting pressures and loneliness of wartime leadership, especially in its depiction of the Robert Montgomery character. Montgomery, who gives one of his finest performances, served with distinction in the Navy during WWII - including a stint in the Pacific as an actual PT boat commander. Ford used Montgomery's experience to the extent of letting the actor direct a few sequences when Ford fell ill. The industrious Montgomery then parlayed that work into a directorial career of his own, going on to direct five features over the next 15 years, starting with Lady in the Lake (1947). Director John Ford, of course, is best known for his westerns, but he directed films in many genres. What unites his best films is not a setting but rather a deeply-felt tenderness between characters and camaraderie among men, as well as a poetic sense of composition. The images tell everything in Ford's movies. Look, for instance, at the masterful sequence in which several officers are informed, one by one, of the Pearl Harbor attack while they dine in a Manila restaurant. No dialogue is needed for us to know what is happening, an effect which adds tremendously to the scene's poignance. (Of course, Ford also collaborated with some of Hollywood's finest cinematographers, including Joseph August on They Were Expendable.) Ford served in the Field Photographic Branch of the OSS during WWII and directed the famous war documentaries December 7th and The Battle of Midway, both Oscar winners. In They Were Expendable, his credit appears as "Directed by John Ford, Captain U.S.N.R." Several other names in the credits also appear with their military ranks, and the entire production has a feel of great authenticity. Warner Home Video's new DVD boasts a crisp transfer but little in the way of extras; just the theatrical trailer. Still, the movie is so thoughtful, intelligent and beautiful that the disc is a must-have for any serious film buff. To order They Were Expendable, go to TCM Shopping. by Jeremy Arnold

Quotes

Trivia

'Robert Montgomery' was a real-life PT skipper in World War 2. He helped direct some of the PT sequences for the film when 'John Ford' was unavailable due to health reasons.

Filmed in Miami, the closing shot with the lighthouse is the Cape Florida Lighthouse, in what is today the Cape Florida State Park. The lighthouse stood and was the scene of an Seminole Indian attack in 1835.

Notes

Onscreen credits include the following written acknowledgment: "We hearby tender our deep appreciation to the United States Navy, Army, Coast Guard and Office of Strategic Services whose splendid cooperation made this production possible." The film also contains the following written foreword, signed by General Douglas MacArthur: "Today the guns are silent. A great tragedy has ended. A great victory has been won...I speak for the thousands of silent lips, forever stilled among the jungles and in the deep waters of the Pacific which marked the way." John Ford's onscreen directing credit reads, "Directed by John Ford, Captain U.S.N.R.;" Frank Wead's onscreen credit reads and "Screenplay by Frank Wead Comdr. U.S.N., Ret;" Robert Montgomery's onscren credit reads: "Robert Montgomery Comdr. U.S.N.R."
       August 1942 Hollywood Reporter news items note that M-G-M agreed to pay $30,000, plus royalties up to $20,000, for the motion picture rights to William L. White's book. As part of the agreement, one third of the purchase price was to be donated to the Navy Relief Fund. The title of White's book was derived from a World War II naval communiqé, reporting the sacrifice of several U.S. P-T boats in Manila Bay in order to sink several Japanese cruisers, destroyers and cargo ships. White's book was the first book ever to receive an "I" (for "imperative") award from the Publishers' Committee of War Books. The committee was composed of top publishers and government representatives who identified books that contributed to the war effort. Much of the film's story is based on actual events that took place in the Philippines during World War II. Although some of the participants' names were changed, many of the characters in the film were based on real-life persons. Lt. John B. Bulkeley, the real-life commander of the Manila Bay P-T boat operation, is portrayed by Robert Montgomery in the production. Contemporary news items in Hollywood Reporter relate the following information about the film: M-G-M bought the story as a starring vehicle for Spencer Tracy, and initially planned to film it in Technicolor. In late October 1942, the studio hired Sidney Franklin to produce the film and assigned two veterans from the Philippines campaign to supervise the script development. Producer Sam Zimbalist and director Mervyn LeRoy also were assigned to the project. Filming was originally scheduled to begin in the summer of 1943 but the picture was placed on M-G-M's "inactive" list in late September 1943 due to concerns that the popularity of war films was declining, and because the story was thought to be too similar to another M-G-M project, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (see below). Pre-production work on the film resumed in mid-1944, when a Hollywood Reporter news item reported that Frank Wead was working on the script. According to an October 1944 Hollywood Reporter news item, They Were Expendable was taken off the "inactive" list following a revival of military action in the Philippines.
       Actor Ian Keith was offered the role of General MacArthur, but declined the part. Hollywood Reporter production charts list actor Hank Daniels, Jr. in the cast, but his appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. In mid-May 1945, Montgomery briefly took over the direction of the film when Ford fractured his leg in a fall on the set. Many of the men who worked on the film were actively involved in the war or were war veterans, including Ford, a Navy captain, who was placed on inactive status so that he could direct the film. Montgomery was a former Navy lieutenant commander, who was awarded the Bronze Star and was decorated as a Chevalier of the French Foreign Legion of Honor. According to a February 1945 Hollywood Reporter news item, Ford donated his entire salary on the film to a fund for the rehabilitation of 168 Navy men who had worked on his films in the past. Modern sources indicate that Ford shot scenes around actor Ward Bond while Bond was recovering from injuries he sustained in an automobile accident. Bond delivered most of his lines standing still, and appears walking in the film only once. Some filming took place at various locations in Florida, including Miami Beach and Key Biscayne. The film received Academy Award nominations for Best Sound Recording and Best Special Effects.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Fall November 1945

Sidney Franklin began producing the film in 1942, but handed it over to John Ford.

Released in United States Fall November 1945