Cast & Crew
Noah Beery Jr.
J. Carrol Naish
At Marine Headquarters in San Diego, a request is made for volunteers for a special battalion, one that will be trained for an overseas mission against the Japanese and calls for action "above and beyond the line of duty." The 15,000 prospective "raiders" include Southerner Rube Tedrow, minister John Harbison, troubled youth Frankie Montana, boxer "Pig-Iron" Matthews, and half-brothers Kurt Richter and Larry O'Ryan, who are rivals for the same girl. Meanwhile, the battalion's leader, Colonel Thorwald, tells his old friend, Leo "Transport" Andreof, that he had previously quit the Marines to join the Chinese army in their war against the Japanese. With the United States' entry into World War II, Thorwald returned to the Marines and plans to train his men in the same methods as those used by the Chinese. Upon his first meeting with the volunteers, Thorwald informs them that the battalion's motto will be the Chinese saying, "gung ho," which means to work in harmony, as teamwork will be required for their mission to be successful. The recruits are soon pared down to 900, and are put through vigorous physical training and taught various forms of self-defense, including judo. With their basic training completed, the remaining 600 Marines in the 2nd Raider Battalion ship out to Pearl Harbor in the South Pacific. Later, 210 of the men are sent on an eight-day submarine voyage to the Japanese-held South Sea island of Makin. As the submarines near the island, Thorwald tells his men that, though they will be severely outnumbered by the enemy, through careful planning, teamwork and surprise, they will be victorious. Their first contact with the Japanese happens after one of the submerging submarines is forced to resurface when the sleeping Rube is left topside just as three Japanese fighters appear on the horizon. They survive that encounter and soon arrive at Makin Island. The raiders land on the island at sunrise, and are quickly under fire from the Japanese. After Transport and Private Kozzarowksi are killed knocking out the Japanese radio transmitter, Thorwald has his men pull back and lure the Japanese soldiers to the hospital building. A squadron of Japanese planes then arrives at the hospital area, and, seeing the American flags the Marines have painted on the roofs of the buildings, attack and the majority of the Japanese soldiers are killed by their own aircraft. With the enemy defeated and the Japanese oil depot destroyed, Thorwald orders his men back to the submarines as Japanese ships approach. As the submarines head back to Pearl Harbor, Thorwald reminds his men of their thirty fellow Marines who died on the raid, including John and Larry, and how they have helped to pave the hard road to victory with their achievement at Makin Island.
Noah Beery Jr.
J. Carrol Naish
Louis Jean Heydt
J. Alex Havier
Bernard B. Brown
Lt. Col. Evans F. Carlson U.s.m.c.r.
R. A. Gausman
A. J. Gilmore
John B. Goodman
Lt. W. S. Le Francios U.s.m.c.
Lt. W. S. Le Francois U.s.m.c.
Gunnery Sgt. Victor Maghakian U.s.m.c. (transport)
H. J. Salter
Gung Ho! (1943)
The Second Marine Raider Battalion (also known as "Carlson's Raiders"), an elite Marine battalion of 200 rigorously trained Marines, was covertly transported to the island of Butaritari (the largest of the islands of the Makin Atoll) in two submarines. They destroyed the Japanese installations and cleared the Japanese forces from the island and successfully retreated by submarine with remarkably few losses. With a public starved for an American success, it was perfect fodder for a Hollywood supporting the war effort with a slate of war movies heavy on rousing triumphs and patriotic themes.
Randolph Scott is named Colonel Thorwald in the film, but for all intents and purposes he is Lieutenant Colonel Evans Carlson, the real-life commander of the Second Marine Raider Battalion. Carlson had been a military observer in China, where he learned first hand the tactics, the strengths, and the weaknesses of the Japanese military. He returned with what were then unconventional ideas on warfare and taught a brand of guerilla warfare to the unique new Marine strike force developed for special missions, with an emphasis on hand-to-hand combat including training in Judo. His motto was "gung ho," a Chinese phrase explained in the film as: "gung, to work, and ho, harmony." His term for teamwork soon became the battalion's rallying cry and the phrase soon spread through the Marine Corps.
Scott was a busy man in the forties, having moved from a secondary leading man in comedies and romances to stalwart authority figures in westerns and, since Pearl Harbor, war movies. Lean, athletic and rugged, he was a natural for these roles, while his easy-going smile brought a humanizing warmth essential for the role. The real-life Carlson was famous for his egalitarian leadership, practicing his principles of teamwork within the military structure, and Gung Ho! makes a point that Thorwald and his officers eat the same chow, sleep in the same bunks, and live in the same conditions as his men.
For the Hollywood version of the story, screenwriter Lucien Hubbard beefed up the true story with a few fictional embellishments, such as a tense scene of the Marines, helplessly packed into the submarine's tight quarters, enduring a bombing barrage that batters the submerging vessels. One of Gung Ho!'s signature scenes was also created specifically for the movie: the Raiders paint an American flag on a captured Japanese installation and then retreat. When the Japanese ground forces retake the outpost, their own air force targets them, sadistically cackling as they bomb and strafe what they think is the American invasion force. Yes, the film is steeped in propaganda and racist jingoism painful to contemporary eyes and ears but common to films made in the heat of the war. The first question put to the Marines applying for the special battalion: "Why do you want to kill Japs?"
A classic cross-section of American soldier types respond with various reasons and are recruited into the ranks. There's the tough Brooklyn kid, the naïve country boy, a minister, and a pair of competitive, scrappy half brothers (Noah Beery, Jr. and David Bruce) competing for the affections of the same girl (Grace McDonald, standing in for all the girls these soldiers left back home). The immigrant culture is represented by a paternal Greek Lieutenant (J. Carrol Naish) and a fun-loving Irish officer, while a token Hispanic and Chinese-American appear in the interview montage, then essentially disappear for the rest of the film. (As a side note, the Japanese soldiers are all portrayed by Chinese and Filipino actors. Audiences at the time probably didn't notice, but the disparity is far more apparent today.)
Robert Mitchum was just beginning his career when he landed a small but memorable role as a scrappy kid named "Pig-Iron" who learns discipline and leadership under the rigorous training. It led directly to larger roles in such higher-profile war movies as Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944) and Story of G.I. Joe (1945).
Journeyman director Ray Enright, a former director of comedies and light musicals, had recently found his footing with a series of two-fisted westerns (including The Spoilers (1942), his first film with Randolph Scott) and he does solid work on Gung Ho!, especially as the film moves from the familiar clichés of platoon drama character vignettes to the sinewy action scenes of the invasion. Even the training scenes flex an attitude not often seen in war films, where we're reminded that the "dirty tricks" disdained by movies concerned with honor and fair play are the very tactics that may save your life in hand-to-hand combat. Enright, who served in the Signal Corps in World War I, makes survival and success in battle at all cost the highest of patriotic values.
Gung Ho! represents the Makin Island Raid as an unqualified success. To a certain extent, the film is correct: the forces cleared the island with remarkable efficiency and successfully retreated back to Pearl Harbor. But there was a second objective that the film neglects to mention: it was to be an intelligence gathering mission, and the battalion returned with no prisoners and little intelligence. Military historians note that the very success of the raid gave warning to the Japanese about the weaknesses in their defenses, who had reinforced their battlements by the time American forces launched their full assaults for a bloody campaign a year later.
To the American public, however, it was a sign of strength, of hope, and of victory, the first response to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Throughout Gung Ho!, Scott is called upon to deliver tough but compassionate speeches to his men, but the rousing victory speech at the end of their mission accomplished is delivered directly to the camera and the 1943 audience.
Producer: Walter Wanger
Director: Ray Enright
Screenplay: Lucien Hubbard, Joseph Hoffman, W.S. LeFrancois (story)
Cinematography: Milton Krasner
Film Editing: Milton Carruth
Art Direction: Alexander Golitzen, John B. Goodman
Music: Frank Skinner
Cast: Randolph Scott (Colonel Thorwald), Alan Curtis (John Harbison), Noah Beery, Jr. (Cpl. Kurt Richter), J. Carrol Naish (Lieutenant C.J. Cristoforos), Sam Levene (Leo Andreof), David Bruce (Larry O'Ryan).
by Sean Axmaker
Gung Ho! (1943)
Actor Harold Landon, who plays Frankie Montana in the film, relates that the actors that played Japanese soldiers were really Filipino and Chinese actors.
The opening title card reads: Gung Ho! The Story of Carlson's Makin Island Raiders. The film contains the following written foreword: "This is the factual record of the Second Marine Raider Battalion, from its inception seven weeks after Pearl Harbor, through its first brilliant victory." The attack on Makin Island by the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion, under the leadership of Col. Evans Carlson, took place on August 17, 1942. This group of 210 Marines, later known as "Carlson's Raiders," killed 348 of the 350 Japanese soldiers stationed on the island, while suffering only thirty casualties. These raiders further distinguished themselves in various battles during World War II, particularly those at Guadalcanal. Hollywood Reporter news items state that portions of Gung Ho! were shot on location at Camp Elliott, CA; Camp Pendleton, near Oceanside, CA; and at a Marine base near San Diego, CA. According to Hollywood Reporter news items, actress Grace McDonald was voted "Sweetheart of Carlson's Marine Raiders" six months prior to her being cast in this film. Actor James Gleason was originally cast in the film, but was forced to relinquish his role due to scheduling conflicts with another film, M-G-M's A Guy Named Joe . According to Variety, international film financier Jacques Grinieft purchased a fifty-percent interest in Gung Ho! in 1952, along with three other Universal films produced by Walter Wanger.