The Story of Dr. Wassell


2h 20m 1944
The Story of Dr. Wassell

Brief Synopsis

A Navy doctor fights to help wounded sailors escape the Japanese during World War II.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Adventure
War
Biography
Release Date
Jul 4, 1944
Premiere Information
Little Rock, AR premiere: 29 Apr 1944; Houston, TX pre-release engagement: 11 May 1944; Los Angeles and New York premieres: 7 Jun 1944
Production Company
Paramount Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
Paramount Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the book Story of Dr. Wassell by James Hilton (Boston, 1943).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 20m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
12,239ft

Synopsis

During World War II, the Japanese Navy cripples the U.S. cruiser Marblehead on the Java Sea. The Marblehead crew keeps the ship afloat for two days until they reach the port at Jilatjap, Java, where they are met by a Dutch hospital train commanded by former Arkansas country doctor, Navy Lieutenant Commander Dr. Corydon M. Wassell. The wounded are then taken to a hospital deep in the jungle. While Wassell treats sailor "Hoppy" Hopkins, Javanese nurse Tremartini donates her blood to save his life, and feels that she now has a permanent bond with him. In order to distract Hoppy from his pain, Wassell tells him about how a medical journal photograph of a beautiful American nurse named Madeline, who was working in China, inspired him to leave Arkansas to work as a missionary. Just after Wassell learns that thousands of Japanese soldiers have landed on Java, the hospital is hit during an air attack. Those patients able to walk take shelter in a cellar, while the immobile are placed underneath their beds. During the raid, Ping, a Chinese soldier, continues Wassell's story: When Wassell finally arrives in China and meets Madeline, they fall in love. Wassell searches for a cure to a devastating disease that claims the lives of thousands of Chinese. Wassell theorizes that the disease is carried by snails, but is unable to identify the specific snail genus. Wassell is disappointed when the hospital's board of directors names Dr. Ralph Wayne, a missionary and Wassell's rival for Madeline, as the new head of research and sends Wassell to a remote jungle outpost. A bomb blast cuts short Ping's story, and he dies when a falling beam pierces his chest. Wassell soon gets evacuation orders, but only the walking wounded are to be shipped off; the rest must remain in the jungle. Reluctant to tell the men his mixed news, Wassell mobilizes everyone and takes them to Jilatjap, but the captain of the departing ship Pecos refuses to allow the bedridden soldiers aboard, as he anticipates an enemy attack. Realizing that his debilitated men face certain death if left behind, Wassell insists on remaining with them, and thereby becomes the only high ranking American officer left on the island. With the help of Johnny, an able-bodied soldier who missed the boat, and Javanese helpers, the small troop returns to their jungle hospital, but are forced to take shelter in the cellar during a raid. Bill, a wounded officer from the Marblehead , asks Wassell to finish Ping's story: After he is sent to the jungle outpost, Wassell continues his research and finally identifies a specific genus of snail that carries the disease. Exultant, Wassell plans to propose to Madeline, but refrains from doing so when he gets a telegram informing him that Dr. Wayne has also discovered the source of the disease, and is being hailed a hero. Knowing that Wayne also wants to marry Madeline, Wassell gives up both his work and her. Back in the jungle, Wassell's prayers are answered by the arrival of a convoy of British trucks. The British commander lends Wassell a truck for his wounded and arranges to meet him at Java harbor, where a ship is leaving for Australia. Hoppy and Tremartini ride in a separate truck, which careens over the side of the road after a bomb blast. Wassell is unable to find them, and they are left to fend for themselves. Wassell and his men catch up to the British troops only to learn that all the transport ships except for the Janssen , have been sunk. The British troops remain in the jungle to fight the Japanese, while Wassell and his men return to Jilatjap to meet the Janssen . By the time they arrive at night, the Janssen has already set sail, but a lightning flash reveals that it is still in the harbor, and Wassell desperately puts his men in a boat and sails it alongside the ship. Despite the captain's orders against bringing wounded men on board, Wassell sneaks them on deck. Seeing he has no choice, the captain moves the wounded men below deck. Wassell is surprised to find Wayne aboard, and to learn that he is joined by his wife. The next day, as the crew learns that the Pecos was sunk in Java harbor, the Janssen engines suddenly go silent as Japanese bombers begin to strafe the ship. Wayne is wounded in the attack, and when Wassell sends for his wife, he discovers that she is not Madeline, who had shipped out on the Pecos . The Janssen is saved by a formation of "Flying Fortress" bombers, who defend it against further attack. In Australia, Wassell expects to be court-martialed for disobeying orders, but instead is commended by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in a radio broadcast in which he praises Wassell's efforts to keep his men alive. The survivors of the Pecos include Madeline, and she is present when Wassell is awarded the Navy's highest honor, the Navy Cross.

Cast

Gary Cooper

Dr. Corydon M. Wassell

Laraine Day

Madeline

Signe Hasso

Bettina

Dennis O'keefe

"Hoppy" Hopkins

Carol Thurston

Tremartini

Carl Esmond

Lieutenant Dirk van Daal

Paul Kelly

Murdock

Elliott Reid

Andy Anderson

Stanley Ridges

Commander Bill Goggins

Renny Mcevoy

Johnny

Oliver Thorndike

Alabam

Philip Ahn

Ping

Barbara Britton

Ruth

Melvin Francis

Francis

Joel Allen

Kraus

James Millican

Whaley

Mike Kilian

Borghetti

Doodles Weaver

Hunter

Lester Mathews

Dr. Ralph Wayne

Ludwig Donath

Dr. Vranken

Richard Loo

Dr. Wei

Davison Clark

Dr. Holmes

Richard Nugent

Captain Carruthers

Morton Lowry

Lieutenant Bainbridge

George Macready

Captain Balen

Victor Varconi

Captain Ryk

Edward Fielding

Admiral Hart

Harvey Stephens

Captain in charge of evacuation

Frank Wilcox

Captain's aide in evacuation

Minor Watson

Rear Admiral, Australia

Edmund Macdonald

Rear Admiral's aide

William Severn

Little English boy

Edith Barrett

Mother of little English boy

Catherine Craig

Mrs. Wayne

Frank Puglia

Javanese temple guide

Si Jenks

Arkansas mail carrier

Irving Bacon

Missionary

Ottola Nesmith

Missionary's wife

Sybil Merritt

Javanese girl

Maria Loredo

Fat Javanese girl

Loretta Luiz

Pretty Javanese girl

Luke Chan

Chinese boatman

Oie Chan

Chinese boatman's wife

Yu Feng Sung

Chinese priest

Moy Ming

Chinese tea vendor

Hugh Beaumont

Admiral Hart's aide in Surabaya

Roy Gordon

Commander USN, Surabaya

Ferdinand Schumann-heink

Ensign watch office USN, Surabaya

Charles Trowbridge

Captain USN, Surabaya

Gus Glassmire

Captain USN, Surabaya

Joe Gilbert

Telegraph operator USN, Surabaya

Albert Ruiz

Radio operator USN, Surabaya

Edward Earle

Officer USN, Surabaya

Allen Ray

Officer USN, Surabaya

Elliott Sullivan

Officer USN

Isabel Cooper

Little sergeant

Jody Gilbert

Boilermaker

Linda Brent

Fashta

Olga Maria Thunis

Dutch nurse

Hugh Prosser

Bosun's mate

Anthony Caruso

Pharmacist's mate

Chuck Hamilton

Stretcher bearer

Sven-hugo Borg

Dutch guard

Bruce Warren

Chief petty officer

Louis Jean Heydt

Ensign

Frank Lackteen

Japanese conductor

Dave Scott

Civilian

Larry Lawson

Civilian

Forrest Taylor

Civilian

Doris Lilly

Civilian

Warren Ashe

Loading lieutenant, evacuation

George Lynn

Lieutenant Smith, evacuation

Fred Kohler Jr.

Bosun's mate, evacuation

Larry Thompson

Paymaster "Moffat," evacuation

Louis Borell

Dutch sergeant, evacuation

Daniel De Jonghe

Dutch civilian, evacuation

Sam Flint

Dr. Holmes' board member

Lloyd Whitlock

Dr. Holmes' board member

J. W. Johnston

Dr. Holmes' board member

Cyril Ring

Dr. Holmes' board member

Patrick O'moore

Hoppy's driver

Jack Luden

Captain Carruthers' driver

Donald Stuart

Cockney soldier

George Eldridge

Damage control officer USN, battle

Forbes Murray

Captain USN, Australia

Paul Mcvey

Commander USN, Australia

Frank Mayo

Commander USN, Australia

Thomas Quinn

Lieutenant commander USN, Australia

Oliver Follansbee

Lieutenant commander USN, Australia

Ralph Linn

Lieutenant s.g. USN, Australia

Roy Darmour

Lieutenant j.g. USN, Australia

Glen Stephens

Lieutenant j.g. USN, Australia

Henry Victor

Mate of the Janssens

Carl Neubert

Mate of the Janssens

Louis Arco

Mate of the Janssens

Gavin Muir

Mate of the Janssens

Richard Abbott

Dutch petty officer of the Janssens

Will Thunis

Dutch radio operator of the Janssens

Ivan Triesault

Pharmacist's mate of the Janssens

Frederick Brunn

Lookout of the Janssens

Philip Van Zandt

Dutch gunner

Frederick Giermann

Dutch gunner

Tony Paton

Steward of the Janssens

Angel Cruz

Javanese steward of the Janssens

Leota Lorraine

White-haired Dutch woman

Mary Currier

English woman

John Mylong

Joyful passenger

Arthur Loft

Dutchman

Rudolph Anders

Wounded Dutch seaman

Gordon Richards

Englishman

Walter Fenner

Dutch diplomat

Gretl Dupont

Dutch diplomat's wife

Grace Lem

Chinese passenger

Hooper Atchley

Passenger

Ronnie Rondell

Passenger

Ann Doran

Praying woman

Stanley Price

Sobbing man

Kenneth Gibson

Man who flicks hat brim

Maxine Fife

Evacuee

Ameda Lambert

Evacuee

Carla Boehm

Evacuee

Phyllis Perry

Evacuee

Marion De Sydow

Evacuee

Betty Alden

Other woman in lifeboat

Fred Nurney

Dutch lieutenant colonel, bivouac

Lane Chandler

Dutch lieutenant colonel, bivouac

Boyd Irwin

British major

John Meredith

British radio officer

Julia Faye

Anne, Dutch nurse

Mildred Harris

Dutch nurse

Greta Granstedt

Dutch nurse

June Kilgour

Dutch nurse

Beth Hartman

Dutch nurse

Gloria Dea

Javanese nurse

Forrest Dickson

Javanese nurse

Geraldine Fisette

Javanese nurse

Eric Alden

U.S. sailor

Richard Barrett

U.S. sailor

John Benson

U.S. sailor

Carlyle Blackwell

U.S. sailor

John Bogden

U.S. sailor

George Bronson

U.S. sailor

Edgar Caldwell

U.S. sailor

Tony Cirillo

U.S. sailor

James Cornell

U.S. sailor

Clint Dorrington

U.S. sailor

James Courtney

U.S. sailor

Renald Dupont

U.S. sailor

Edward Howard

U.S. sailor

Henry Kraft

U.S. sailor

Buddy Messinger

U.S. sailor

Harlan Miller

U.S. sailor

Alexander Mcsweyn

U.S. sailor

Malcomb Smith

U.S. sailor

Harry Templeton

U.S. sailor

William P. Wilkerson

U.S. sailor

Robert Wilbur

U.S. sailor

Joe Bautista

Javanese orderly

Joe Dominguez

Javanese orderly

Roque Espiritu

Javanese orderly

Rodric Redwing

Javanese orderly

Frank Elliott

English doctor

Russ Clark

Chief petty officer, Marblehead

Griff Barnett

Janssens passenger

Isabelle Lamal

Janssens passenger

Frances Morris

Janssens passenger

Cecil Weston

Janssens passenger

Hazel Keener

Janssens passenger

Milton Kibbee

Janssens passenger

Sam Flint

Janssens passenger

William Hall

Navigator

John James

Mechanic

William Challee

Radio man

George Magrill

Sailor

Rita Gould

Mother

William Forrest

Civilian

Mike Lally

Civilian

Jack Norton

Passenger in companionway

Sarah Edwards

Passenger in companionway

Crew

Harriet Altland

2d unit Wardrobe

Roland Anderson

Art Director

Max Asher

2d unit makeup

Richard Bachler

2d unit Wardrobe

Anne Bauchens

Editing

Charles Bennett

Screenwriter

Sidney Biddell

Associate Producer

George H. Blandord

Double for Edmund MacDonald

Robert Brower

Associate (Color)

Nacio Herb Brown Jr.

Double for Gary Cooper

Henry Bumstead

Set Design

Frank Caffey

Unit Manager

Harry Caplan

2d unit Assistant Director

Wilfrid M. Cline

2d unit Technicolor tech

Carl Coleman

Props

John Cope

Sound Recording

Marian Crist

Research Director

Jack Crosby

Dance Supervisor

Fred Deiterich

2d unit Assistant Camera

C. K. Deland

2d unit Assistant prod Manager

Cecil B. Demille

Producer

B. G. Desylva

Executive Producer

Joe Dominguez

2d unit tech adv

Leonard Doss

2d unit Technicolor col Director

Hans Dreier

Art Director

James Dundee

Stunts

Andy Durkus

2d unit head grip

George Dutton

Special Effects

Farciot Edouart

Process Photography

Capt. Fred F. Ellis B.m.m. (ret.)

Tech Supervisor

General Eugene L. Eubank

Technical Advisor

William Flannery

2d unit art Director

John Morris Foster

2d unit Wardrobe

Hugo Grenzbach

Sound Recording

Loyal Griggs

2d unit transparencies

Dan Sayre Groesbeck

Scenic painter

James Hilton

Contract Writer

Wei F. Hsueh

Tech adv for Chinese seq

Gordon Jennings

Special Photography Effects

Elois Jenssen

Wardrobe sketch artist

Wallace Kelley

Process Photography

Robert King

2d unit Technicolor Assistant Camera

Robert King

2d unit Technicolor Assistant Camera

George Lancaster

2d unit Assistant Camera

Billie Lee

Double for Laraine Day

Alan Lemay

Screenwriter

A. Lowenthall

Set Design

Harry Lucenay

Double for Minor Watson

Jeanie Macpherson

Contr to trt

Edwin Maxwell

Dial Supervisor

Danny Mccauley

2d unit Assistant Director

Curtis Mick

Bus Manager

Victor Milner

Director of Photography

Edward Movius

2d unit Assistant Camera

E. Osborne

Set Design

J. Howard Payne M.d.

Medical tech adv

Elsie Peacock

Tech adv, nurses

Paul Perry

2d unit 2d Camera

Arthur Pierson

Dialogue Director

Kenneth Ray

Double for Stanley Ridges

Glen E. Richardson

Stills

Arthur Rosson

2nd Unit Director

Oscar Rudolph

Assistant Director

Edward Salven

Assistant Director

Martin Santell

2d unit Assistant Director

George Sawley

Set Decoration

L. Simmel Jr.

Tech Designer

Lt. Comdr. H. D. Smith United States Navy (ret.)

Tech Supervisor

B. Cecelia Smukler M.d.

Medical tech adv

William Snyder

Director of Photography

Joseph Sternad

Tech Designer

W. Teal

Head tech Designer

Joseph Thompson

Props

A. Thunberg

Tech Designer

Natalie Visart

Costumes

Wally Westmore

Makeup Supervisor

Jelte Dirk Wiersma

Dutch tech adv

Lothrop Worth

2d unit 2d Camera

Victor Young

Music Score

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Adventure
War
Biography
Release Date
Jul 4, 1944
Premiere Information
Little Rock, AR premiere: 29 Apr 1944; Houston, TX pre-release engagement: 11 May 1944; Los Angeles and New York premieres: 7 Jun 1944
Production Company
Paramount Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
Paramount Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the book Story of Dr. Wassell by James Hilton (Boston, 1943).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 20m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
12,239ft

Award Nominations

Best Special Effects

1945

Articles

The Story of Dr. Wassell


On May 26, 1942, Cecil B. DeMille tuned into President Franklin D. Roosevelt's "fireside chat" radio program. FDR's subject that night was a man named Corydon Wassell, an Arkansas doctor and Naval officer who had recently performed a heroic wartime act on the Pacific island of Java.

Wassell worked as a medical missionary in China for about twelve years starting in 1913. Back in the States, he resumed a medical practice in Arkansas while also becoming a commissioned officer in the Naval Reserve. When WWII broke out, the Navy sent him to Java to treat wounded sailors. The Japanese invaded the island on Feb. 28, 1942, and Wassell was ordered to evacuate himself and all walking wounded; the twelve immobile men under Wassell's care were to be left behind to be captured by the Japanese. Wassell wouldn't leave them so he defied orders and tried to put them on a ship with the rest of the men, but they were denied boarding. Still determined to save them, Wassell stayed behind to lead them across the island to another port and another ship; all the while, the Japanese were steadily advancing. Eventually he got everyone aboard a ship to Australia - and in the end, Wassell was awarded the Navy Cross for his deed.

Captivated by Wassell's feat, DeMille immediately composed a telegram to Roosevelt's secretary, asking permission to adapt the story into "a magnificent inspirational motion picture." Not only was the answer "yes," but the Navy approved the transfer of Wassell from Australia to Hollywood to help out on the production. Wassell would spend a year in Hollywood, getting paid by Paramount all the while for his services. (Apparently, Wassell had no idea why he was being sent stateside until he met DeMille.)

Paramount hired Lost Horizon novelist James Hilton to turn the Wassell story into a novel which could be used as source material, thereby freeing the studio of worry over any lawsuits or challenges. Operating on a $2.7 million budget and a 95-day shooting schedule (with much location work done in Mexico), DeMille turned out a typically flamboyant and melodramatic tale. Describing his story, the director gushed, "It's a Goodbye, Mr. Chips [1939] for the Navy. The reason the story is great and different [is that] while it is war, it isn't a question of killing; it's a story of life saving rather than life taking."

It was also still a Hollywood movie designed to sell tickets, with 42-year-old Gary Cooper portraying the 57-year-old Wassell, a fictitious romantic subplot injected into the story, and even a release date timed for propaganda value. The Story of Dr. Wassell happened to open in New York on D-Day, June 6, 1944 (it also opened early in L.A. and Little Rock), but by design it opened nationwide on Independence Day, July 4, 1944. A nice touch was that July 4 was even Wassell's own birthday.

The Paramount publicity department tried to stir up the box office in the same entertaining ways as with any other picture. One publicist, for instance, made up the following statement and had it attributed to co-star Laraine Day talking about kissing Gary Cooper: "It was like holding a hand grenade and not being able to get rid of it. I was left breathless. Gary kisses the way Charles Boyer looks like he kisses."

Laraine Day was appearing on loan from MGM. She found this especially satisfying because DeMille had once insulted her abilities. According to author Robert Birchard, Day recalled that her agent had tried to get her a tiny role in DeMille's The Buccaneer (1938) back when her career was just beginning. DeMille told Day's agent "that he wouldn't consider it, that I had no talent and shouldn't even be on the lot. Now it's 1942 and I'm under contract to MGM and DeMille can't find anybody in all of Hollywood to play a nurse. I'd been playing nothing but nurses in Dr. Kildare pictures, and so I got the part. Of course, he didn't remember the earlier incident."

Of her time on the set of Dr. Wassell, the actress said "DeMille was pleasant to work with because we never really worked with him. An assistant did all the rehearsing, then he'd come in, run through it once and shoot it. The only time he really directed was during the crowd scenes. Then he was in complete control - of course he had a number of assistants working with him."

The critics were mixed on The Story of Dr. Wassell. Bosley Crowther complained in The New York Times that the movie's comedic and romantic interludes "messed up a simple human story." Furthermore, he wrote, "DeMille has worked in enough pyrotechnics to leave the audience suffering from shell shock." As it turned out, those pyrotechnics helped earn the film an Oscar® nomination for Best Special Effects.

All the proceeds that Wassell received from the film were donated to a hospital for the deaf and blind in Arkansas. Melvin Francis, one of the survivors of the actual incident on Java, appears as himself.

Producer: Sidney Biddell, Cecil B. DeMille, Buddy G. DeSylva
Director: Cecil B. DeMille
Screenplay: Charles Bennett, James Hilton, Alan Le May, Commander Corydon M. Wassell
Cinematography: Victor Milner, William E. Snyder
Film Editing: Anne Bauchens
Art Direction: Roland Anderson, Hans Dreier
Music: Victor Young
Cast: Gary Cooper (Dr. Corydon Wassell), Laraine Day (Madeleine), Signe Hasso (Bettina), Dennis O'Keefe (Benjamin Hopkins), Carol Thurston (Tremartini), Carl Esmond (Lt. Dirk Van Daal).
C-140m.

by Jeremy Arnold

Sources:

Jeffrey Meyers, Gary Cooper: American Hero

Robert Birchard, Cecil B. DeMille's Hollywood

The Story Of Dr. Wassell

The Story of Dr. Wassell

On May 26, 1942, Cecil B. DeMille tuned into President Franklin D. Roosevelt's "fireside chat" radio program. FDR's subject that night was a man named Corydon Wassell, an Arkansas doctor and Naval officer who had recently performed a heroic wartime act on the Pacific island of Java. Wassell worked as a medical missionary in China for about twelve years starting in 1913. Back in the States, he resumed a medical practice in Arkansas while also becoming a commissioned officer in the Naval Reserve. When WWII broke out, the Navy sent him to Java to treat wounded sailors. The Japanese invaded the island on Feb. 28, 1942, and Wassell was ordered to evacuate himself and all walking wounded; the twelve immobile men under Wassell's care were to be left behind to be captured by the Japanese. Wassell wouldn't leave them so he defied orders and tried to put them on a ship with the rest of the men, but they were denied boarding. Still determined to save them, Wassell stayed behind to lead them across the island to another port and another ship; all the while, the Japanese were steadily advancing. Eventually he got everyone aboard a ship to Australia - and in the end, Wassell was awarded the Navy Cross for his deed. Captivated by Wassell's feat, DeMille immediately composed a telegram to Roosevelt's secretary, asking permission to adapt the story into "a magnificent inspirational motion picture." Not only was the answer "yes," but the Navy approved the transfer of Wassell from Australia to Hollywood to help out on the production. Wassell would spend a year in Hollywood, getting paid by Paramount all the while for his services. (Apparently, Wassell had no idea why he was being sent stateside until he met DeMille.) Paramount hired Lost Horizon novelist James Hilton to turn the Wassell story into a novel which could be used as source material, thereby freeing the studio of worry over any lawsuits or challenges. Operating on a $2.7 million budget and a 95-day shooting schedule (with much location work done in Mexico), DeMille turned out a typically flamboyant and melodramatic tale. Describing his story, the director gushed, "It's a Goodbye, Mr. Chips [1939] for the Navy. The reason the story is great and different [is that] while it is war, it isn't a question of killing; it's a story of life saving rather than life taking." It was also still a Hollywood movie designed to sell tickets, with 42-year-old Gary Cooper portraying the 57-year-old Wassell, a fictitious romantic subplot injected into the story, and even a release date timed for propaganda value. The Story of Dr. Wassell happened to open in New York on D-Day, June 6, 1944 (it also opened early in L.A. and Little Rock), but by design it opened nationwide on Independence Day, July 4, 1944. A nice touch was that July 4 was even Wassell's own birthday. The Paramount publicity department tried to stir up the box office in the same entertaining ways as with any other picture. One publicist, for instance, made up the following statement and had it attributed to co-star Laraine Day talking about kissing Gary Cooper: "It was like holding a hand grenade and not being able to get rid of it. I was left breathless. Gary kisses the way Charles Boyer looks like he kisses." Laraine Day was appearing on loan from MGM. She found this especially satisfying because DeMille had once insulted her abilities. According to author Robert Birchard, Day recalled that her agent had tried to get her a tiny role in DeMille's The Buccaneer (1938) back when her career was just beginning. DeMille told Day's agent "that he wouldn't consider it, that I had no talent and shouldn't even be on the lot. Now it's 1942 and I'm under contract to MGM and DeMille can't find anybody in all of Hollywood to play a nurse. I'd been playing nothing but nurses in Dr. Kildare pictures, and so I got the part. Of course, he didn't remember the earlier incident." Of her time on the set of Dr. Wassell, the actress said "DeMille was pleasant to work with because we never really worked with him. An assistant did all the rehearsing, then he'd come in, run through it once and shoot it. The only time he really directed was during the crowd scenes. Then he was in complete control - of course he had a number of assistants working with him." The critics were mixed on The Story of Dr. Wassell. Bosley Crowther complained in The New York Times that the movie's comedic and romantic interludes "messed up a simple human story." Furthermore, he wrote, "DeMille has worked in enough pyrotechnics to leave the audience suffering from shell shock." As it turned out, those pyrotechnics helped earn the film an Oscar® nomination for Best Special Effects. All the proceeds that Wassell received from the film were donated to a hospital for the deaf and blind in Arkansas. Melvin Francis, one of the survivors of the actual incident on Java, appears as himself. Producer: Sidney Biddell, Cecil B. DeMille, Buddy G. DeSylva Director: Cecil B. DeMille Screenplay: Charles Bennett, James Hilton, Alan Le May, Commander Corydon M. Wassell Cinematography: Victor Milner, William E. Snyder Film Editing: Anne Bauchens Art Direction: Roland Anderson, Hans Dreier Music: Victor Young Cast: Gary Cooper (Dr. Corydon Wassell), Laraine Day (Madeleine), Signe Hasso (Bettina), Dennis O'Keefe (Benjamin Hopkins), Carol Thurston (Tremartini), Carl Esmond (Lt. Dirk Van Daal). C-140m. by Jeremy Arnold Sources: Jeffrey Meyers, Gary Cooper: American Hero Robert Birchard, Cecil B. DeMille's Hollywood

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

The film's title card reads: "Gary Cooper in Cecil B. DeMille's The Story of Dr. Wassell." Opening credits also include the following acknowledgment: "Based upon the story by Commander Corydon M. Wassell, USN (MC), as related by him and fifteen of the wounded sailors involved...and also upon the story by James Hilton." In his autobiography, Cecil B. DeMille noted that he closed the film with a statement informing the audience that Benjamin Hopkins, on whom the character "Hoppy" was based, survived the war. This epilogue was not seen in the viewed print, however.
       According to DeMille's autobiography and other published contemporary accounts, Paramount was inspired to make this film after President Franklin D. Roosevelt made a April 28, 1942 radio broadcast, in which he detailed Wassell's heroic deed. A portion of Roosevelt's speech reads as follows: "[Wassell] was a missionary, well known for his good works in China....he entered the service of his country and was commissioned a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy. Dr. Wassell was assigned to duty in Java, caring for wounded officers and men of the cruisers Houston and Marblehead, which had been in heavy action in the Java Seas. When the Japanese advanced across the island, it was decided to evacuate as many as possible of the wounded to Australia. But about twelve of the men were so badly wounded that they could not be moved. Dr. Wassell remained with these men, knowing that he would be captured by the enemy. But he decided to make a desperate attempt to get the men out of Java....He first had to get the twelve men to the sea coast-fifty miles away....The men were suffering severely, but Dr. Wassell kept them alive by his skill, and inspired them by his own courage....On the seacoast, he embarked the men on a little Dutch ship. They were bombed and machine-gunned by waves of Japanese planes. A few days later Dr. Wassell and his little flock of wounded men reached Australia safely..." A New York Times article and DeMille's autobiography both noted that Paramount commissioned author James Hilton to write a book about Wassell, on which the film would later be based. The published book was also used as a treatment for the screenplay.
       Material in the Paramount Collection at the AMPAS Library reveals the following information about the production: In an unusual arrangement with Paramount, Cecil B. DeMille was not paid for his work as producer/director on this film. Although Dr. Corydon Wassell is not listed as a technical advisor onscreen, Paramount paid for him to live in Los Angeles between October 1942 and October 1943, and noted in a memo that the studio's "arrangement with the Navy and Dr. Wassell is that he will be available to us as long as we want to keep him in connection with the...production." According to Hollywood Reporter, Wassell was to appear in a mob scene in the picture. Albert Dekker was initially cast in the film, but withdrew because he felt the part was unsuitable for him. Various scenes were shot at the following locations: Metapa, Tapachula and other Mexican locations; Placerita Canyon and San Diego, CA; Pyote and Victoria, TX; and Florida. According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, background shots were taken in Mexico City.
       Hollywood Reporter news items add the following about the production: The role of Wassell was initially offered to Joel McCrea. Lynne Overman was cast as "Commander Bill Goggins," but died before production began, and was replaced by Stanley Ridges. Actors Alan Ladd, Robert Preston, Henry Wilcoxon and Bruce Lester were cast in the film at various points, but withdrew after being called into military service. Dennis O'Keefe replaced Preston and Ladd as "Hoppy," and Henry Wilcoxon was first cast as "Dr. Ralph Wayne." Others considered for the role of Hoppy were Richard Whorf, James Brown, Dana Andrews, Walter Reed, Barry Sullivan, Michael O'Shea and Alan Baxter. Veronica Lake, Elena Verdugo, Yvonne de Carlo and Simone Simon were tested for the role of "Tremartini," and Maureen O'Hara, Marjorie Reynolds, Ruth Hussey and Pamela Blake were considered for the role of "Madeline." Eighteen-year-old Melvin Francis, who was among the wounded men rescued by Wassell, appears as himself in the film. Cecil B. DeMille's son Richard was slated for a small part in the film; however, he was inducted into the Army and therefore does not appear in the film. Laraine Day and Signe Hasso were borrowed from M-G-M. A news item noted that DeMille was considering using a plot device featuring "gremlins." The War Production Board approved a $206,908 budget for sets for the film, well above the $5,000 limit previously established for all films made during wartime. Paramount built a replica of the Dutch ship Janssens based on blueprints and photographs of the original ship. Five percent of the film's gross earnings were donated to the Navy Relief Society as part of Paramount's agreement with the Navy. In addition, the proceeds of the premieres were donated to the Naval Aid Auxiliary. Gary Cooper and Carol Thurston reprised their roles in a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast on 23 October 1944.
       Although some critics hailed The Story of Dr. Wassell as a great film, others were critical of DeMille's presentation of Wassell's story. Bosley Crowther in his New York Times review of the picture echoed the sentiments of many when he noted that the film was "a hopped-up melodrama about a young and romantically disposed doc who shepherds a group of wounded out of Java under the most fantastic circumstances imaginable. True, such a thing did happen. But not this way, we'll bet a hat!...The public...is vastly aware of the realities, the mammoth ordeals of this war....So it is not in the least surprising that folks should start in resentful shock when DeMille (or anyone) shows them hoopla warfare in a Technicolor blaze." Farciot Edouart, Gordon Jennings and George Dutton were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Special Effects for their work on the film. The film was voted one of The Film Daily Ten Best Pictures of 1944.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1944

Released in United States on Video May 14, 1996

Released in United States 1944

Released in United States on Video May 14, 1996