A Movie A Day: Quint is IN HARM’S WAY (1965) All battles are fought by scared men who’d rather be somewhere else.
Published at: July 29, 2008, 1:38 p.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Ha! Bet you thought I missed a day, didn’t you? Sorry it took so long getting this one up, but this movie is 2 hours and 40+ minutes long. I watched most of it on the laptop while on the train from San Diego to LA and had to finish it at my hotel after a day of traveling misadventures which could serve as a sequel to PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES.
Today’s movie is 1965’s IN HARM’S WAY, bridging from yesterday’s RICCO by the beautiful Barbara Bouchet as well as the Mitchum bloodline. Christopher starred in RICCO and his brother James has a bit part in this ensemble WW2 flick starring John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Patricia Neal and a shit-ton of great character actors.
I went into Otto Preminger’s film thinking it was a straight up retelling of the Pearl Harbor story. Afterall, it starts off in Hawaii and features the Japanese attack. Actually, it starts off at a swinging party on Hawaii as a girl (Bouchet) seductively dances with different men, to the point that she is removed and the party halted (look for a young Jerry Goldsmith acting as the band leader).
We come to find out that this woman is Kirk Douglas’ wife… to be more precise, she’s his slutty wife. She ends up skinny dipping in a rather risqué scene, where we get a lot of flesh and side boob, which wasn’t exactly all that common during this period.
She has sex with a young officer and they wake the next morning on the beach…
Sure, I thought. Here we go… love triangle melo-drama, set against Pearl Harbor. We’ve seen Bay do it, now it was time to watch a slightly more interesting cast tackle it.
And then the attack happened and we see the cheating couple jump in their car, trying to get out of the line of fire… only to crash in a horrifically realistic flaming plummet over a cliff. I’m not kidding, it was insanely graphic.
To my great surprise Pearl Harbor is only in the first reel, acting as a way to introduce us to our ensemble. Wayne plays Captain Rockwell Torrey, Tom Tryon is Mac McConnell and Douglas Commander Paul Eddington, all serving on ships as the harbor is attacked. Mac actually rushes his ship out of the harbor saving it from the devastation as Wayne’s ship stays out of the attack, not near the island at the time of the attack.
Basically what we have is a long film with a few dozen threads interweaving the lives of a handful of key characters, with the Pacific War as a backdrop.
Wayne is sent out to attack the Japanese (can I call ‘em Nips like they do in the movie? It is historically accurate, afterall… naw, not cool…) as they regroup. He is ordered to hit them immediately, but doesn’t have enough fuel to make it, so he decides to reserve fuel by cutting some safety corners, namely stopping the zig-zagging that helps avoid submarine attacks. Of course he is hit and his group does everything they can to keep the ship afloat.
The point is he is punished for this and is sent away.
Later on we pick up on him and what he’s doing, organizing the routing of ships. This leads him to getting a second chance and taking a small, but important batch of islands as General MacArthur is fighting the big war.
Douglas is roaming aimless, the loss of his wife hitting him hard. Wayne is treading water, but as long as he’s contributing he’s happy. Soon enough he finds out his estranged son (Brandon De Wilde, who was the kid in SHANE) is in the Navy as well. Around the same time, Wayne starts falling for a pretty nurse named Maggie, played by the great Patricia Neal (THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, HUD)… did you know she was married to Roald Dahl? I had no idea!
Anyway, De Wilde is cordial towards his father, but felt abandoned, so he’s cold. In fact, he’s adopted his own father figure in a politician who enlisted in order to get publicity for himself. Dana Andrews plays Broderick, this politician who is constantly maneuvering, sometimes at the expense of leaked information, dangerous information and Patrick O'Neal the alpha clinger-oner.
De Wilde follows him around like a puppy-dog while giving the cold shoulder to his dad who is trying to reach out.
It’s actually a really dark movie. There’s a rape scene that is depicted in the last act that is incredibly disturbing… and surprising. The biggest surprise is that the rapist is someone we’ve grown to really like.
Also, the way Preminger shot the action is incredible. Long, long takes with dozens of explosions… the kind of thing you do once and can’t reset… cars blowing up, buildings hit, road being riddled with bombs and bulletfire… I can’t wait to get to the 3 or 4 other Preminger films on the docket.
In fact, I’d even go so far as to say the action in this movie was a precursor to what Alfonso Cuaron did in CHILDREN OF MEN. Some of the pieces are that incredible, especially when you consider they didn’t have the tools that Cuaron did to execute these incredible scenes.
But the important sequences aren’t the spectacle scenes, it’s the character drama. I buy Wayne and Neal’s love-story, especially since Neal plays Maggie as a very independent woman, never a damsel in distress or nagging girlfriend… or worried partner. She’s got her job to do, too… in fact, she’s more control of their relationship than Wayne is.
I can’t talk about this film without bringing up Burgess Meredith. God, I love Burgess Meredith and he’s got a great character here… he’s a Hollywood screenwriter, thrice divorced (all movie starlets) and enlisted in the war. He has a great scene with Wayne before the big Naval battle at the end. The subhead quote comes from Wayen in this scene, but Meredith confesses his own fear, saying he’s never been this scared in his life. What the hell is he doing there? He should be writing about events like this and making them movies, not being in the line of fire. It’s a great vulnerable scene for a character who has been all smart-ass and laughs for the rest of the movie.
Douglas is fantastic. Your opinion on who this guy is changes from scene to scene. There’s a sequence where he flips a coin with Meredith on who will get to manhandle O'Neal that must have gotten cheers upon it’s original release.
The whole supporting cast is great, with some incredibly recognizable and awesome faces, like Slim Pickens, George Kennedy, Stanley Holloway, Larry Hagman, Paula Prentiss, Henry Fonda and Carroll O’Connor. After seeing O’Connor in this and previous AMAD Point Blank I’m dying to explore his work outside of ALL IN THE FAMILY. I have vague memories of his work in KELLY’S HEROES (been a few years since I’ve seen that one)… I’ll have to look him up and see if there’s anything big I need to find of his…
Final Thoughts: There are weak moments… some character changes that happen too quickly… feeling like there were scenes removed without a thought to how the big picture would play… and there’s an Australian with a British accent. But the action is top notch, Preminger’s direction great, Jerry Goldsmith’s score is fucking incredible, Loyal Grigg’s scope black and white photography is gorgeous and the naval battles are done very well. According to trivia, the battleship models were so big many of them could be operated from the inside. Bigatures! The cast and energy of the picture makes it worth seeking out. The flick pushes the envelope of what could be done at its time and it’s still fresh today.