In Harm's Way is something of an oddity. Boasting a top director and an impressive all-star cast yet nearly completely forgotten, this 1965 roadshow would-be epic plays in many ways like a misfired follow-up to From Here To Eternity, following several navy men and their ladies from the attack on Pearl Harbor to the first American victories against the Japanese. But it's more soap opera than action movie, with John Wayne's legendary officer `The Rock' trying to work his way through the social circuit to get a new command after his ship takes a torpedo while pal Kirk Douglas goes off the rails after his unfaithful wife is killed, raping a nurse and eventually doing the decent thing. Throw in father-son reunions, hesitant affairs and the odd bit of infighting in the ranks and it's not too surprising that no-one has much screen time for the Japanese.
The casting is often curious - alongside top liners John Wayne (reunited with his Operation Pacific romantic interest Patricia Neal) and Kirk Douglas it's a mixture of the old guard - Henry Fonda, Burgess Meredith, Stanley Holloway, Dana Andrews, Franchot Tone, Bruce Cabot - and rising stars who never quite made it like Brandon DeWilde, Tom Tryon, Paula Prentiss, Barbara Bouchet and Jill Haworth. You can even glimpse the score's composer Jerry Goldsmith on piano in the opening scene of the movie as the leader of the band at a party.
The production values are extremely variable too. Preminger makes the most of the surprising amount of access he got from the US Navy to their ships and bases for some spectacular backgrounds, but the cast aside, there's often an air of cheapness to parts of the film; the cinematography often has a rough and ready available light look and the some of the interiors often look as if the filmmakers broke into people's houses while they were at work and stole a few shots without setting up the lights properly before they got back home. Widely ridiculed at the time for its bathtub battleship special effects (certainly not as bad as their reputation), the absence of any planes in the sky during the attack on Pearl is more of a problem, made all the more noticeable by the preponderance of low-angle shots that take in a clear sky in the sequence.
While there's no hiding that the film is in a disappointment considering all the talent involved, it does improve on a second viewing and with lowered expectations. It may never justify all the effort, but it fills a Sunday afternoon well enough.
One of the last widescreen epics shot in black and white, the DVD boasts a good 2.35:1 widescreen transfer with three enjoyably old-fashioned trailers introduced by Otto Preminger from the heart of a burning engine room or the deck of a P.T. boat, while the vintage making of featurette includes a quite charming outtake from one of Wayne and Neal's romantic scenes.