Top critical review
3 people found this helpful
A very average war time morale raiser with Duke playing for once a rather sub-standard character
on 5 December 2013
This rather average war time propaganda film made in 1944 is a tribute to a formation less glamorous than the Army infantry or the Marines, but which was absolutely crucial to American war effort in the Pacific War - US Navy Construction Battalions or CBs, whose members were commonly known as "Seabees"... Below, more of my impressions, with some limited SPOILERS.
1. Historical background
Construction troops, which appeared in large numbers in different armies during World War I, were usually considered as second or even third-rate units, to which were mostly affected people considered not fit to perform fighting duties. In totalitarian regimes appeared after 1917, construction troops were usually composed of people not trusted enough to be affected to real fighting units - in Imperial Japan between 1931 and 1945 a large majority of construction troops was made of Koreans and Formosans and in Soviet Union, not only under Stalin but in fact until 1991, most construction troops were made of Central Asian recruits, whose loyalty was considered weak. III Reich went even further and the construction units of the sinister para-military Todt Organisation used in fact mostly slave labour...
After 1941 United States however made a different choice. The US Navy Construction Battalions, created officially in June 1942, even if not exactly an elite unit, were to be a highly specialized engineering formation using complex machinery and most recent construction technics - and therefore it had to recruit very skilled people, not society rejects, with civilian engineers to become officers and the foremen and other experienced old timers transforming into the NCOs. The first recruits were the men who had helped to build Boulder Dam, the national highways, and New York's skyscrapers; who had worked in the mines and quarries and dug the subway tunnels; who had worked in shipyards and built docks and wharfs and even ocean liners and aircraft carriers. By the end of the war, 325,000 such men had enlisted in the Seabees. They knew more than 60 skilled trades. Although they were not supposed to fight in the first line, they were armed and military trained in order to protect themselves and the installations they were building against the enemy.
CBs contribution to American war effort was ENORMOUS! Only in the Pacific theatre they built 111 major airstrips, 441 piers, 2,558 ammunition magazines, 700 square blocks of warehouses, hospitals to serve 70,000 patients, tanks for the storage of 100,000,000 gallons of gasoline, and housing for 1,500,000 men. In construction and fighting operations, the Pacific Seabees suffered more than 200 combat deaths and earned more than 2,000 Purple Hearts. They served on four continents and on more than 300 islands. They also served in European theatre, on a lesser scale, but their contribution was also very appreciated.
2. The film
The intention of makers of this film was to pay a tribute to those fighting men - but the final result was not so good, partly because here the propaganda is served to the viewers no more by ladle put to the lips but by hose forced down the throat.
But the main reason why I liked this film much less than I expected is Wedge Donovan (later Lt. Cmdr. Wedge Donovan), the surprisingly weak character John Wayne was given to play. Donovan is not only a rather unpleasant, arrogant man (that I could live with) but he is also so criminally STUPID, endangering and ultimately wasting lives of many of his men, that I couldn't really root for him! If anything, this film shows less the respectable efforts of "Seabees" than the disastrous consequences when the wrong guy is put in charge!
Action scenes in this film are not so good as even for a wartime propaganda film they lack realism and at moments are quasi-burlesque. The Japanese are shown in an incredibly caricatured way - when better contemporary films, like the very patriotic "Guadalcanal diary", knew how to avoid this trap.
I knew that something was wrong with this film the moment I realised that I was more interested with the love triangle between Wedge Donovan, war correspondent Constance Chesley (Susan Hayward) and a handsome US Navy officer, Lt Cmdr. Robert Yarrow (Dennis O'Keefe) than with the rest of the film - and that towards the second half I really didn't care anymore about the "Seabees", but just wanted to watch the romance...)))
So bottom line, I think that this film failed in its effort to pay tribute to the "Seabees' and all huge Duke's admirer as I am, I cannot rate it more than three stars. It is watchable, especially for John Wayne fans, but nothing more.