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4.5 out of 5 stars
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4.5 out of 5 stars
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on 25 January 2005
This is one of several films John Wayne starred in during the war that was intended to boost the morale of the folks at home. However, it is still a great war film even today with spectacular action for its time (1944).
Wedge Donovan (John Wayne) is the CEO of a large construction company that is building airfields in the Pacific for the Allied planes. However, as a rule, they must not be armed with any kinds of weapons. Donovan strongly disagrees with this, pointing out that his men are in hostile territory and must be given the right to defend themselves. Eventually they are allowed rifles but Donovan bluntly refuses that his men be trained as soldiers.
Then the inevitable happens. On a deadly assignment in the South Seas, the Donovan Construction Company come under heavy Japanese fire. The resulting battle is a one-sided massacre that eventually convinces Donovan that his men must have the proper training in order to defend themselves. With this in mind, a brand new army regiment is set up, The Fighting Seabees (a play on the initials of the regiment's given name, Construction Battalion - CBs) and Donovan is made its leader. They now must both build and fight.
But will fate repeat itself when the Japanese attack again?
This film features very human characters and is still a very fine war film, sixty-one years after its creation. I hope it comes to DVD soon.
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John Wayne plays "Wedge Donovan" big cheese of a civilian construction unit working with the navy to build landing strips on the Pacific Islands; Dennis O`Keefe plays the navy liason officer he has to work with and Susan Hayward provides the love interest for both.
The story, which is about the formation of the Construction Battalions (CB`s, geddit?) is utter tosh, although the units did of course exist and did sterling work; this is the Hollywood wartime propaganda machine in full swing, so little things like historical fact are set aside somewhat. It is a film of its period and the circumstances of the time; the Japanese are demonised, the civies can`t wait to do their bit, American spirit and know-how will win the day... you know the kind of thing. If you are the wrong side of 40 you grew up watching films like these on TV and can probably make allowances for the material; I can`t speak for anyone younger, but viewed as a wartime adventure story it is still fairly entertaining, though probably not one of Wayne`s best. For the student of this kind of film there`s a whole essay worth of stuff as most of the common warprop. characters and cliches are here; I also suspect Hayward was being tried out by the studios to see how she might handle a leading actress role; she really is only there to provide eye-candy and romantic interest but she manages to be in most scenes of the film, quite a feat for such a male-dominated picture!
If you`re a John Wayne fan or like war films from this period you`ll want this DVD; picture quality is first-rate and sound is good clear mono. There are no extras.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 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.
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on 17 September 2013
A film about the setting up of the Seabee unit of the navy,it is a good action war propaganda movie.Susan Hayward is the love interest,Wayne wants to fight the Japanese who attack his construction workers,however he lacks discipline and makes some serious errors.This film has action comedy and romance a bit dated but worth the watch
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on 8 August 2016
Solid John Wayne outing with a different take on a WWII film, the construction companies who had to learn to work in hostile situations. Worth a look and good entertainment value.
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on 14 December 2014
John Wayne at his fighting best. I had seen this film years ago but enjoyed watching it again. In reality it is just a WW2 propoganda film but I enjoyed it again despite this.
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on 9 November 2012
a bit of everything in this film love action war and hard work not one of the best but a film worth watching.a Amazon bargain like the other 20 or so i bought FROM THEM.
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on 12 January 2015
This movie is ok, but it's a bit dated. It was made during WW2, so it's partially propaganda. I didn't know much about the SeaBees, until I watched this movie
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on 16 January 2014
I found this movie just as good as the rest of them the action in it was excellent and it was awesome.
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on 17 April 2014
great film if you have a few hours to kill has a nice story and a very unexpected ending great
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