Friday, May 23, 2008

Battle Cry

For a World War II movie titled “Battle Cry” (1955), there’s very little battle on display.

I don’t think there was a more service-friendly film since Abbott and Costello joined the Army in “Buck Privates” (1941). In “Battle Cry” there’s very little training and very little war, but there sure are a lot of furloughs and three-day leaves.

“Battle Cry”, based on a novel by Leon Uris, shows a squad of young men as they train to become Marines in the early days of World War II. Squad commander Major Sam Huxley (Van Heflin) knows what his boys will be facing and relies on his Sergeant (James Whitmore) to help him train the man for the rigors of combat. At least I think so, but there’s very little training. Instead the film focuses on their seemingly never ending three-day leaves and furloughs. Really, that’s all these guys do is go on furlough. With all the leaves and furloughs these guys receive, it’s a miracle we won the war.

The recruits are played by such up-and-coming actors as Aldo Ray, Tab Hunter, John Lupton, William Campbell and Fess Parker. For the latter two we are afforded only a few glimpses of each, and I suspect additional footage of them did not make the final cut.

We meet their various women, played by Mona Freeman, Dorothy Malone, Nancy Olson and Anne Francis (very appealing as the hooker with the heart of gold. Aren’t they all?)

When director Raoul Walsh turned in his original cut it ran more than three hours long so lots of footage had to go. I wonder if some battle scenes got cut because there’s hardly any action in it.

The film runs 148 minutes. The first 85 minutes consist of very short training sequences dropped into romantic entanglements and furlough scenes. Once basic training is over they ship to New Zealand, where the men are, you guessed it, granted leave.

At the 85-minute mark the squad is sent to Guadacanal for a clean-up mission, so I thought we would finally see some action. But by the time they get there, most of the Japanese have retreated so there’s no action. For their bravery (?), the men get, you guessed it again, a three-day leave. So back to New Zealand they go. There’s another half hour of leave and furlough footage until they are called back to duty.

A competing squad has set a record for hiking. There’s no way Huxley’s Hookers (as they become known) are going to let this happen, so they decide to beat the record and engage in a 17-hour hike. Of course the men are exhausted but persevere and win the competition. For this great achievement, they win, you guessed it yet again, another leave!

Now I wouldn’t want to engage in a 17-hour hike, but I sure would rather have a 17-hour hike than be shot at. More leave scenes, and we are now at the two hour and ten minute mark with 20 minutes to go and no war footage.

Huxley’s Hookers get sent to Saipan, and they do face combat for about 10 minutes of routinely staged action. The movie gives us another 10 minutes of reunion footage, and the film is mercifully over.

It’s all watchable enough, but the balance is woefully off throughout the film. Walsh and Company should have left in some battle footage in the midway point of the film (again, assuming it was shot) and ditched the stupid hike sequence.

Max Steiner contributes a rousing march theme, but I don’t know any Steiner score filled with so much source music. Steiner could write themes with the best of them, but not here. Again, I wonder if there was a lot of post-production editing. The theme for the romance between the Aldo Ray and Nancy Olson characters is the song “I’ll String Along With You” from the 1934 Warner Bros. musical “20 Million Sweethearts. Dick Powell sang it to Ginger Rogers, if you care. But as Groucho Marx would say.what the song has to do with a romance between a Marine and a New Zealand girl I’ll never know.

The song “Put ‘Em in a Box” is heard a source music at one point in a restaurant but that song was introduced by Doris Day in the 1948 Warners musical “Romance on the High Seas”, several years after the war had ended. I know its trivial but that’s irritating. Surely there are other songs in the Warners Song Catalog they could have used that were true to the time?

“Battle Cry” is one of the most soap opera-like war films I’ve ever seen. No wonder it was such a big hit for Warner Bros. in 1955, because this was one war film that girlfriends and wives gladly went with their men to see. Still, I wonder how many men saw the film and joined the Marines, thinking it was going to be one long furlough, with that furlough interrupted by three-day leaves.

Rating for “Battle Cry”: Two stars.

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