We begin with a trainload of Marine recruits who are so stereotypical that the solemn narrator even introduces them by their stereotype labels: the dumb north country lumberjack Andy (Aldo Ray), the All-American boy Dan (Tab Hunter), the hoodlum, the sensitive bookworm, the "Injuns" recruited for Navajo code talking, and so on. They've left behind an assortment of families and girlfriends who will haunt their thoughts and test their faithfulness throughout 10 weeks of basic training in San Diego and the ocean journey to Hawaii and beyond.
Commander Sam Huxley (Van Heflin), known as High Pockets by his men, is a tough taskmaster committed to making his squad the best and to volunteering for all the toughest assignments, which he never gets. He's outraged that his men are sent in "with brooms and dustpans" to do mop up work after earlier waves of Marines do the real fighting. They see Guadalcanal, but only the tail end of it. On a break in New Zealand he forces the squad to undertake a 60-kilometer hike in record time just to prove they're tougher than the other Marines who are resting nearby. The men hate High Pockets but respect him, and they finish the hike only because they want to see if they can make him drop. He doesn't.
Subplots abound, most notably with the love lives of the innocent (and engaged) Dan, who is tempted by, well, a temptress, and Andy, the dumb lumberjack, who falls hard for a New Zealand beauty, impregnates her, marries her, and then flirts with the idea of desertion. And why not? Would you have rather spent World War II on Iwo Jima or on an idyllic Antipodean mountaintop sheep farm?
When the squad finally gets a plum assignment to join the first assault wave on Saipan, we see some exciting battle action for the first time. Of course, after more recent films depicting war's true horror, this is tame stuff. It's the kind of war choreography where a bomb explodes and ten soldiers keel over as if they'd died from an attack of the vapors. It probably had a lot more impact back in the day on a big CinemaScope screen. Happily, the soldiers do finally get to use some cool flamethrowers.
The Americans win, of course, and the movie wraps up, slowly, with lots of tearful reunions and homecomings. All and all, a long and somewhat exhausting slog for both them and us.
Run time: 149 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 2nd February 1955
Distributed by: WARNER BROTHERS PICTURES
Production compaines: Warner Bros. Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 80%
Fresh: 4 Rotten: 1
IMDB: 6.6 / 10
Director: Raoul Walsh
Producer: Jack L. Warner
Screenwriter: Leon Uris
Starring: Van Heflin as Major Sam Huxley, Aldo Ray as Andy Hookens, Mona Freeman as Kathy, James Whitmore as MSgt. Mac, Nancy Olson as Mrs. Pat Rogers, Raymond Massey as Major General Snipes, Tab Hunter as Pvt Dan 'Danny' Forrester, Anne Francis as Rae, Dorothy Malone as Mrs Elaine Yarborough, Fess Parker as Pvt Speedy, Perry Lopez as Pvt Joe Gomez aka Spanish Joe, William Campbell as Pvt 'Ski" Wronski, Jonas Applegarth as Pvt Lightower, L.Q. Jones as Pvt. L.Q. Jones
Also starring: Leon Uris