THEY WERE EXPENDABLE

(1945)
With Robert Montgomery, John Wayne, Donna Reed, Cameron Mitchell, Ward Bond, Jack Holt, Leon Ames
Directed by John Ford
Black and White
Reviewed by JL

They Were Expendable     A deeply moving and somber masterpiece from John Ford, THEY WERE EXPENDABLE celebrates the unsung heroes of the Pacific who did their best against overwhelming Japanese forces while the Navy recovered from its Pearl Harbor losses.  As the rueful irony of the title suggests, these were the sacrificial lambs of the war effort.  In such a context, Ford merely presents the events with quiet and heartfelt candor for maximum effect.  To add to the sense of realism, Robert Montgomery had just returned from a tour of duty as a PT boat captain; his performance is infused with the inner strength and melancholy of one who has lived his role.  Ford even eschews sentiment in the romantic subplot between John Wayne and Donna Reed: like many wartime relationships, theirs ends abruptly and without resolution when she is transferred to another unit.  The film is also noted for its nighttime sea-battle sequences, for which Ford employs deep focus for a hauntingly surreal effect.  One of Ford's trademarked "quiet" scenes, dimly lit and overflowing with unspoken emotion, comes when Wayne invites Reed for dinner in the officer's tent.  It's a humble meal of military food, their only light is a lone candle, and Reed is surrounded by proud and polite men, aware of their probable doom, who are just happy to be in the company of a pretty woman one more time.  In its way, it's a stirringly patriotic moment.  - JL

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