GUADALCANAL DIARY , from the fever-heat of 1943, is as appropriate an example of your basic flag-waving WW2 propaganda film as you can find (outside Soviet Russia), corny to the hilt, packed with phony but exciting passages of righteous avenging slaughter. Whipped out from the pages of Richard Tregaskis’ still-smoking bestseller about the tortuous battle for the Solomon’s island jungle hellhole of Guadalcanal, where US Marines carried the offensive to the previously victorious Japanese, this large-scale production has a sturdy cast, enough gunfire to shell shock any viewers green to this kind of pitch and as much racial antagonism as you can find in its genre. The Japanese are depicted as skulking, buck-toothed, treacherous apes, polished off with unabated glee by our guys, represented with every regional and ethnic stereotype available including Irish’y chaplain Preston Foster, Brooklyn cabbie William Bendix (‘Aloysius T. Potts’), Latin rake Anthony Quinn, and the proverbial ‘kid’, Richard Jaeckel (fresh from Hollywood High, age 17, movie debut).
The actual, miserable filth, swarming insects, crippling disease and exhaustive horror of what really went down on ‘The Canal’ are hit up superficially, natch, and reverently sappy narration backs up the heroics.* Hindsight makes this either amusing or unbearable, but bear in mind that when it was put into theaters all we knew was that we were locked into a knife-to-throat fight with merciless foes on two fronts and needed all the morale boosters we could get.
With its all-American characters and roaring pyrotechnics—no stinting on the explosions and in the sound effects department—this ode to leatherneck guts and gumption fit the mood, raking in $6,600,000, the 13th highest for the year.
93 minutes, with Lloyd Nolan, Richard Conte, Roy Roberts, Lionel Stander, Reed Hadley, John Archer and Eddie Acuff. Glenn Ford has an unaccredited bit as a Marine (he was one at the time, joining up when the battle the movie depicts was underway).
* Contrast this mid-war crowd-rouser with the two grim versions of The Thin Red Line. The latter is quite a cinematic experience, but the most accurate recreations were in the superior TV miniseries The Pacific. The desperate naval battles fought for months around the Solomon’s have been barely touched by movies; exceptions include PT-109, The Gallant Hours, and a segment of The Fighting Sullivans. Steer a wide course around Black Sheep Squadron, the stupid late 70s TV series with the unbearable Robert Conrad. Find books on subject: read same. Visit the Solomon’s for the beauty and the diving. Thank whatsoever you pray to that you were not there in 1942-3.