Operation Pacific

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OPERATION PACIFIC—–“We asked for and we got it. We’re right in the middle of the entire Japanese Imperial Fleet.”  The Duke on submarine duty, with pal Ward Bond as exec, Patricia Neal as the ex-wife turned nurse who still loves him, Philip Carey as a hot-blooded rival.

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Gung-ho (or ‘anchors aweigh!’) 1951 matinee is lengthy at 111 minutes, too much to swallow as anything beyond a product of its time, watchable in its cornball fashion. One of the ad tag lines lets you have it :”Sub Raiders Throw an Underwater Uppercut for Uncle Sam!”  Personality squabbles and romantic blather weighs down the first half of the piece.  The few battle sequences are fairly neat, with fun model work, though some the actions tilt to unlikely.  Wayne has been better, Bond is very good. Wayne, going through a divorce, was in a sour mood throughout the shoot, bumming out Neal, who’d been looking forward to working with him.  Neal, who had her own off-screen drama going on with her affair with Gary Cooper, offered “John Wayne had enormous appeal for the public, but I did not find him appealing in the least. I think my charms were lost on him too.”  They clicked more smoothly, professionally and personally, 13 years later in another WW2 Navy epic, the much bigger, much better In Harm’s Way.

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Well, I don’t like you, either…

Directed and written by George Waggner, with Scott Forbes, Martin Milner, Paul Picerni*, William Campbell and Jack Pennick.  In unaccredited bits are Gail Davis (later TVs Annie Oakley, childhood staple from the dinosaur days), Harry Lauter (another 50s TV standby from Tales Of The Texas Rangers), Richard Loo (once more behind the throttle of a ‘Zero’) and Milburn Stone.  The vehicle came in 23rd of the years releases, pulling $3,970,000.

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Wayne, aside from chafing under his marital woes, wasn’t all that jazzed by the script, but he was using his hard won business acumen to his advantage. He’d just signed a lucrative contract with Warner’s and this movie, followed by another WW2 Rising Sun battler, the marginally better Flying Leathernecks, were tasked to bring in bucks enough to light the way for riskier projects down the line. Some worked (Island In The Sky), some didn’t (Blood Alley), but Wayne+Warners would later bat out of the park with The High And The Mighty, The Searchers and Rio Bravo.  

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Unhappy visit to the set

*Paul Picerni, best known as sidekick to Robert Stack on The Untouchables, flew 25 combat missions as a bombardier in B-24s and was on the raid that destroyed the real bridge over the river Kwai.  While some of the heroic stuff in Operation Pacific seems goofy, one bit—using the sub as a ram against a ship and then the wounded captain ordering it to submerge— actually happened, resulting in one less vessel of the Imperial Japanese Navy and one posthumous Medal of Honor for the doomed officer.

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Paul Picerni

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