BACK TO BATAAN—-lots of action in this WW2 saga, gung being ho’d this time in the Philippines. In 1942 Bataan and Corregidor fall to the invading Japanese, but diehard guerrillas fight on in the hills. MacArthur may have bugged out, but John Wayne stays on (at least in the jungles at RKO)
The theme is righteous reprisal, carried out by dead-ahead Duke against a textbook array of vile Nipponese enemies, played once again by the able likes of Richard Loo and Philip Ahn. Bullets and bolos for Democracy are wielded by Anthony Quinn (uh, pretty tall for a Filipino), indomitability practiced by Beulah Bondi, spirit shown by Fely Franquelli, wisecracks offered by Paul Fix, and Plucky Kid award goes to Ducky Louie for his ‘take a few of ’em with ya’ stunt–“I am sorry I didn’t learn to spell liberty“.
Aside from the impassioned speeches and its understandably fierce patriotic angle, the script adroitly drops in some reminders that before fighting beside Americans vs. the Japanese, Filipinos also fought against us, back in the 1900s. Sharply lensed by Nicholas Musuraca, two sequences stand out: a banzai charge against Yankee trenches and a section detailing the horrid, unforgivable Death March of prisoners after the fall of Bataan.*
Made in early 1945, it was written and shot in spasms as it went along just to keep up with fresh news coming from the Philippines, then in the bloody process of being liberated. Director Edward Dmytryk and writers Ben Barzman and Richard H. Landau hustled through, despite pretty rough back & forth ribbing with their politically opposite star; Wayne decidedly rightwing while Dmytryk and Barzman were Communists. Things got so hot at one point that Barzman, according to his memoir, reportedly threatened Wayne with a fire-ax! **
Costing $1,200,000, it landed on spot #42 for the year, buoyed off the grim victory across the Pacific, earning $3,200,000. 95 minutes, with Lawrence Tierney, Abner Biberman, Leonard Strong,Vladimir Sokoloff, Benson Fong and Ray Teal.
* If wipe-em-out fever wasn’t cranked high enough already: as the Philippines were retaken at heavy cost, and while this movie was being prepared, the news came out about the horror of the Death March, the ghastly POW camps, and the wanton destruction of Manila, so hold the p.c. hand-wringing over some less-than-thoughtful portrayals of the enemy. Ironically, while the script issues the expected vitriol against Japan, it does at least plant seeds for recall of the earlier American subjugation of the Philippines, one of the bloodier and most overlooked blots on our own national record.
** Barzman was blacklisted and moved to Europe. At least part of his exile he could blame on Dmytryk, who finked on the writer in order to get out of his own prison sentence as part of The Hollywood Ten. Barzman later wrote the screenplays to El Cid, 55 Days At Peking, The Fall Of The Roman Empire and The Blue Max. The female lead in Back to Bataan, Filipina exile Fely Franquelli, was a world-renowned choreographer whose family was trapped in Manila for the duration of the war. She was buried in Arlington Cemetery. Nearly a million Filipinos perished during WW2.