GO FOR BROKE ! kept the patriotic fires of WW2 stoked while the less-clear gunpowder of Korea was aflame. One of at least eighteen war or military-themed movies released in 1951, it performed honorably/dutifully, pulling positive reviews, reaching #26 among the years earners, the $1,337,000 production cost covered by grosses of $3,337,000. *
Van Johnson stars as an Army lieutenant unhappily assigned in 1943 to lead a platoon of the newly formed 442nd Regimental Combat Team, composed of Japanese-Americans seeking to prove their patriotism even while their relatives languish in relocation camps.
The guys—the majority came from Hawaii—are played by amateur actors who were actually members of the famed outfit: Lane Nakano, Henry Nakamura, George Miki, Ken Okamoto, Akira Fukunaga and Henry Oyasato (of the six, only Nakamura did not serve). It’s a neat gesture, but while they made crack soldiers in real life, they don’t really cut it playing them on screen.
Directed & written by Robert Pirosh, it’s a well-meant and certainly deserved tribute, but the over-zealous delivery from untrained actors hinders, plus the script is cornball and as a document its service is, well, selective: the shame of the internment camps is given but fleeting mention and the prejudice these men endured even while serving is feather-dusted. The positive reviews seem to have been swayed more by the sincere and noble intent less than effective dramatic content. Nonetheless, Pirosh was Oscar-nominated in the category of Story & Screenplay. He’d previously won that award for the classic Battleground, but not only was his writing much better for that 1949 saga, it was directed by the veteran William Wellman (and also gave Van Johnson one of his better roles). As a first-time director, Pirosh (whose other writing credits included A Day At The Races) was only fair. The action scenes, of which there are not enough (it’s talky as heck) are standard stuff, nothing special. **
With Warner Anderson, Gianna Maria Canale (added so Johnson could have a ‘liberation romance’ in Italy) and Don Haggerty. Richard Anderson and Hugh Beaumont are in there, but uncredited. So is John Banner, the future ‘Sgt. Schultz’ of Hogan’s Heroes, as a Wehrmacht officer.
* Of the eighteen military movies that gung-ho year, only two did better at the box-office, Flying Leathernecks and Operation Pacific, both featuring an indefatigable John Wayne battling the Imperial Japanese. Back to reality, the gone-for-broke record amassed by the 442nd totaled seven major campaigns in Europe with a like number of Presidential Citations, earning 21 Medals of Honor, 588 Silver Stars, 4,000 Bronze Stars and 9,486 Purple Hearts. The casualty rate for the unit: 314%.
** While giving this hell-for-breakfast outfit credit was laudable and overdue, the timing also fit neatly with the strategic ‘rehabilitation’ of Japan from enemy to ally, for its use as basically a giant aircraft carrier during the Korean War. Along with glossing over the Constitutional, ethical, racial and moral black mark of interning 110,000 loyal Americans of Japanese lineage during the war (and the convenient pilfering of their property), another item the oh-the-hoke screenplay leaves out is the way the men felt about how badly they were deployed by their commanding general, resulting in needless losses. Next year in 1952, Red Ball Express (Jeff Chandler and Sidney Poitier) paid similar “we all pull together when it’s time to clobber foreigners” tribute to some of the African-American soldiers of WW2.