CRY ‘HAVOC’ grossed $1,800,000, coming in 115th place among the year’s horde. The year was 1943, crammed with more than 30 war films, this sober drama one of them. Though it didn’t rake in big numbers like For Whom The Bell Tolls or such rousers as Destination Tokyo, Guadalcanal Diary, Air Force and the similarly-themed So Proudly We Hail! , this story of nurses in the doomed defense of The Philippines is a worthy addition to the platoon of “give ’em hell” sagas from a grim year. *
As the Japanese invasion traps American and Filipino forces on the Bataan Peninsula and casualties mount from combat and disease, a disparate group of civilians serve as nurses to the under-staffed, overwhelmed regular Army nurses. ‘Lt. Mary Smith’ (Margaret Sullavan) has to on-the-spot train the new gals, who include tough cookie waitress ‘Pat Conlin’ (Ann Sothern), ex-burlesque hotsy ‘Grace Lambert’ (Joan Blondell) and idealistic journalist ‘Connie Booth’ (Ella Raines). Others on duty: Fay Bainter, Marsha Hunt, Diana Lewis, Frances Gifford, Heather Angel, Dorothy Morris, Connie Gilchrist, Fely Franquelli and Gloria Grafton. **
The script has a fair share of decent byplay for the fine troupe of actresses to toss back & forth; variously saucy or serious, sentimental or stirring, and they all manage it quite well. Of course, the Production Code of the day precluded more than hinting at the misery that went down in the Philippines, let alone what showing a real dose of bitter reality would have done to morale. Plus the full details of the post-surrender horror were yet to be revealed. Even so, the foregone bleak ending retains effect.
Newcomer Robert Mitchum has a bit part as a dying soldier, one of twenty films he appeared in during his debut year. Paul Osborn’s script was based from a play by Allan R. Kenward. Directed by Richard Thorpe, with cinematography by Karl Freund. 97 minutes.
* Along with those mentioned above, bucking up the Home Front were A Guy Named Joe, Crash Dive, Hitler’s Children, Sahara, China, The Immortal Sergeant, Action In The North Atlantic, Bataan, Watch On The Rhine, Edge Of Darkness, Behind The Rising Sun, Northern Pursuit, Corvette K-225, Salute To The Marines, The North Star, Bombardier, Mission To Moscow, The Cross Of Lorraine, Gung Ho!, Five Graves To Cairo, Destroyer, The Iron Major, The Moon Is Down, Pilot #5 and Night Train From Chungking.
** This was the last film for Diana Lewis; married to William Powell, she quit show biz. They stayed together for 44 years. Frances Gifford’s life took a turn to the tragic after a car wreck in 1947; injuries severe enough to cause personality change, and eventual mental problems. She spent many years institutionalized. Marsha Hunt was later a casualty of blacklisting. Filipino-born dancer/choreagrapher Fely Franquelli made just one more film, Back To Bataan, where she actually has a substantial part: she’s buried with her husband in Arlington Natl. Cemetery.
As far as the actual fate of the real-life gals, 77 female US Army and Navy nurses were captured in Manila and Corregidor. Though humiliated, starved and abused, they were not raped as “comfort women”, a fate undergone by tens of thousands of women from numerous countries under the boot of the Greater East-Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. When honor-absent Japanese officials and educators own up to the barbarism practiced and sanctioned by their soldiers during WW2—they ritually, cravenly deny it—then this reviewer will cut some slack. ‘Til then, bombs away…