TO THE SHORES OF TRIPOLI, despite its gung-ho title cribbed from the Marine’s Hymn, isn’t a war actioner, but instead is a slick and trim 86-minute Technicolor advertisement for the service, featuring three attractive stars and partially shot at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego. Filmed weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor, released a few months later in 1942, it was credited by the Corps as the single biggest recruiting aid they had heading into the mangling maw of WW2. *
Smug playboy ‘Chris Winters’ (John Payne) enlists in the Marines, assuming he can coast through training and skip out to a safe job as a civilian. He shapes up to a degree, in order to try and woo a Navy nurse, ‘Lt. Mary Carter’ (Maureen O’Hara), who sees though his act. Meanwhile, drill instructor ‘Sgt. Dixie Smith’ (Randolph Scott) tries to make Winters get with the program.
The three stars glide through the silliness with aplomb. Scott (whose chiseled looks fit the image to a tee) plays history’s most gentle and understanding Gunnery Sergeant; it must have been a horselaugh for Corps vets, and the fellas who signed up after seeing the movie were no doubt in for a rude awakening when the real deal smacked them in the kisser. Considering the harsh reality awaiting those that answered the call, the naivete is so pure it’s poignant.
Soft sell nonsense was written by Americana ace Lamar Trotti, and smoothly directed by amiable studio craftsman H. Bruce Humberstone; the mission was accomplished with a $6,600,000 gross that put it #21 in ’42. Watching the hundreds of recruits drill-marching across the depot grounds, it’s hard not to wonder how many of those battle-eager boys never made it back from Pacific island cauldrons like Tarawa, Peleliu and Iwo Jima.
The crisp Technicolor cinematography was Oscar-nominated. Alfred Newman handled the score, so the renditions of the Marine’s Hymn are suitably rousing. With Nancy Kelly, William Tracy, Maxie Rosenbloom, Harry Morgan (26 in his debut), Russell Hicks, Alan Hale Jr., Hugh Beaumont, Elena Verdugo, O.Z. Whitehead and Dave Willock.
* Supporting goofball William Tracy does his imbecile act again here, though not as grotesque as that he exorcised on Tobacco Road. He did a series of programmers, military comedies for the war effort, co-starring with familiar tough guy Joseph Sawyer. They cranked out Tanks A Million, About Face, Hay Foot, Fall In and Yanks Ahoy before Tracy joined the Army Air Corps. After the war they resurrected the schtick with Here Comes Trouble, As You Were and Mr. Walkie Talkie.
Payne later became a flight instructor in the Army Air Corps. Scott, who’d already served in the Army during WW1, joined the Coast Guard. Payne and O’Hara would team together in Sentimental Journey, Tripoli (Marines again, fighting the Barbary Pirates), and most famously, Miracle On 34th Street.
In 1940, before Pearl Harbor, there were 19,400 Marines; when World War II ended there were 485,052. 19,733 died in the Pacific, 68,207 were wounded.