I used to hate war movies, having seen all the terrible ones first. Now that I've made quite a study of them, and have seen all the good ones, I can say without a doubt that Objective, Burma! is the best WW2 movie I've ever seen. The performances are realistic, the screenplay is quick and full of obstacles to keep it moving, and the direction is superb. At the Rag Awards for 1945, we were happy to award Objective, Burma! with Best Picture, Director, and Supporting Actor for Henry Hull, as well as a nomination for Screenplay. This was a year with extremely stiff competition, so hats off to Raoul Walsh for his masterpiece.WWII movies made during the war have a different feeling than ones reflecting on a war already won. This movie was made immediately after the real Burma campaign and was released in February of '45, when the American public were still worried about the eventual outcome. It's no wonder it was one of the most popular movies of the year!The plot of the film can be summed up one sentence, but Lester Cole and Ranald MacDougal's screenplay is far from simple. A platoon parachutes into the Burmese jungle for a simple mission, but when the scheduled airplane is unable to pick them up the following day and return them to safety, they're forced to find their own way out of enemy territory. There are so many disappointments and twists and turns that follow the soldiers, it's really best to find out what they are by watching it instead of reading it in a review.The realism in this movie is worth noting, and it's especially mature given the time period and the restrictions of the Production Code. In one scene, the Americans sneak up on Japanese sentries. They kill the guards silently and stealthily, and it's quite chilling. In another scene, the platoon leader comes across one of his men so badly cut up, he asks one of the other soldiers who he is. "How should I know? If he was my own brother I wouldn't know!" the other man replies. Of course, the dead man isn't shown in the frame, and the lack of seeing him is even more effective than if the audience had been privy to exactly what he'd suffered.If you're not anxiously purchasing a copy of Objective, Burma! based on the incredible plot and execution alone, you might be swayed by the cast. Errol Flynn, who made countless war pictures during WWII to keep up morale, shines as the sympathetic but stern major. He cares about all his men but knows he's responsible for their lives and the mission, so he won't tolerate any lagging or complaining. One of his men is bleeding to death, but rather than leave him behind, he orders two other soldiers to create a stretcher and carry him along. But, when the man needs a blood transfusion, Major Flynn says it'll have to be done while they march because they can't waste time.Even though he had no military experience in real life, he certainly acts like a seasoned soldier in this movie. He's clear in his instructions, and even when he wants to be helpful, you can tell he has no intention of repeating himself. Before everyone parachutes out of the airplane, he tells, with humor and efficiency, the newspaper correspondent tagging along with the platoon how to use his parachute. It's one of the greatest scenes in the entire film (which is a great compliment, since the movie is fantastic) to watch the platoon get ready to jump out of the plane. Errol orders an equipment check, and as every man sounds off his number, the tension builds. The correspondent's anxiety builds alongside the audience's, until finally the moment of truth arrives and there's no turning back.Which brings us to the star of the show: Henry Hull. A veteran actor who accomplished training in silent pictures, talkies, and Broadway, he takes on a role that appears to be tailor-made for him. Henry has often played the crusty old newspaperman, as immortalized in Jesse James, and you can just imagine him wanting to take a risk and become a war correspondent during WWII. The platoon kids him about his age, calling him Grandpa and Pop, and even Errol Flynn warns him not to come along. He asks his age, and Henry quips, "That's a military secret." Even though he's significantly older than the other boys jumping out of the airplane, he's determined to keep up. "You boys aren't fighting this war from behind a desk, and I'm not going to write about it behind one."Henry Hull has an important purpose in this story: to truly become a war correspondent. He has to bring the war and the human side of the soldiers to the audience, so it's very important that he be as interested, afraid, and shocked as everyone in the theater. Henry was a true professional. He loved his craft, and he always put his heart into his roles, no matter how much screen time he was given. Thankfully, in Objective, Burma!, he's given a lot of screen time and a very meaty role to sink his teeth into. I won't tell you what he has to live through, but I will tell you he deserved his Hot Toasty Rag award for Best Supporting Actor.While this movie was popular at the time, not many people today have heard of it. So, if you haven't seen it yet (and there's a good chance you haven't) get yourself a copy. This is one you'll watch over and over again.
A good example of a Warner Brothers war drama, it's full of clichés appropriate to the times. The Japanese are "moral idiots," "savages," and "monkeys" (three times). Men shout and wave at a search plane two or three miles away (three times). The men are the usual congeries of ethnicity -- "Gabby" Gordon hollers "Mazeltov" at the departing Sweeney. (Hold on a moment. I'll have to think that one over. I'll also have to figure out how Lt. Sidney Jacobs acquired a Catholic dog tag.) Franz Waxman's music is just catchy enough, without being in the least distinguished. The jungle looks like a dressed-up Santa Anita with eucalyptus trees instead of ebony. The dialogue tends to run along lines like -- "Here we are in the muck and mire." "Hi, Muck!" "Hi, Mire!" Just at the end, when the remaining handful of paratroopers are in despair, the cavalry comes riding to the rescue.I guess that gets the time-trapped stuff out of the way. This is far from an insulting cartoon of a movie. At its best, it captures the kind of utter physical exhaustion that Norman Mailer caught in his novel, "The Naked and the Dead." It's essentially a "journey" movie. Flynn, who is not bad, and his men are parachuted into Burma to destroy a radar station. Mission accomplished without casualties, they find their pick-up airfield swarming with enemy soldiers and must slog their way out through swamps and over mountains, the trip punctuated by bloody encounters with the Japanese.Not that the battles are literally bloody. I don't think a drop of blood is spilled in the entire movie despite multiple opportunities. "Saving Private Ryan" is one way to tell a horrifying story -- very explicitly -- but the suggestion that is used in this film is equally effective, as hard as that may be to believe. Maybe the most jarring and moving moment in the film is when Flynn's group finds their friends tortured and killed by the Japanese. Flynn's friend, Jacobs, is barely alive. We see only his legs as Flynn kneels over him and identifies himself. The viewer can only imagine what Jacob's face -- and his eyes -- must look like as he whispers, "Nelson? Is that you, Nelson? Will you do me a favor, Nelson? Kill me?" The movie is a long one but it really needs to be long or we wouldn't so readily feel the agony and the desperation of these dying men. It's long enough for us to get to know the men as more than just anonymous soldiers too.And the dialogue has its redeeming moments. When the middle-aged journalist is found dead near his foxhole, a supporting player, James Brown, stands over the body and says sincerely but not overdramatically, "Gee, I'm sorry, Mister Williams. Awfully sorry." And when Flynn leads his pitiful group of survivors finally into the base, his commanding officer shakes his hand, gives him a light, and tells him, "You don't know how important it was for you to take that radar station." Flynn says simply, "Here's what it cost," and hands him a fistful of identity tags.It's an example not of art but of Hollywood craftsmanship. Engaging, and nicely done. 2b1af7f3a8