Saturday, June 17, 2023

From a foxhole located in the Philippines, Clydes Movie Palace presents: So Proudly We Hail! (1943)

So Proudly We Hail ReviewCast of So Proudly We Hail
Sometimes I wonder how a film such as So Proudly We Hail (1943) ever made it into the theaters. It stars not just one legendary female lead but three of them: Claudette Colbert, Paulette Goddard, and Veronica Lake. I always say if you're going to give a dance, bring on the triple threat.

Getting these actresses in the same movies couldn't have been easy. Big stars, male or female have egos; sometimes, those egos can get in the way.

I've heard and read different stories about whether they got along. Some say that Claudette and Paulette feuded, and in this clip by Robert Osborne, Lake indicated none of them could get along with Colbert. Still, costar George Reeves said that Lake caused all the problems on the set. George was a man, though, so women will probably retort, "What did he know?"

How often have we forgotten women's role in World War II? Sometimes we must be reminded that it wasn't the men in the trenches.
Davy 0001
So Proudly We Hail Opens at the movie's end, telling its story as a flashback. It must have been a shock to moviegoers of the 40's to see these three women disembarking from a plane looking anything but glamorous. They had all been to hell and back, which is emphasized even more when Lt. Janet "Davey" Davidson (Claudette Colbert) is removed from the aircraft on a stretcher. She is awake, but she is unresponsive to any stimulus. Later, as the women gather on the ship which will transport them back to the United States, they tell their story, which begins on the exact day they shipped out for the land of fun and folic known as Hawaii.


So Proudly We Hail is the story of Marine Nurses who are sent to the Bataan Peninsula to help with the wounded during the initial days of World War II. Lieutenant Janet "Davey" Davidson (Claudette Colbert
) is the head nurse.


Two of my Fiances
Under her tutelage are Lt. Joan O'Doul (
Paulette Goddard) and Lt. Rosemary Larson (Barbara Britton). O' Doul is man crazy; she is engaged to two guys simultaneously, both of them military men who have come to kiss her goodbye, thus creating a problem that requires Davey's help so Joan can squirm away without causing bad feelings. Fighting the Japanese is difficult enough without fights breaking out among each other over some dame.


Going Away for Good
Rosemary is leaving home for the first time and is being seen off by her parents (
Byron Foulger and Elsa Janssen), who ask Davey to ensure their daughter gets back home safely. And since Hawaii seems to be such a nice provincial place to visit, it's a promise Davey has no trouble agreeing to, although it's evident that she would have made the promise even if circumstances were different. It takes little time for circumstances to become different.


The nurses' destination is supposed to be Pearl Harbor, but in the middle of their voyage, the Japanese poop on everybody's party, launching a sneak attack. Instead of Pearl Harbor, their ship wanders aimlessly on the open sea, accompanied by a convoy awaiting new orders. Things were a mess directly after December 7th, so it took a while for everybody to get their shit together and get on the same page.

Convoy Explosion

Unfortunately, the accompanying convoy is torpedoed by a sub. Although most of the crew is killed, some do manage to survive. One of these is injured Lieutenant Medical Technician John Summers (George Reeves). When he refuses to let the nurses bathe him, Davy steps in, shows him who the boss is, and never has love blossomed so quickly with so little soap.  

Take a bath
Lt. Olivia D'Arcy (Veronica Lake) has escaped the carnage uninjured and is placed under Davy's command. She comes aboard with a significant chip on her shoulder. Olivia hates camaraderie. She wants to be left alone to do her job, doesn't want advice, and doesn't want friendship.

Also on board is a former collegiate football player who goes by the name of "Kansas" (Sonny Tufts) and develops an instant attraction to boy-crazy Joan. He is a klutz at times, pretty much a doofus, but is always kind-hearted.


Very Low Temperature
He has a habit of saying things that eventually seem to come true: I never catch a cold, I never get sunburned, I never get wounded, and I never get killed.


Eventually, after a big fight with Davy and the rest of the girls, Olivia breaks down to tell us what her problem is. Hint: It isn't hemorrhoids.


The boy that Olivia was going to get married to was slaughtered during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Her only goal now is not to heal the sick but to kill Japs. Lots and lots of Japs. Her words, not mine.


Olivia Let's Loose
Shortly after, the nursing corps is ordered to Bataan, where Captain "Ma" McGregor (Mary Servoss) oversees the medical personnel. Once there, Davy and the gang discover how bad the situation is.


There is never enough doctor or nurses. Medical equipment and medicine are in short supply or non-existent. Sleep or rest comes only when one is exhausted and can go no further. They are constantly being bombarded by the Japanese, and the war seems lost before it has even begun. It is up to Ma to make sure the girls do their nurse thing without any distractions. That means she must also put the kibosh on the ever-blossoming romance between Davey and John. The nurses are there to attend to the wounded, not to be out wooing and screwing.


But true love will not be denied, no matter how many bombs are raining down on you.

A Kiss Goodbye
Ma also has a son who is in the Philippines fighting. From the little information provided, I guess they are descendants of a family with a long history of military service. It's an honorable profession if there ever was one, but one can't help but feel that, at times, it's a dead-end job.


Joan is assigned to care for the Filipino children, while revenge-minded Olivia volunteers to care for the Japanese wounded.


D'Arcy with the Japanese woundedd
Rosemary assists a Filipino surgeon, Dr. Jose Bardia (Ted Hecht), who speaks endlessly of the tragedy and consequences of war. At the same time, he patches men, women, and children up, only to see them killed again.

Dr. BardiaWhen delivering a breach birth from a woman who will die soon, Dr. Bardia lectures as if he is still at the university and already has learned about the uselessness and the heartbreak of war:  

You must forgive me if I talk while I'm operating. I'm so used to lecturing my students. Sometimes I thank my stars for my scientific education. A baby to be born, breach delivery, only three out of five live. Live for what? Don't people die fast enough without destroying each other? Is life too long? No, we mustn't ask that. I wonder how scientific those heaps out on the battlefield feel. Guns, machines, so much rubbish. What was it in my student days? Chemically a man is worth 97 cents. Probably $1.05. What with the shortage of parts and monopoly now, the dead have risen in value. Two for $1.98 on dollar day. This little fellow we're about to introduce to the world tonight, what for him? I don't know. They forgot to teach me about spirit somewhere. Ninety seven cents worth of body but a priceless spirit. May he be born to live in freedom."


But if we were worth 97 cents in the early forties, how much are we now when adjusted for inflation? I guess I'll look that up. Before long, Rosemary becomes his second set of hands and they are inseparable.


So Proudly We Hail BlurayWhen not taking care of their medical needs, Joan entertains the children with wondrous tails about the heroic deeds of Superman. One of the children asks if Superman is so good, why isn't he here helping them. Joan replied, "He just landed with the Marines; his name is Kansas." (On a side note: the irony here is that George Reeves, who plays John Summers, would go on to play Superman on TV.)


As the Japanese close in, the nurses are forced to evacuate the wounded from one base to the next. And evacuation is not always easy, as some will sacrifice, some will die, and a few will live on with lives that will forever be altered.


At one stopping point, there is no hospital. It is nothing more than a jungle where the patients are kept hidden as much as possible, even though there are between five and eight thousand of them. Malaria and dysentery became common.


This film was released in 1943, in the middle of the war. Do not expect any kind words regarding the Japanese. They were our enemy then, and So Proudly We Hail makes doubly sure that they are painted with the strokes of the broad brush of wickedness, even down to calling a pet monkey Tojo because "he looks just like him." Him being Prime Minister Hideki Tojo.


When the bombing attacks come, director Mark Sandrich and his special effects crew make them as realistic as any I've seen in films that decade. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for its special effects. As for Sandrich, he would pass away just two years after this film’s release at the age of 44.


Writer Allan Scott's Oscar-nominated script is much better than one usually finds in some by-the-numbers war films of the forties. But I began to get annoyed with Walter Abel's chaplain, whose preachiness got to be a bit too much. They are more like rambling political speeches instead of prayers. He was better and funnier playing Fred Astaire's agent in Holiday Inn. Here, he is just downbeat, downcast, and dour. Bring on, Father Mulcahy.


The romance between Davy and John is sometimes dwelled on more than it should be and threatens to derail the film occasionally. Reeves is good here, and so is Colbert. I wish all of their scenes together didn't have to be played as if they were star-struck. But what can I say except that if War is Hell, Love on the Battlefield is a bittersweet catastrophe.


But Alan Scott balances things out by having the type of non-romantic romance between Kansas and Joan become more of a battle of wits, with Goddard always having the upper hand over the love-struck and hapless Kansas in a role Tufts was probably born to play.


What I found most impressive is that Scott was able to insert Dr. Bardia's clearly anti-war speech into the film and has Davey lamenting about our own failures as a country.


"Why isn't there any quinine? Why isn't there any food? Why isn't there any supplies? Why are we waiting here like rats in a cage waiting for the man to come and pour scalding water over us? Why was nothing done? Why? I'll tell you why, it's our own fault. Because we believed WE WERE the world. That the United States was the whole wide world.Those outlandish places, Bataan, Corregidor, and Mindanao. They're not American Names. They're just American graveyards.

Davey's Speech
But there is plenty of rah-rah patriotic cheerleading as well as to why it's necessary to fight and why we have to die, which generally ends with the observation that we didn't start this war, but we sure as hell were going to finish it. Those kinds of proclamations went hand in hand with every war movie released at the time.


Stir in Miklos Rozsa's emotion-laden memorable score and Charles Lang's top-notch black and white cinematography, which will make it seem as if the bombs are exploding in your face as they fall.


Rozsa did stellar work for MGM for years, including greats such as Ben-Hur, Double Indemnity, Quo-Vadis, and The Asphalt Jungle. Lang has a list of credits a mile long and was one of the great directors of photography. I would like to know if any of today's young audiences could actually appreciate what people like Rozsa and Lang brought to the art of filmmaking. But let's be honest here.


This is Colbert, Goddard's, and Lake's film; they are magnificent in it. To see these three legendary actresses working together would make this film worth purchasing. Still, they put everything they have into these roles, and it shows in every single scene.


They didn't just show up to get screen time and a paycheck. They go from being just nurses to becoming as tough and gritty as any man ever thought of being during the war. And in two unforgettable scenes that make this film memorable, Veronica Lake almost steals the movie out from under her costars.


Paulette Goddard received a best actress in a supporting role nomination. Certainly deserved, as her and Tuft's scenes are a joy to watch, and Joan is easily the most entertaining character. Without her, the film would be too downbeat and dour to contemplate.


And me being the nosy reviewer, I went back to check on the Oscars given out that year for best actress. One beatified nun trumps three WWII nurses as Jennifer Jones took home the prize for Song of Bernadette. It's been too long since I've seen that film, so I won't pass judgment. At least not today.


And although one certainly can't argue against the fact that Casablanca deservedly won Best Picture, this film should have at least been nominated over such forgettable fare as The Human Comedy and For Whom The Bell Tolls. But it's tough to rehash 70-year-old Oscar history.


The men aren't too shabby, either. In his film debut, Sonny Tufts won a nomination for Best Supporting Actor and did a stellar job bringing the character of Kansas to life. Unfortunately, it was the beginning of a long downward slide for him. From the IMDB:


An old college football injury had disqualified him for military duty, and so, with many of Hollywood's younger leading men serving overseas in World War II, this tall, blond, blue-eyed actor became something of a star, if only by default. But by the turn of the decade he had found his name in print on account of his off-screen activities. In 1949 he had been found drunk on a Hollywood sidewalk. In 1950 he was sued by two women for allegedly biting each of them in the thigh. In 1951 his wife had him jailed for drunkenness. The name Sonny Tufts itself became a joke. Thereafter he made few films, but could be found in occasional guest appearances on inconsequential TV shows. He died of pneumonia at age 58.


Poor George Reeves. He's actually excellent in this film as the romantic lead. Unfortunately, beyond that, he never gets to stretch his acting legs. At least not here. He has a long list of credits to his name, but roles like that of John Stephens and one of the Tarleton Twins in Gone With the Wind have been largely forgotten as he was typecast forever as Superman in the hit TV show of the 50's. And whether or not he was murdered or committed suicide is beyond my expertise on the subject. I was six years old when that event occurred.


Suppose he hated having been typecast as the Man of Steel. Unfortunately, it is forever inscribed on his tomb marker.


Clyde's Movie Palace Grade AIt doesn't matter if you are a man or a woman. So Proudly We Hail is the kind of film that every person, regardless of sex, should see. It is undoubtedly the kind of film they should be making even today, featuring what women are capable of.


Amazingly, a film of this quality seldom gets any notice, even when they trot out every war movie ever made for Memorial Day Weekend. No, it may not have John Wayne battling it out on the front lines, but it has so much more to offer in so many ways, and you know, when a film has that, I have no choice but to give it my grade of A.


So Proudly We Hail is available on DVD and, more recently, on a sparkling new Bluray from Kino Lorber. You can find it streaming as a purchase on various sources such as Vudu or Amazon.


The film occasionally appeared on Turner Classic Movies, but I do not know if it still does. It was once introduced in a showing on TCM by Cher on 4/12/2013. Great choice by her for this movie and the one following it, Since You Went Away.

And before I forget, adjusted for inflation, the cost of the human body is now worth $14.92.

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