Monday, December 15, 2014

CLASSIC or ANTIQUE: So Proudly We Hail (1943)


                “So Proudly We Hail” was inspired by the nurses in the Philippines at the beginning of WWII.  Director Mark Sandrich read a story about ten nurses who escaped from Corregidor.  He and screenwriter Alan Scott ( who received an Academy Award nomination for his script) interviewed the ladies and even hired Eunice Hatchitt as technical adviser.  Hatchitt did a lot of eye-rolling over the petulant behavior of the three leading ladies in the film.  The movie was based on the book by Juanita Hipps (“I Served on Bataan”).  The “Angels of Bataan” served first on Bataan and then Corregidor before the lucky few were evacuated and the unlucky majority were imprisoned for the rest of the war.  The movie had the cooperation of the War Department, the Army Nurses Corps, and the American Red Cross.  The movie was a box office hit and was nominated for four Oscars (Best Supporting Actress, Cinematography, Original Screenplay, and Visual Effects).
Colbert, Goddard, and Lake

                The film opens in May, 1942.  Eight nurses are in the Philippines.  Lt. Janet “Davy” Davidson (Claudette Colbert) has been wounded.  Suddenly they are on a cruise ship.  We’ve jumped to the end of the war and Davy has lost her will to live.  A doctor prescribes flash backs.  We are introduced to our trio of celebrity nurses as they sail to the Philippines.  Davy is the mother hen, Joan (Paulette Goddard) is the slutty one, and Olivia (Veronica Lake) is the vengeance –minded, Jap hating war widow.  Davy is romantically involved with Lt. Summers (George Reeves eight years before Superman) and gets to bathe him so the ladies in the audience might consider joining the nursing corps.  Meanwhile Joan is flirting with a hayseed named Kansas (Sonny Tufts).  Olivia is being unsociable, even with the other nurses.  What a bitch!  They don’t realize the Japs killed her husband.  At a Christmas party on board the ship, a Chaplain gives a speech to the audience telling them to have faith in the things America stands for. 

                When they reach Bataan, they are assigned to a hospital.  Olivia gets herself assigned to the Japanese prisoner ward.  Will she cold-bloodedly murder?  John shows up.  Unwounded. What the…?  John and Davy go on a moonlit walk and spend the night in a dugout – wink, wink.  The Japanese show up before the girls can bug out.  Olivia lets her peek-a-boo hair down and pulls a grenade out of her bra.  That is not a euphemism.

Put that hair down, put those hands up
                At the new hospital, John ( what is this guy? a hospital groupie?) gives Davy a monkey that of course is named Tojo (because they look alike).  The head nurse’s son dies after having his legs amputated.  She represents all the moms who have lost sons in the war.  The damned war keeps intruding on the romantic subplots.  “I don’t know if that’s an air raid warning or mess call.  Either way it’s a warning”.  LOL  Those bastard Japs even bomb the hospital with the huge red cross on it.  We wouldn’t do that.

                The gals are evacuated to Corregidor.  So is John, who has finally managed to get himself wounded.  A doctor removes his shrapnel (“it’s probably good American steel” – non-Greatest Generation, this is a reference to scrap iron sold to Japan before the war).  The hospital is located in the Malinta Tunnel.  There is a plug for Red Cross blood.  One nurse gets the “heebie jeebies”.  Davy and John honeymoon by a howitzer before he goes on a suicide mission to get quinine.  “I’ll be back”.  Liar.  Joan says goodbye to Kansas.  “So long, kid”.

Davy and John in the Honeymoon Suite
                “So Proudly We Hail” is better than you would expect.  It is fairly realistic in depicting the lives of nurses in the Philippines.  They were in fact very sexy and had romances with soldiers.  Actually, according to the movie, two thirds of nurses had affairs and one third were married to soldiers who were killed in the war.   And they were able to keep their hair perfectly coiffed.  The movie is entertaining in a 1940s war movie aimed at females sort of way.    There is some pretty good humor and some of it is even intentional.  The dialogue is better than average for this type.  It is only occasionally schmaltzy.  The speeches did not make me throw up in my mouth.  Surprisingly, the movie deserved its visual effects nomination.  The bombing scenes are well done.  There are some effective pyrotechnics.  The acting is good and no one embarrasses themselves.  The three ladies are fine (and I do mean fine).  Goddard got a Best Supporting Actress nod.  She plays 1940s trollop well.    Colbert is her usual solid self. Lake is not much of an actress, but I don’t think anyone cared.  Excuse me, is that a grenade in your bra?  Oh, and there are some men in the cast as I recall.  One of them played Superman.

                Classic or antique?  Classic because of the recognition for the nursing corps.  This is what sets it apart from other wartime war movies.  It could have been much worse.

Grade =  C+

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