Wednesday, April 3, 2019

CONSENSUS #79. The Story of G.I. Joe (1945)

SYNOPSIS: This is the story of famed war correspondent Ernie Pyle (Burgess Meredith). He hooks up with a unit in Tunisia and then reunites with it in Italy. It's a dogfaces' view of the war with no big battles, but a realistic portrayal of soldier life.

BACK-STORY:  The Story of G.I. Joe was released in 1945 and is based on the columns of war correspondent Ernie Pyle. It was directed by William Wellman who had been a pilot in the Lafayette Escadrille in WWI and at first refused to do a movie about the despised infantry until he met Pyle and saw the adoration the infantry had for him. Once on board, Wellman insisted on realism and convinced the Army to loan him 150 soldiers training near the production. The movie also used several actual war correspondents. So the actors would not look foolish alongside real soldiers, Wellman put them through the first actors boot camp. Sadly, Pyle was killed before the opening of the movie and many of the real soldiers were killed on Okinawa. For this reason, Wellman never watched the movie after its release. The movie was a hit and is considered one of the most realistic war films. It was nominated for four Oscars (Supporting Actor - Mitchum, Song (“Linda” by Ann Ronell), Score, and Screenplay).
TRIVIA:    Wikipedia, imdb, TCM

1.  Also known as “Ernie Pyle’s Story of G.I. Joe”.
2.  James Gleeson and Walter Brennan were considered for the role of Pyle.  Burgess Meredith was chosen because he was the lesser known and Pyle wanted him.  The Army refused to release Meredith, but Harry Hopkins intervened and Gen. George Marshall approved his honorable discharge.  He spent some time with Pyle at his home in New Mexico where Pyle was recovering from being in France for the terrible friendly bombing incident at the start of Operation Cobra.
3.  Nine war correspondents acted as technical advisers (besides Pyle himself).  Three of them had speaking roles in the scene where Pyle finds out he has won the Pulitzer Prize.
4.  William Wellman had been a pilot in the Lafayette Flying Corps in WWI.  He hated the infantry and did not want to have anything to do with directing the movie.  Producer Lester Cowan persisted and even showed up with presents for Wellman’s children.  He was not impressed.  Cowan got Pyle to write to and later call Wellman, but it wasn’t until Wellman spent some time with Pyle that he changed his mind.
5.  Wellman’s wife Dorothy plays Wingless Murphy’s bride.
6.  Cowan saw the movie as the Army’s answer to the movie “Air Force”.
7.  The movie reenacts Pyle’s most famous column:  “The Death of Captain Waskow”.
8.  The Army provided 150 extras.  The men were back in the U.S. after serving in Italy.  They were being trained for redeployment in the Pacific.  Many of the men ended up dying on Okinawa.  Pyle himself was killed by a Japanese sniper during that campaign.  He did not live to see the movie.  Several of the extras were given speaking roles because Wellman wanted real G.I.s speaking the lines.
9.  The creator of the G.I. Joe doll got the name from this movie.
10.  Freddie Steele, who played Warnicki, had been World Middleweight Boxing Champ in 1937.
11.  Eisenhower felt it was the best WWII film.
12.  The screenplay was based on columns from Pyle’s book Here Is Your War.
13.  Cowan’s first choice for director was John Huston base on his wartime documentaries like “The Battle of San Pietro”, but the Army refused to release him.

Belle and Blade  =  2.5
Brassey’s              =  4.0
Video Hound       =  5.0
War Movies         =  4.4
Military History  =  #45
Channel 4             =  not on list
Film Site                =  yes
            101 War Movies  =  no

OPINION:  This is another classic black and white WWII movie similar to “Twelve O’Clock High”.  It honors the greatest war correspondent in WWII and Ernie Pyle must have been happy with the modest portrayal of him.  Because it does not aim at entertaining through action, it can give a realistic look at the actual experiences that G.I.s went through.  This is exactly what Pyle did in his columns.  It’s ranking seems about right.


  1. The segment of the movie on the mountain, in the constant rain, really drives home the miserable life those poor guys had. The only other thing thats come close to this for me is in Band of Brothers, the cold in the fox holes when they were in Bastogne...I just can't imagine...

  2. That segment reminds me of the cave in "Fixed Bayonets!"


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