Just ask anyone around me, I am never expendable!
Screenplay By: Frank Read
Directed By: John Ford & Robert Montgomery
They Were Expendable is a war epic, and as such it is responsible for many a rousing battle scene or tender moment of camaraderie between soldiers. But, because it is a war epic made in a time where revenge and pro-America was still the way of the day it is prone to vast moments of sentimentality and skewed views on what was happening during this period in time. As much as I love John Ford as a director, his one failing is that more often than not he allows his personal views to cloud the reality of the situations, so instead of a straight look at the role of PT Boat Captains in World War II we are given a very patriotic look at stalwart heroes devoid of any flaws. There are films when Ford shakes this habit, but They Were Expendable is not such a film.
The battle scenes in They Were Expendable were exquisitely filmed, evoking the sense of being in the periphery of a PT Boat attack on a Japanese cruiser during World War II. As well the set dressings and the island shots all look great and give They Were Expendable a great feeling of realism. The background characters for the most part add more of the same, as does Robert Montgomery as Lt. Brickley. However, I thought John Wayne was far too gung-ho and over the top in his portrayal of Lt. Ryan. His character was the nexus for the film losing its believability and transforming from an honest WWII picture into a propaganda piece about how awesome the US was during the war. I also didn’t think the minor romance between Wayne’s Lt. Ryan and Donna Reed’s Lt. Davyss was needed. It wasn’t bad, but it didn’t add much to the picture.
I know that I said a lot more negative than positive about They Were Expendable, but it isn’t a bad picture. It does offer a decent glimpse at the camaraderie shared by soldiers during war time. It also brings some amazing visuals to the screen in the form of the naval battles, and sheds some light on the PT Boats and how important they were, despite not being thought of as much initially. There is a lot of good in They Were Expendable, it offsets the uneven nature of the picture somewhat, enough for it to be a film worth seeing. Don’t go out of your way to see They Were Expendable, but if you do see it when channel surfing some day it’s a perfectly acceptable watch.