Friday, June 21, 2002

CRY HAVOC (1943)

I find the narrative propaganda films (as opposed to documentary propaganda) of WWII quite interesting, both in terms of the messages being delivered and the dramatic devices used. This film, made specifically to address the American loss at Bataan, is an interesting variation on the typical WWII battleground theme. It's about a group of women who volunteer to serve with the Army as nurses at Bataan. The situation, bad at the beginning with the Japanese having the upper hand in the area, gets worse until the last attempt at evacuation--the movie assumes its viewers know all about what happened at Bataan and the military story isn't fleshed out. The propaganda message has to do with countering the perception that Bataan was an unnecessary loss--what could be seen as ignominious defeat is instead presented as necessary sacrifice for the greater good. The real focus, like most WWII battleground films, is on the ways in which a disparate group of people learn to get along despite conflicts (in this case, the main conflict is romantic).

The cast is practically all female except for a handful of wounded or dying soliders who are mostly consigned to the background (Robert Mitchum has a bit part as one of them). Margaret Sullavan, Ann Sothern, and Joan Blondell are the stars and they are all very good, especially Sothern--I don't think of her as having much range or subtlety, but she's quite fine here doing a version of her usual brassy, tough-talking, big city dame. Sullavan is secretly married to Lt. Holt (who we never see) but Sothern comes in and makes a play (in her splashy way) for the guy. This plot feels a bit tacked on, given the other human dramas occurring, but it does supply a satisfying emotional climax. The film is based on a play and its stage origins are clear but not a liability. The sense of approaching and inevitable doom is built up nicely without being overdone. Connie Gilchrist, little Patrick's guardian in AUNTIE MAME, does her "kindly cook" part here, and other cast members include Heather Angel, Fay Bainter, and Ella Raines.

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