AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Bataan
Alternate Title: Bataan's Last Stand
Director: Tay Garnett (Dir)
Release Date:   1943
Premiere Information:   New York opening: week of 3 Jun 1943
Production Date:   30 Nov 1942--3 Feb 1943
Duration (in mins):   110 or 113-114
Duration (in feet):   10,275
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Cast:   Robert Taylor (Sergeant Bill Dane)  
    George Murphy (Lieut. Steve Bentley)  
    Thomas Mitchell (Corp. Jake Feingold)  
    Lloyd Nolan (Corp. Barney Todd [previously known as Danny Burns])  
    Lee Bowman (Capt. Henry Lassiter)  
    Robert Walker (Leonard Purckett)  
    Desi Arnaz ([Pvt.] Felix Ramirez)  
    Barry Nelson ([Pvt.] F[rancis] X[avier] Matowski)  
    Phillip Terry ([Pvt.] Matthew Hardy)  
    Roque Espiritu (Corp. Juan Katigbak)  
    Kenneth Spencer ([Pvt.] Wesley Eeps)  
    J. Alex Havier ([Pvt.] Yankee Salazar)  
    Tom Dugan (Sam Malloy)  
    Donald Curtis (Lieutenant)  
    Mary McLeod (Nurse Elsie McAlister)  
    Bud Geary (Infantry officer)  
    Ernie Alexander (Wounded soldier)  
    Phil Schumacher (Machine gunner)  
    Tom Yuen (Filipino)  
    Beal Wong (Japanese soldier)  
    Wing Foo (Japanese soldier)  
    Bruce Wong (Japanese soldier)  
    Luke Chan (Japanese soldier)  

Summary: As civilians and American and Filipino forces are being driven out of Manila by the invading Japanese, Sgt. Bill Dane and Corp. Jake Feingold of the U.S. infantry are assigned to assist cavalry captain Henry Lassiter in destroying a bridge along the Bataan penisula. The bridge spans a mountainous jungle ravine, and Lassiter's unit is stationed on one side, abutting a cliff. In addition to Dane and Feingold, Lassiter's ragtag unit consists of eleven disenfranchised men: pilot Lieut. Steve Bentley and his disabled plane; Corp. Barney Todd of the signal battalion; young, na├»ve Leonard Purckett, until recently a musician in the Navy; Pvt. Felix Ramirez of the tank corps, a former member of the California National Guard; Matthew Hardy of the medical battalion; Corp. Juan Katigbak of the Philippine Army Air Force; engineer Pvt. Francis Xavier Matowski; demolitions expert Pvt. Wesley Eeps, a black man; former boxer Pvt. Yankee Salazar of the Philippine Scouts; and Sam Malloy, a cook from the motor transport crew. Dane, a no-nonsense career soldier, explains to the men that they are expected to destroy the bridge as many times as the Japanese rebuild it, in order to buy time for General Douglas MacArthur's troops to the south. Later, in private, Dane questions Todd about his past, noting that Todd resembles a soldier he once knew named Danny Burns. Dane states that, years before, Burns was arrested for killing a man in a gambling dispute and when Dane, then an M.P., was assigned to guard him, took advantage of his trust and escaped. The recalcitrant Todd dismisses Dane's insinuations and advises him to "watch his back." Soon after, the men blow up the bridge, but their victory celebration is cut short when Capt. Lassiter is killed by a sniper. Although Dane discourages them from giving Lassiter a funeral, the men insist on a proper burial, and Eeps, an aspiring preacher, delivers a brief eulogy. Later, after Dane gives each man their assignment, which includes continuous manning of the unit's machine guns, he asks for a volunteer to climb a tree and scan for the enemy. Matowski volunteers and no sooner does he reach the top of the tree, than he is shot down and killed. With two men dead, Dane sends Felix and the multi-skilled Purckett to help Bentley repair his nearby plane. Dane and Todd then toss grenades at the bridge, which the Japanese have already begun to rebuild, and during their attack, Dane notices that Todd throws left-handed, just like Burns did. After Dane and Todd narrowly escape the Japanese's return fire, Salazar asks permission to search for more artillery. Dane denies his request, but Salazar sneaks off on his own, only to be found stabbed to death a short time later. At the same time, the jazz-loving Felix comes down with malaria and is ordered to bed. The Japanese then launch an aerial attack on the camp, and while Eeps and Malloy succeed in downing some planes, Malloy is killed. Afterward, through the jungle fog, the men see the slain, tortured body of Katigbak, who earlier had gone to work on the plane's carburetor, dangling by a rope from a tree. The next day, Felix, delirious with malarial fever, recites a Latin prayer in front of Hardy and Dane, then dies. Aware that their time is limited, Bentley announces he will attempt a takeoff that night and suggests that they all leave together. Dane refuses to give up the mission, but orders the feverish Hardy, a conscientious objector who gave the last dose of quinine to Felix, to accompany Bentley. When Todd threatens to leave with Bentley, Dane assures him that he will be shot if he deserts. That night, under heavy cover from Feingold, Todd, Purckett and Eeps, Dane helps Bentley to start the plane. Although Bentley's repair job proves successful, he is wounded by the Japanese before getting off the ground. Hardy stumbles back to camp and tells Dane that Bentley wants to load two boxes of dynamite on his plane. The dying Bentley then deliberately crashes his plane into the bridge, causing a huge explosion. Soon after, a delirious Hardy, feeling guilty about Bentley's sacrifice, runs madly into the jungle hurling a grenade, and is shot down. Later, at his machine gun, Purckett notices that the "foliage" is moving and alerts Kane. Dane waits until the camouflaged Japanese are close to their guns, then signals his men to begin firing. Although many Japanese are slain in the brutal, close attack, Eeps and Feingold are also killed. After narrowly escaping death, Purckett, whose only wish was to "kill a Jap," realizes his arm has been wounded, and Todd bandages the injury. At Dane's insistence, Todd then offers to help Purckett write an optimistic letter to his mother. Immediately after finishing, however, Purckett is killed by a sniper, and Dane deduces that the killer must be hiding among some Japanese corpses. While Dane and Todd inspect the bodies, Todd is shot in the back by the sniper. Dane finishes off the sniper, then takes Todd back to camp. Before dying, Todd admits that he is, in fact, Burns, but offers no apology to Dane, who earlier had offered to forget the past. Now alone, an exhausted Dane digs his own grave, then dozes off while waiting at his machine gun for the enemy. Suddenly realizing that the Japanese have surrounded him, Dane startles awake and, from his grave, opens fire on the swarming enemy, doing his duty to the deadly end. 

Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp. (Loew's Inc.)
Distribution Company: Loew's Inc.  
Director: Tay Garnett (Dir)
  Bill Lewis (Asst dir)
Producer: Irving Starr (Prod)
Writer: Robert D. Andrews (Orig scr)
Photography: Sidney Wagner (Dir of photog)
  George Bourne (Cam)
  Harry Downard (Cam)
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons (Art dir)
  Lyle Wheeler (Assoc)
Film Editor: George White (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Edwin B. Willis (Set dec)
  Glen Barner (Assoc)
Music: Bronislau Kaper (Mus score)
  Nat W. Finston (Cond)
Sound: Douglas Shearer (Rec dir)
Special Effects: Arnold Gillespie (Spec eff)
  Warren Newcombe (Spec eff)
Make Up: Jack Dawn (Makeup created by)
Production Misc: L. S. Chappelear (Tech adv)
  Arch Smith (Unit mgr)
Country: United States

Songs: "St. Louis Blues," words and music by W. C. Handy.
Composer: W. C. Handy

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number Passed By NBR:
Loew's Inc. 25/5/1943 dd/mm/yyyy LP12096 Yes

PCA NO: 9122
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: Western Electric Sound System

 
Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: World War II
 
Subjects (Major): Bataan, Fall of, 1942
  Combat
  Japan. Army
  Self-sacrifice
  Soldiers
  United States. Army
 
Subjects (Minor): African Americans
  Air pilots, Military
  Airplanes
  Aliases
  Bataan (Philippines)
  Bombing, Aerial
  Bridges
  Burial
  Confession
  Cooks
  Duty
  Engineers
  Explosions
  Fever
  Filipinos
  Graves
  Jews
  Jungles
  Latino
  Letters
  Malaria
  Mechanics
  Musicians
  Nurses
  Pacifism and pacifists
  Polish Americans
  Prayer
  Snipers
  United States. Army--Medical personnel
  War injuries

Note: The working titles of this film were Back to Bataan , Bataan Patrol and Bataan's Last Stand . The film's opening credits include the following written dedication: "When Japan struck, our desperate need was time--time to marshal our new armies. Ninety-six priceless days were bought for us--with their lives--by the defenders of Bataan, the Philippine army which formed the bulk of MacArthur's infantry fighting shoulder to shoulder with Americans. To those immortal dead, who heroically stayed the wave of barbaric conquest, this picture is reverently dedicated." The following written statement appears at the end of the picture: "So fought the heroes of Bataan. Their sacrifice made possible our victories in the Coral and Bismarck Seas, at Midway, on New Guinea and Guadalcanal. Their spirit will lead us back to Bataan!" According to a HR news item, Bataan was to include a disclaimer that read: "Although the characters depicted in this photoplay are fictitious, its events are adapted without exaggeration from known fact." Only the standard disclaimer was used in the completed film, however.
       As depicted in the film, for three months after being driven out of Manila, American and Filipino forces defended the mountainous Bataan penisula against Japanese attack. Along with thousands of refugees, the soldiers were crowded into a ten-mile square area and many suffered from beriberi and other deficiency diseases. On 9 Apr 1942, General Edward King, who took over command after General Douglas MacArthur was sent to Australia, surrended Bataan to the Japanese. The prisoners were subsequently forced to march to captivity, and the long trek became known as the Bataan Death March after 25,000 soldiers and civilians died along the way from mistreatment and starvation. With no supplies coming in, Lt. Gen. Jonathan M. Wainwright surrendered nearby Corregidor Island on 6 May 1942, and 10,000 troops, medical personnel and civilians were taken prisoner. Manila, Bataan and Corregidor were not liberated from the Japanese until early 1945.
       HR news items and M-G-M publicity items add the following information about the production: HR announced in Apr 1942 that M-G-M had hired Bill Lyons and Eddie Read to write the film's screenplay. The contribution of these writers, if any, to the finished film has not been determined. In Jul 1942, in an apparent attempt to stave off any copyright infringement suits, M-G-M paid RKO $6,500 for the right to use any part of RKO's 1934 war film The Lost Patrol (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ; F3.2580). In that picture, which was directed by John Ford, Victor McLaglen heads a unit of British soldiers who become lost in the North African desert and are killed one-by-one by unseen Arab snipers. [In his autobiography, M-G-M executive producer Dore Schary referred to Bataan as a "remake" of the Ford film.] Walter Pidgeon was announced as the star of Bataan in Oct 1942 and was to play "Sgt. Bill Dever," a "new model sergeant" in the "new model United States Army." At that time, the story featured nineteen principals, including a Native American character, each representing separate arms of the service. In mid-Nov 1942, Robert Young was announced as George Murphy's co-star, and on the first day of shooting, Richard Whorf was announced in the role of "Barney Todd" and Richard Carlson in the role of "Matthew Hardy." William Gargan was to play an Army truck driver. Although Robert Walker, a former radio star, did not make his screen debut in the film, as some reviews contend, "Leonard Purckett" marked his first significant role. The Var review noted that Walker won the part after a previous "Hollywood brushoff" and predicted that he would prove "one of the top 'finds' of the year." Other reviewers praised Walker's performance as well, and the actor went on to star in M-G-M's 1944 comedic military film See Here, Private Hargroves , after appearing in a smaller part in Madame Curie (see below entries).
       Bataan also marked the first dramatic screen role for Desi Arnaz, and won him much praise. In his autobiography, Arnaz claimed that he suggested that his character utter the same Latin confessional prayer, Mea Culpa , he had learned as a boy in Cuba as part of his death scene. (The ethnicity of Arnaz' character is not clearly established in the film, though he describes himself as a Californian.) Richard Derr and Leigh Sterling are listed as cast members in HR news items, but their participation in the final film has not been confirmed. HR lists Mary Elliott as a nurse, "the only female in the film," but she was not seen in the viewed print. In addition, CBCS lists Lynne Carver and Dorothy Morris as "nurses," but they were not seen in the viewed print. According to HR , Tommy Dorsey and his orchestra are heard offscreen during a scene in which "Felix Ramirez" listens to a radio broadcast of a jazz number. Technical advisor Lewis C. Chappealear, Jr., was a member of the 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, according to HR .
       Many film historians consider Bataan a seminal World War II combat film. According to modern sources, M-G-M and the OWI planned the film together, and the OWI enthusiastically endorsed the script, particularly its depiction of "Lassiter's" unit as "democratic" in nature. The OWI approved the inclusion of the African American soldier, but disapproved of the condescending way in which the Filipino soldiers were first drawn. Although not the first film to depict gritty World War II combat, real or fictional, Bataan was distinctive in that virtually all of its action takes place on the battlefield. It was also the first World War II picture to include a pointedly multi-ethnic, multi-racial cast of characters, a device that became relatively common in later World War II films. Reviewers commented on the film's graphic, realistic depiction of war. Bosley Crowther wrote about the film: "This time, at least, a studio hasn't purposely 'prettified' facts. This time it has made a picture about war in true and ugly detail....There is sickening filth and bloodshed in it." The Var reviewer stated that " Bataan graphically generates public hate of the Japs, and is the first picture of that kind in the high budget class since release of Wake Island " (see entry below).
       The role of "Pvt. Wesley Eeps" was reportedly inspired by Pvt. Robert H. Brooks, the first American soldier killed in the Philippines, and the man for whom the parade grounds at Fort Knox were renamed. (It has not been determined whether Brooks was African American.) As all U.S. Armed Forces were segregated during World War II, the casting of African American actor Kenneth Spencer was notable. The NYT reviewer commented favorably on the Eeps character, noting that his "placement in the picture is one of the outstanding merits of it." The HR review stated that "the one Negro role included in the group is performed with distinction by Kenneth Spencer, and the note he sounds is an effective tribute to his race." In early Jun 1943, the NAACP awarded M-G-M a scroll of merit, congratulating the studio for the film's realism and for showing "how superfluous racial and religious problems are when common danger is faced." In Feb 1944, the Junior Council of NAACP gave M-G-M a special award for its sympathetic and intelligent portrayal of a black soldier. According to his autobiography, Schary deliberately did not tell writer Robert Andrews that he was going to cast a black actor in one of the roles because he did not want any race-conscious speeches in the script. HR reported in May 1943 that the film had been pre-screened for a group of soldiers, press correspondents and dignitaries who were on Bataan during the siege, and all approved of the picture. In 1945, RKO produced Back to Bataan (see above entry), a fact-based sequel to Bataan

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
American Cinematographer   Jul 43   p. 257.
Box Office   29 May 1943.   
Daily Variety   26 May 43   pp. 3-4
Hollywood Reporter   27 Apr 42   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   6 Jul 42   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   14 Oct 42   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   6 Nov 42   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   13 Nov 42   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   23 Nov 42   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   24 Nov 42   p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter   30 Nov 42   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   3 Dec 42   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   4 Dec 42   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   7 Dec 42   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   9 Dec 42   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   21 Dec 42   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   22 Dec 42   p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter   4 Jan 43   p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter   5 Jan 43   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   4 Feb 43   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   15 Feb 43   p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter   29 Apr 43   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   5 May 43   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   20 May 43   p. 15.
Hollywood Reporter   26 May 43   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   2 Jun 43   p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter   7 Jun 43   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   25 Apr 44   p. 5.
Motion Picture Herald   29 May 1943.   
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   29 May 43   p. 1337.
New York Times   4 Jun 43   p. 17.
Variety   26 May 43   p. 8.

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