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Amazon.com (ISBN 0792841654, DVD)Tay Garnett was a hard-nosed, job-of-all-work director who moved from studio to studio and genre to genre throughout the golden age of Hollywood. He never achieved the status, let alone the distinctive signature, of a Howard Hawks or Raoul Walsh; still, with talent, brashness, and cojones to spare, he was responsible for a slew of cheerfully vulgar entertainments, and several genuinely fine films.
Bataan may well be the best. Certainly it's one of the strongest Hollywood salutes to the war effort while World War II was still raging. In his grittiest role to date, Robert Taylor (sans mustache) plays a U.S. Army sergeant fighting a rear-guard action in the Philippine jungle, covering Douglas MacArthur's retreat. His platoon is the usual wartime study in democratic motley: veterans (Lloyd Nolan, Thomas Mitchell, Tom Dugan) thrown together with green recruits (Robert Walker, Barry Nelson), a Latino (Desi Arnaz), a black (Kenneth Spencer), not to mention a couple of stalwart Filipinos (Roque Espiritu, J. Alex Havier), and several officer types (George Murphy, Lee Bowman) with sense enough to defer to the sergeant's judgment. As in John Ford's desert classic The Lost Patrol, the group is whittled down through misadventure, disease, and skirmishes with the ever-advancing Japanese, till only a handful remain for a still-shattering last stand.
Bataan was made at MGM, and the principal setting, a jungle clearing overlooking a strategic bridge, stinks of the soundstage. In other respects, however, Garnett manages to introduce shocking, un-Metro-like realism into the proceedings. In an early scene of bombardment, a GI, blinded, crawls out of the wreckage of a field hospital only to have a smoking roofbeam crush his bandaged skull. There's nothing cosmetic about the wounds in this movie; they hurt and they bleed, and people get them during the most gruesome hand-to-hand combat in any '40s war movie. --Richard T. Jameson
(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 18 Feb 2016 00:47:51 -0500)
A small band of American soldiers attempts to destroy a strategic bridge during the Japanese invasion of the Philippines in 1942.
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