For a change of perspective in the War genre, Warner Bros decided to produce Leon Uris' best-selling novel about marines languishing in the reserves, and their inevitable maturity from 19-year old privates to "Huxley's Harlots," who test their training and courage against the Japanese in Saipan.
Raking in $8 million at the box office in 1955, the mix of heavy melodrama, romance, and combat (restricted to the final reel) proved to be the right mix for American audiences, and amid heavy glorification of the Marine Ideal, the film remains a time capsule of popular culture, particularly attitudes to ethnic minorities and women.
Uris' epic novel was distilled by the author himself, and one does get the sense that numerous intimate character moments were gradually shaved away to reduce the film's final running time to just under two and a half hours. It's an efficient script with identifiable archetypes for the broadest of audiences, and action director Raoul Walsh handles the emphasis on relationships well, with periodic perspectives of marching soldiers to take advantage of Warner Bros' early CinemaScope production.
Previously available on TV in grainy full screen versions, the DVD offers a really crisp transfer of this beautifully shot epic, with vibrant colours, and a nice discreet 5.1 sound mix that, for the most part, shows off Max Steiner's score, using popular military themes, marches, and a few bits of nice original underscore. The 5.1 sound mix really kicks in during the closing battle sequence, and there's some nice ambient effects and a few directional surround chatter in spots.
Extras include a brief chronicle of war films directed by Walsh, and the film's original theatrical trailer, with the usual Giant! Exclamatory! Text! so visiting rubes could themselves become entwined in the pre-release hype.
(An added point of amusement, though, comes halfway through the film, when stationed marine Aldo Ray first meets Mona Freeman, a bar maid in New Zealand, who briefly mimics a Kiwi accent slipping into PoliteSpeak - a less demanding effect to tell contemporary audiences Kiwis speak a little differently than Americans, rather than try the popcorn crowd with a genuine accent. Naturally some ex-patriot British actors are used to hammer home the change in locales, but the Americanization of New Zealanders is quite funny.)
Along with leading ladies Anne Francis and ultimate sweater girl Dorothy Malone, film fans will no doubt get a kick in seeing many familiar faces in some early roles, including Fess Parker (as the guitar strumming Texan), L.Q. Jones (oddly, playing a character named L.Q. Jones, but billed in the credits as Justus E. McQueen), William Campbell (better known for his performance as "Trelane" in an episode of "Star Trek"), and Gregory Walcott (survivor of "Plan 9 From Outer Space"), but Aldo Ray's got the best character of the bunch. Though his career would frequently include war films, Ray and Walsh would later re-team in 1958 in RKO's "Naked and the Dead" (a film deserving its own DVD release), with the actor playing a polar opposite of his more honorable "Battle Cry" marine.
© 2003 Mark R. Hasan