Saturday, June 28, 2008

Tonight's Movie: Pride of the Marines (1945)

PRIDE OF THE MARINES is a superbly acted true story about World War II hero Al Schmid (John Garfield), who was blinded at Guadalcanal, where as a machine gunner he killed at least 200 advancing Japanese soldiers.

Garfield is excellent in the lead role. He manages to portray the brash Al's hard edges while also making him sympathetic. Before making the movie, Garfield spent time living with the real Al Schmid; he also spent two weeks at the San Diego Naval Hospital learning about soldiers dealing with blindness. Garfield's performance is equalled by Eleanor Parker as Ruth, Al's fiancee, who had what it took to stand up to and tame a tough guy who claimed he didn't want a serious relationship, and later showed she had the spunk to stick with him when the going got rough. It's a surprise to me that neither Garfield nor Parker received acting nominations for this film. They are both realistic and deeply moving.

The supporting cast is also outstanding, including Dane Clark as Al's war buddy, Rosemary DeCamp as a Red Cross aide, and Ann Doran, John Ridgely, and Ann E. Todd as the friends who were as close to Al as family.

The film is almost three movies in one. The first quarter of the film is devoted to the courtship of Al and Ruth, whose initially antagonistic relationship evolves into friendship and then something much deeper. Watching Garfield and Parker spar and then make sparks is tremendously enjoyable. The next section of the film, depicting Al's experience at Guadalcanal holding off hundreds of Japanese soldiers, is nerve-wrackingly terrifying. The final hour or so of the movie concerns Al coming to emotional and practical terms with the loss of most of his vision. Al's initial denial that he might have permanent damage to his vision is heartbreakingly portrayed by Garfield.

The film is surprisingly undated; some of the dialogue, on topics like prejudice, patriotism, and sacrifice, is still very timely in today's world. Discussion about whether Mexicans would take jobs needed by returning soldiers sounds topical decades later, though in this particular case it was clear that at least some of the "Mexicans" were not illegal aliens, but those who had also served our nation in the war.

A biographical account and a photograph of Al Schmid's tombstone at Arlington National Cemetery can be found at Arlington The film sticks fairly close to the actual story.

According to IMDb, some location shooting was done in Philadelphia; although back projections are used in some of the Philadelphia scenes, it appeared to me that the actors were on location in at least some of the scenes, such as at the train station. Footage for establishing shots was also shot at the Naval Hospital in San Diego.

PRIDE OF THE MARINES was directed by Delmer Daves. It was filmed in black and white and runs 119 minutes.

Original 1945 reviews can be read at The New York Times and Time Magazine. A few snippets from Bosley Crowther of the Times: "...very real and affecting... A remarkably natural production... The performances are all unqualifiedly excellent... To say that this picture is entertaining to a truly surprising degree is an inadequate recommendation. It is inspiring and eloquent..."

PRIDE OF THE MARINES can be seen on Turner Classic Movies. It's not available on video or DVD. There have been rumors for many months of a forthcoming John Garfield DVD set; perhaps this film will be included if such a set is released. PRIDE OF THE MARINES certainly deserves a DVD release and exposure to a wider audience.

May 2009 Update: PRIDE OF THE MARINES is now available on DVD from the Warner Archive.


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