The movie stars two of my favorite actresses, Claudette Colbert and Paulette Goddard, but I've been a bit reticent about watching it because of the tough subject matter. However, I'm now so glad to have seen it. It was an excellent drama paying tribute to the sacrifices of the nurses and all who served in the darkest days of World War II.
There are no concessions to the actresses' glamour in this film, other than the black nightgown Paulette Goddard's character clings to as a morale booster. This is a somber and respectful film with a very realistic tone. Although it's not graphic by modern standards, the film doesn't pull any punches about the difficulties and the overwhelming losses of that stage of the war in the Pacific. The courage of the women who attempted to save lives despite bombings, lack of food and supplies, unsanitary conditions, and the constantly advancing Japanese was awe-inspiring, as were the strength and sacrifices of all who served.
The story is told in flashback as a small group of nurses are in the final stage of evacuating Corregidor. I liked the way the story was framed, with the nurses taking turns narrating, as it eliminated some of the anxiety about who would survive. It was a wise choice on the part of the filmmakers.
As the women tell their story to a doctor (John Litel), the film goes back in time to Colbert, Goddard, and their nursing unit on a transport to Honolulu. Pearl Harbor occurs before they arrive in Hawaii, and the nurses are eventually redirected to Bataan, where dark and difficult days await.
Along the way to Bataan, the unit is joined by another nurse, played by Veronica Lake, who is deeply troubled by the loss of her fiancee at Pearl Harbor. As time goes on, Lake struggles with her internal demons, while Colbert and Goddard try to stay positive and slowly fall for military men played by George Reeves and Sonny Tufts.
The film has a fairly lengthy running time of 2 hours and 6 minutes, as it depicts the trials of Bataan, the evacuation to Corregidor, and then the eventual evacuation of just a few nurses from Corregidor before it falls to the Japanese.
The film has a strong script by Allan Scott, with uncredited contributions by Eunice Hatchett, a survivor of Bataan and Corregidor. It's extremely well acted by a large cast. Walter Abel, who so often plays comic roles, was particularly notable as the chaplain. The actresses playing the nurses included Barbara Britton, Mary Treen, Dorothy Adams, Mary Servoss, Ann Doran, and Jean Willes, and they are all outstanding; it's wonderful seeing longtime bit and supporting players like Treen and Adams having a chance to shine. Will Wright, Ted Hecht, and Hugh Ho Chang were among the supporting cast.
There are many touching moments in the film, but for me the single most moving moment was as the nurses are preparing to evacuate Corregidor, and Paulette Goddard's character briefly visits the wounded before she leaves. As she walks away she gives a helpless little wave of her hand, without looking back, which tore my heart. Goddard greatly deserved the nomination she received for Best Supporting Actress.
The film was quite a change of pace for director Mark Sandrich, who headed up many of Fred Astaire's films. He had previously directed Colbert in SKYLARK (1941). The black and white cinematography was by Charles Lang. Miklos Rozsa composed the score.
SO PROUDLY WE HAIL! was nominated for four Academy Awards. In addition to the previously mentioned nomination for Paulette Goddard, the film was nominated for Best Screenplay, Best Black and White Cinematography, and Best Special Effects.
Thanks to the kindness of Kristina, I watched this Paramount film on a very nice VHS tape which is part of the Claudette Colbert Collection. The tape includes a trailer.
The movie has also been released on DVD in the Universal Cinema Classics series. (Universal now controls the early Paramount film library.) It can be seen via Netflix.
To all who served, thank you.