Saturday, January 20, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Battle Cry (1955) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

Aldo Ray and Nancy Olson head an excellent cast in BATTLE CRY (1955), recently released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive.

BATTLE CRY is a film I've been wanting to catch up with for quite a while now. I love the cast, and it came highly recommended by both my father and my friend Blake Lucas. It did not disappoint!

Watching it this weekend was all the more appropriate given that one of the stars is Dorothy Malone, who passed on yesterday. Today I enjoyed a Malone double bill in her honor, also watching her in the Tim Holt Western SADDLE LEGION (1951). Incidentally, BATTLE CRY still has a number of surviving cast members, including Olson, Tab Hunter, L.Q. Jones, Allyn Ann McLerie, and Tommy Cook.

BATTLE CRY was directed by Raoul Walsh from a screenplay by Leon Uris, based on his novel. It's the story of a green class of Marine recruits who go through training in San Diego right after Pearl Harbor. Over the course of just under two and a half hours we get to know the men and see how the war impacts their relationships, which are begun, ended, or tested due to wartime upheaval and travels.

The film moves somewhat episodically through the different men's stories. Danny (Hunter) briefly has a fling with an officer's wife (Dorothy Malone) he meets at the USO, but soon comes to his senses and returns to his loyal sweetheart (Mona Freeman) back home.

Quiet Marion (John Lupton), an aspiring writer, meets a mysterious girl (Anne Francis) on a boat, later learning shocking news about her, and Ski (William Campbell) is crushed by a Dear John letter from his girlfriend (Susan Morrow). I especially liked Lupton's character, a bookworm who goes his own way and eventually strikes up an unlikely friendship with the unit bully, Joe (Perry Lopez).

Eventually the film lands on the best story, which it tells in the greatest depth: Love 'em and leave 'em lumberjack Andy (Ray), who laughs at the idea of being a one-woman man, falls head over heels for a sweet war widow (Olson) in New Zealand.

If there was any actor in a uniform more adorable than Ray in this film and the same year's THREE STRIPES IN THE SUN (1955), I don't know who it could be. He's completely winning, paired with Olson, an actress who can do no wrong. I would have been satisfied with a movie which was only about their characters, although it's to the movie's credit that the rest of it continues to be enjoyable even when we leave their story from time to time.

The cast is rounded out by Van Heflin as the commanding officer and James Whitmore as a sergeant, with Raymond Massey briefly turning up as Heflin's superior. Fess Parker is also on hand as one of the Marines, occasionally strumming a guitar in the background.

The entire cast does well, including Malone, whose character throws caution to the wind and breaks out of her "responsible club woman" mold due to her attraction to Danny. Her shock when she realizes their fling will come to an end is quite affecting. Malone's character disappears once the men ship out of San Diego, but she's not forgotten.

Freeman is also appealing as Danny's hometown love, who has her suspicions about Danny's behavior when he was in San Diego but continues to love him anyway. Freeman and Hunter surmount an incredibly fake beach set in order to play a moving love scene.

I've read a couple reviews which felt that viewers are shortchanged by the abbreviated battle scenes, but those scenes being limited is one of the reasons I liked it. It's not so much a war film, though of course the war is always present, but rather it's a film about navigating relationships during a time in everyone's lives like no other. In theme and tone it rather reminded me of Robert Wise's UNTIL THEY SAIL (1957), which like much of this film is focused on the romances of soldiers in the Allied forces who are stationed in New Zealand.

BATTLE CRY was effectively scored by Max Steiner.

The movie was shot in CinemaScope and WarnerColor by Sid Hickox. The Warner Archive Blu-ray print looks terrific. The disc includes the trailer as the lone extra.

I really enjoyed this film, and while it's still early days, I wouldn't be surprised if it were to end up on my annual list of Favorite Discoveries. Recommended.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

7 Comments:

Blogger Jerry Entract said...

I don't believe I have ever seen "BATTLE CRY", Laura. It sounds a fine film and the lengthy cast is magnificent. I must put matters right and get to see it. Thanks for bringing it to our attention!

12:19 AM  
Blogger DKoren said...

I own this one on DVD and absolutely love Aldo Ray in this. And John Lupton is my other favorite here, but the entire cast is good. I pretty much agree with everything you said, though I find Tab Hunter's sections the weakest of the film. It's funny timing, but I almost re-watched this one last week! I'm way overdue!

7:45 AM  
Blogger John G. said...

Anne Francis!

12:14 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Jerry, I hope you get to see it and enjoy it!

Deb, isn't Aldo Ray great? If you haven't seen THREE STRIPES IN THE SUN yet do be sure to see it, you'll love him in that one also. I wish Lupton's story had been more detailed than it was, he was really good playing an interesting guy. Hope you enjoy revisiting it soon!

Anne is lovely in this, John! Such an interesting cast --

Best wishes,
Laura

12:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You do know the James Dean story about this film, don't you?

That he auditioned for the role that Tab Hunter got? Can you imagine the kind of complete
historical dislocation/alternative universe that would of created? To have that kind of nascent genius percolating inside of this constricted military melodrama? No, the invisible
chains of the Eisenhower 50's would not explode on the Warner Brothers lot (and across the deeply repressed psyche of America) until a little screen test with Paul Newman for Elia Kazan's "East Of Eden", along with the uptight Mr. Raymond Massey as the ultimate Establishment Father Authority Figure that was about to be torn apart for the ages...it might also interest you to know that Dean had been in an acting class with James Whitmore in Los Angeles about a year or two before the audition for this film...and there is a fascinating anecdote about the Dean audition for "Battle Cry" from the casting director about how brilliant his reading was....but that he was worried about his "overwhelming presence" (an implication that he was too threatening to the overall conservative nature and tone of the project) and that he was "too short" to be believable as a Marine recruit....

2:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dean spent most of his time doing television and trying out for Broadway roles. Movie parts were a little harder to come by, and when a chance came up for a role in "Battle Cry", Jimmy spent days getting ready. “I did the screen test for Jimmy for a movie called "Battle Cry” said Bill Orr, then an executive in charge of talent for Warner Brothers. “He came in wearing these … ‘battle fatigues’ … a dirty cap, days’ worth of beard, dungarees. He was completely dressed for the part! And he gave the most fantastic reading I’d heard. It wasn’t a reading, it was a performance! He became that character. “I gave him the script and he looked at me and said, ‘Don’t just hand me this, tell me who I am.’
“So I told him, ‘You’re a young Polish boy being shipped off to war. You’re leaving the next morning and have to say goodbye to your girlfriend, and her father hates you. What do you do?’ “And he was electric! Fantastic! He would walk away with an agonized look, turn his back, then wheel quickly around and grab her. He portrayed such torment–the kind of emotion it might have taken another actor a week to do. But he didn’t get the part unfortunately. Tab Hunter finally got it. He was well known and he had a contract with Warner Brothers, etc. The studio finally decided it wanted a name for the picture, so Hunter was used. “At that time there were 100,000 people who all thought they were Marlon Brando, but Jimmy Dean wasn’t one of them. If Jimmy Dean had never become what he did, I would still remember him. He was really different and left a powerful image with me.”

11:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Laura, this is an excerpt from David Dalton's classic 1974 biography "The Mutant King" regarding "Battle Cry": Dean spent most of his time doing television and trying out for Broadway roles. Movie parts were a little harder to come by, and when a chance came up for a role in "Battle Cry", Jimmy spent days getting ready. “I did the screen test for Jimmy for a movie called Battle Cry” said Bill Orr, then an executive in charge of talent for Warner Brothers. “He came in wearing these … ‘battle fatigues’ … a dirty cap, days’ worth of beard, dungarees. He was completely dressed for the part! And he gave the most fantastic reading I’d heard. It wasn’t a reading, it was a performance! He became that character. “I gave him the script and he looked at me and said, ‘Don’t just hand me this, tell me who I am.’
“So I told him, ‘You’re a young Polish boy being shipped off to war. You’re leaving the next morning and have to say goodbye to your girlfriend, and her father hates you. What do you do?’ “And he was electric! Fantastic! He would walk away with an agonized look, turn his back, then wheel quickly around and grab her. He portrayed such torment–the kind of emotion it might have taken another actor a week to do. But he didn’t get the part unfortunately. Tab Hunter finally got it. He was well known and he had a contract with Warner Brothers, etc. The studio finally decided it wanted a name for the picture, so Hunter was used. “At that time there were 100,000 people who all thought they were Marlon Brando, but Jimmy Dean wasn’t one of them. If Jimmy Dean had never become what he did, I would still remember him. He was really different and left a powerful image with me.”

10:57 AM  

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