Sunday, May 24, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Stand By For Action (1942)

I often watch a war film on Memorial Day weekend, and in my new column for ClassicFlix I recommend a number of war films which I have found particularly meaningful or inspirational.

This year I chose to watch a war film I'd never seen before, STAND BY FOR ACTION (1942).

STAND BY FOR ACTION is an MGM film which premiered in December 1942, one year after Pearl Harbor. It's the story of the Warren, a WWI destroyer pulled out of mothballs for service early in WWII. The movie has a stellar cast including Robert Taylor, Brian Donlevy, Charles Laughton, Walter Brennan, and Chill Wills.

Taylor plays Lt. Gregg Masterman, scion of a wealthy family, who is quite competent but whose attitudes could stand a little fine-tuning and maturing. The polish Masterman needs is provided by Donlevy as Lt. Commander Martin Roberts, an up-through-the-ranks farmer's son who gives Masterman valuable lessons in leadership. Masterman is also surprised to find that functioning flawlessly while under fire isn't always easy.

Laughton plays Masterman's initial commanding officer, a rear admiral supervising the refurbishment of old ships who would love to get back to sea himself. Brennan plays a man who was a Warren crew member "back in the day" and -- after dying his gray hair darker -- re-enlists to share his knowledge of the ship with the new crew.

The actors are all excellent; I particularly liked Donlevy's nuanced performance as a man who's tough because he has to be, but who is also reasonable and a good instructor. Donlevy would later play a key role in another MGM study of leadership, COMMAND DECISION (1948).

The film is quite well done and interesting, although at 109 minutes the pacing starts to flag in the second half, after the ship takes on a life raft filled with pregnant women and infants. For a while, as it focuses on these refugees from a Hawaiian hospital, the movie seems reminiscent of the later OPERATION PETTICOAT (1959); I'm quite fond of the latter film, but here the extended focus on the women and children, with not one but two ladies giving birth, does take away a bit from the interesting interactions of the ship's crew members.

Otherwise, this is a solid movie with strong lead performances by a bevy of fine actors.

The supporting cast includes Henry O'Neill, Douglas Dumbrille, Douglas Fowley, William Tannen, Byron Foulger, Richard Quine, Tim Ryan, Hobart Cavanaugh, Marilyn Maxwell, and Inez Cooper. The ladies only appear briefly early on in the film, with the rest of the movie centered on the ship's initial shakedown cruise and combat action.

IMDb bills actors James Millican, Jim Davis, and Wally Cassell as a "talker." I'm not sure what that refers to; I was watching for them but never spotted them.

STAND BY FOR ACTION was directed by Robert Z. Leonard. It was filmed in black and white by Charles Rosher.

For more on this film, please visit posts by Glenn Erickson at DVD Savant and John McElwee at Greenbriar Picture Shows.

This film is available from the Warner Archive in an excellent print. The disc includes the trailer.

It can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies.

Past Memorial Day weekend movie reviews include CAPTAINS OF THE CLOUDS (1942), GUADALCANAL DIARY (1943), THEY WERE EXPENDABLE (1945), THE FROGMEN (1951), DESTINATION GOBI (1953), RUN SILENT RUN DEEP (1958), THE GALLANT HOURS (1960), and THE LONGEST DAY (1962).


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