Sunday, January 17, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Wake Island (1942) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

WAKE ISLAND (1942) is one of a pair of World War II films released on Blu-ray late last summer by Kino Lorber.

WAKE ISLAND was released alongside the very enjoyable RED BALL EXPRESS (1952), which I reviewed here.

WAKE ISLAND kept being pushed further down in my review stack by the ongoing wealth of new Kino Lorber releases in the ensuing weeks, but I'm happy to say I finally caught up with it.  I'm not sure "enjoyed" is the appropriate word to describe my response to such a sad story, but I found the film worthwhile and even educational, starting me on a path to reading more about the real battle.  

I've always been interested in World War II films and find movies made in the early days of the war, when the outcome was uncertain, to be particularly fascinating.  WAKE ISLAND was released by Paramount Pictures only eight months after the beginning of the siege of Wake Island.  It was followed a few weeks later by the equally grim MANILA CALLING (1942) from 20th Century-Fox. 

The Battle of Wake Island began almost simultaneously with the attack on Pearl Harbor; thanks to the international dateline, December 7th in Hawaii was December 8th on Wake Island, so in essence they were attacked on the same day.

The Japanese attacked Wake Island repeatedly for over three weeks, as any hopes for resupply or rescue for the men stationed there dwindled. After great loss of life, the battle concluded with the U.S. surrender on December 23rd.

WAKE ISLAND is a thoughtful and moving film, and though the end is sad, the stirring patriotism served to inspire its original audiences nationwide. It still evokes strong emotions today, not just as a film, but thinking both of what the real heroes of Wake Island endured and what the audiences of this film were experiencing in the early months of the war.

Brian Donlevy stars as Major Caton, who arrives on the island just before the action commences.  Donlevy is an actor I've increasingly come to appreciate over the past couple of years; he always brings his "A" game, and that's no exception here.  Donlevy has any number of outstanding scenes, with the best possibly being when he approves what he knows is almost certainly a suicide mission for pilot Lt. Cameron (Macdonald Carey).

Other men under Donlevy's command are played by Robert Preston, William Bendix, and Rod Cameron; Cameron plays the only man to leave the island, taking a report of Japanese tactics and conditions to Hawaii.  Albert Dekker plays a construction contractor who initially clashes with Donlevy but ultimately passes up an opportunity to leave, remaining to offer his skills in defending the island.

The terrific cast includes many familiar unbilled faces, including Barbara Britton, Dane Clark, Hugh Beaumont, Hillary Brooke, Mary Field, Don Castle, Alan Hale Jr., Phillip Terry, and James Millican.

WAKE ISLAND was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.  Director John Farrow was likewise nominated for the Academy Award, as were William Bendix (Best Supporting Actor) and screenwriters W.R. Burnett and Frank Butler.

WAKE ISLAND was filmed in black and white by William C. Mellor and Theodor Sparkuhl.  It runs 88 minutes.

Kino Lorber's Blu-ray is a typically good-looking print which also has excellent sound.  Extras on the Blu-ray disc include the trailer and a commentary track by Steve Mitchell and Steven Jay Rubin.  The disc includes half a dozen trailers for additional films available from Kino Lorber.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


Blogger Walter S. said...

Laura, I enjoyed your review of WAKE ISLAND(1942), which is a very worthwhile movie, especially at the time it was being filmed in April, 1942. Things looked bleak in the Pacific and elsewhere at that time. We didn't know what actually happened on Wake Island until after the war was over. What actually happened was far worse than depicted in the movie. It was horrible and everyone should never forget what these brave men went through.

Regarding your statement, "starting me on a path to reading more about the real battle." Do you remember the READ MORE ABOUT IT public service announcements that were made as a joint venture between the CBS Network and the Library of Congress that ran during the 1980's and '90's on CBS? They were aired at the end of a special primetime program and an actor or actress, from the program would suggest that to learn more about what happened in the program, the books the Library of Congress suggests were, and that they could be found in a local library or bookstore. It ended with someone like George C. Scott saying, "Visit them. They'll be happy to help you Read More About It."

The following is one of the announcements from after the airing of A CHRISTMAS CAROL on December 17, 1984.

Yes, I think we should read more about everything.

12:02 PM  
Blogger Hamlette (Rachel) said...

This is one of those movies that I've been aware of for years, but still haven't seen. For a long time, only Preston would have been a draw for me, but now I've seen Bendix, Carey, and Donlevy so often in Alan Ladd's films that I've gotten really fond of them too! I shall have to see about picking this up.

1:50 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Walter,

It is so interesting to watch films like WAKE ISLAND which were made almost contemporaneous with events. The combination of uncertainty and encouragement found in such films is striking. (And what I read was later learned had happened to some of the men on the island was truly disturbing.)

What a great memory of "Read More About It," I'd forgotten that. It was indeed a nice PSA series -- what fun to see the one you shared with George C. Scott. (Love his version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL.) Thank you!

Rachel, if you enjoy the cast I think you would find this worthwhile. They're all very good in it (and Preston was quite a handsome hunk in this, you may appreciate that too LOL).

Best wishes,

9:13 AM  
Blogger rcocean said...

I love the first part of the movie. Bendix and Preston make a great team. The action is well done. But like you say, its really a sad movie. I usually pair it with John Ford's "Battle of Midway" which ends on a happier note.

5:41 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

That's a really nice idea to pair WAKE ISLAND with something more uplifting.

We were discussing reading above, so to tie in with your mention of the Ford documentary and "reading more about it," Walter Lord's Midway book INCREDIBLE VICTORY was one of my all-time favorite books as a kid. I reread it multiple times. If anyone doubts whether nonfiction can be thrilling, that's the book to read.

Best wishes,

10:26 AM  

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