They Were Expendable (1945)
Thursday, February 7, 2019
85 Main St., Bucksport, Maine
Introduced by Joe Mosier, US Navy Master Chief (ret.) and maritime historian.
“Most war films are, ultimately, about winning. In 1945, however, as World War II was ending, John Ford made probably the finest U.S. war picture, about one of America’s greatest defeats—-in the Philippines—-the title of which alone is devastating in its implications: They Were Expendable. The picture focuses on the use of PT-Boats in the Philippines, specifically through the deeds of its central pioneer John D. Bulkeley, a good friend of Ford’s and one of the most decorated men of the war: he is played with simple dignity by Robert Montgomery, also a Naval veteran. His fictional cohort—-who gets the brief but memorable love interest with a Navy nurse perfectly incarnated by Donna Reed—-is done in a most effectively understated performance by John Wayne. Essentially, like a good many of Ford’s pictures, They Were Expendable deals with the peculiar glory in defeat. When I pointed this out to him, Ford said it wasn’t something he had “done consciously,” though he allowed, “it may have been subconscious… Of course, they were glorious in defeat in the Philippines—-they kept on fighting” - Peter Bogdanovich, IndieWire.