One of John Wayne’s well-loved classics, Back to Bataan follows the struggle of the Filipino resistance after the island’s takeover by the Japanese. John Wayne is Colonel Joseph Madden, who recruits a small band of Filipino’s to rescue the grandson of a legendary freedom fighter from a Japanese death march so the rebel movement has someone to rally behind.
There’s no question the Japanese massacred the living crap out of the Philippines, but Back to Bataan makes the curious choice of featuring execution by hanging as the method of choice. In reality, the primary method was machine gun fire and bayonet, although a short sequence in which exhausted war prisoners are bloodlessly bayoneted as they fall to the wayside has the ring of truth behind it. We once again see Anthony Quinn in an Allied uniform as reluctant grandson-of-a-hero Captain Andrés Bonifácio, but the heartstrings are primarily wrapped around little Ducky Louie and his teacher, familiar character actress Beulah Bondi. “Battleaxe Bertha” joins the resistance after her schoolhouse is unluckily chosen as the premiere place to be made an example of by the Japanese, and is so formidable, she might be the one person left standing after an aerial raid. Genuine emotional pain surrounding civilian murder is somewhat marred by the swelling, teary-eyed score, and at least one character death reminded me of Harry Potter weeping over Dobby’s lifeless body. Can anything kill John Wayne?