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?
Last night’s film research was 1943’s Guadacanal Diary. A war correspondent, who apparently leaned toward over-wrought and dramatic philosophic musings, describes to the viewer his experiences traveling with the soldiers of the first Guadalcanal campaign.
The best part of this film was clearly Anthony Quinn; even this early in his career he seems to suck in the atmosphere like a fine vintage, puffing up his chest and delivering most of the meager handful of comedic lines. Like many other characters, he goes down bloodlessly in a sea of invisible bullets, but one thing an older war picture has over recent trends in realism is the use of racist epitaphs. Soldiers probably did tell their commanders they shot a few “squinties,” but hearing that in a modern film is more taboo than seeing a few limbs shatter under a grenade. This is information to note, but uncomfortable to hear.
It’s the script that hurts this movie the most, with dialogue so stiff and awkward it’s a relief to get to the next battle scene. It labors under a heavy-handed narrator, and frequently lags, but it does offer scenes not usually included in war movies, like the lazy days of waiting in the hot sun for some action to start. As I did, for most of the film.
So not an original look, not an original story, up for lots of Oscars. “Unobtanium” is what my engineer dad used to call materials that were hard to get as a joke, and I just watched people talk about it for three hours without cracking a smile. Wow. If you think that’s bad though, check out excerpts from the original script. What do you know, it wasn’t enough for everything to look like an acid trip, Jake was actually supposed to have one. So not living on Pandora is giving some people post-Avatar depression? I’d be depressed if I was living there. I didn’t see ANY snuggies, lap dogs or hot cocoa. In conclusion, if you don’t know what this is you should learn more about it, so you know when the movies are selling you a bill of goods, Kimba.