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They Were Expendable (MGM 1945, John Wayne, Robert Montgomery)

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John Ford returned from making wartime documentaries when he was convinced that this wouldn’t be just another war movie. It isn’t. It is an inspiring, bleak tribute to the quiet dignity and courage of the American military even as they faced certain defeat in the early days of the Pacific campaign. The true story details America’s PT-boat squadrons supporting the naval war in the Philippines.

Robert Montgomery (based on real-life Medal of Honor winner John Bulkeley) commands the boats and John Wayne learns the importance of duty and sacrifice as a PT-boat officer. Wayne and Reed have a sweet, tender romance when he’s ordered to sick bay.

Ford agreed to the movie after meeting Bulkeley at Normandy. His direction was so impassioned he fell from a scaffold and broke his leg; Montgomery finished the last two weeks of shooting (and went on to direct a few interesting features and much TV). Ford donated his entire salary from the film to a fund for the rehabilitation of 168 Navy men who had worked on past films of his.

Academy Award Nominations: Best Sound Recording; Best Special Effects.

production details
USA | MGM | 135 minutes | 1945

Producer and Director: John Ford
Cinematography: Joseph H. August
Editor: Frank E. Hull
Music: Herbert Stothart
Script: Frank Wead
Production Design: Cedric Gibbons

cast
John Wayne as Lt. (J.G.) ‘Rusty’ Ryan
Ward Bond as “Boats” Mulcahey, Chief Boatswain’s Mate
Robert Montgomery as Lt. John Brickley
Leon Ames as Major James Morton
Donna Reed as Lt. Sandy Davyss
Jack Holt as General Martin
Marshall Thompson as Ens. ‘Snake’ Gardner
Paul Langton as Ens. ‘Andy’ Andrews
Arthur Walsh as Seaman Jones
Donald Curtis as Lt. (J.G.) ‘Shorty’ Long
Cameron Mitchell as Ens. George Cross
Louis Jean Heydt as ‘Ohio’
Jeff York as Ens. Tony Aiken
Murray Alper as ‘Slug’ Mahan T.M. 1c
Harry Tenbrook as ‘Squarehead’ Larsen SC 2c
Jack Pennick as ‘Doc’
Alex Havier as ‘Benny’ Lecoco ST 3c
Charles Trowbridge as Admiral Blackwell
Robert Barrat as The General
Bruce Kellogg as Elder Tompkins M.M. 2c
Tim Murdock as Ens. Brant
Russell Simpson as ‘Dad’ Knowland
Vernon Steele as Army Doctor
Robert Emmett O’Connor as Silver Dollar Bartender (uncredited)