The generational conflict between John Wayne’s characters and his young immature soldiers is most explicitly developed in Otto Preminger’s epic (167 minutes) WWII drama, “In Harm’s Way,”
John Wayne’s plays Captain Rockwell Torrey, a commander of a cruiser, in charge of a ship on the fateful Sunday morning of December 7, 1941. Before we even meet him, Torrey, nicknamed “The Rock,” is described by his officers as “All Navy.” Living up to his real and nick names, Torrey reperents steadfastness and solid leadership, necessary qualities in a period of trial and confusion following the shocking (sneak) attack of the Japanese on Pearl Harbor.
We also learn that Torrey’s commitment to his career resulted in a broken marriage. For his part, Torrey believes that his wife’s Bostonian origins have had a negative influence on their son Jere (Brandon de Wilde), whom he has not seen for eighteen years.
Indeed, at first Jere comes across as an opportunistic office,r who prefers a “soft” desk job to a fighting assignment. Torrey is ashamed of his son and their first meeting is bitter and awkward. Addressed by Jere as “Sir,” Torrey resents the manner in which his son talks about the War, referring to it as “Mr. Roosevelt’s War.”
Torrey also despises his son for revealing a top secret out of negligence. Later on, when Jere is assigned to the same operation and is placed under Wayne’s command, he does not get any special treatment. “I’m not going to act like a father now,” states Torrey, “I threw that opportunity 18 years ago.”
A major source of conflict between Torrey and his estranged wife concerns his career. She wanted him to do something “useful,” like working for the stock market. Torrey, however, refuses, “I don’t fit behind a desk. I’ll dry.”
But Torrey is also reluctant to sit behind a military desk, and suffers under the indecisive leadership of Admiral Broderick (Dana Andrews). Indeed, leading the remnants of a Japanese attack, he deliberately violates orders, charting a straight course for the enemy instead of the required zigzag.
As a result, a torpedo splits Torrey’s ship and he is injured. Brought before a court, the punishment for his violation is deskwork. Frustrated, he watches forlornly as the American counter-offensive is formulated, without him. But later, Torrey’s case is reexamined by the higher command and, elevated to Rear Admiral, he is placed in command of Operation Skyhook.
Torrey’s ship is struck by the Japanese and he is injured again; this time, his left leg is amputated. He is promised, however, an artificial leg and the command of a new task force, to carry on the fight.
Romantic interest in the saga, scripted by Wendell Mayes based on the novel by James Bassett, is represented by Maggie Haynes (Patricia Neal, right after winning an Oscar for “Hud”), the kind nurse he meets at the hospital, when she X-rays gus fractured arm. They become friendlier, when Torey runs into Maggie at a party, which he was bullied into attending by Egan Powell (played by vet character actor Burgess Meredith)
This was the ssecond teaming of Wayne and Patricia Neal, after her appearance as navy nurse and Wayn’es ex-wife in the war drama, “Operation Pacific” (1951).
Father and son become closer, when Torrey has to break the tragic news that his boy’s girlfriend (Jill Hayworth) has been raped (by Kirk Douglas) and committed suicide. At the end, they are reunited when Jere models himself after his father, but not before committing himself to the War’s ideals. Jere redeems himself by becoming a better soldier and dying heroically. Now Torrey can fully accept his son and even be proud of him.
Oscar Nominations: 1
Cinematography (b/w): Loyal Griggs
Oscar Awards: None
The Oscar winner was Ernest Laszlo for Ship of Fools.