Bataan: Robert Taylor as Sergeant in WWII Combat Film

Depicting the heroic efforts of a rear-guard suicide mission to protect the American retreat down the peninsula, “Bataan” showcases Robert Taylor as a courageous sergeant in the face of the advancing Japanese. His job is to shepherd his men with a blend of human compassion and stern leadership.

Taylor’s hard-bitten sergeant inherits the improvised command when an Air Force lieutenant (George Murphy) relinquishes it to him on practical grounds. When the suicide detail is formed, Captain Lee Bowman defers to Sgt. Taylor on important decisions; the sergeant has had more experience. Taylor plays the sergeant whose platoon, comprised of inexperienced but courageous troops, must cover the retreat by making sure that a bridge remains demolished.

The young and nervous captain (Lee Bowman) is the first to die when snipers shoot him. Taylor buries his soldiers one by one, defiantly waiting behind his machine gun for the hundreds of Japanese advancing on his position

“Bataan” offers a classic example of a unit with cross-section personality types, banded together to fight the enemy. The group includes a medic who’s a conscientious objector, an inexperienced adolescent, a Filipino corporal, and a black who’s studying for the ministry.

Centering on the last days, the yarn describes battered fighters, grouped together to hold a read point while the American and Filipino armies fell back. The nondescript rear-guard wrecks a stone and then stands by to hold the Japanese from building it back.

The soldiers and one sailor, who represent an assortment of types, are tacitly labeled “expendable” for purpose of holding on ravine. Robert Walker is cast as a gentle young sailor who almost cracks from homesickness. The prayer of a Spanish-born soldier, who dies of malaria, is maudlin, but the prayer over the jungle grave of the dead captain is eloquent. Since

At the time, “Bataan” was considered to be a realistic portrait of “the grim attrition of body and mind, as Bosley Crowther wrote in the N.Y. Times, avoiding “prettified facts and sticking to the truth in all its ugly detail.”

Since “Bataan” was basically a document of early defeat, the producers decided to emphasize the determined, sacrificial heroism of Air Force lieutenant when, mortally wounded, orders his plane loaded with dynamite so he can dive it into the critical bridge. Later, criticized of telling a fabricated story with mechanically packed incidents, MGM was forced to acknowledge some melodramatic flaws and technical mistakes.

 

Cast:
Robert Taylor
George Murphy
Thomas Mitchell
Lloyd Nolan
Lee Bowman
Robert Walker
Desi Arnaz
Barry Nelson
Phillip Terry
Roque Espiritu
Kenneth Spencer
J. Alex Havier
Tom Dugan
Donald Curtis
Credits:

Produced by Irving Starr.
Directed by Tay Garnett.
Screenplay by Robert D. Andrews.
Release date: June 3, 1943