Cry Havoc (1943): Richard Thorpe’s War Film About Nurses, Starring Margaret Sullavan

Cry Havoc, Richard Thorpe’s version of Allan R. Kenward’s play, Proof Thro’ the Night, depicts the experiences of nurses caught up in the Bataan retreat.

As the heroine, Margaret Sullavan heads a wonderful female cast, which includes Ann Sothern, Joan Blondell, Fay Bainter, Marsha Hunt and Heather Angel.

Bearing thematic similarities to So Proudly We Hail, which was released before it, “Cry Havoc” pays tribute to the strong spirit and sacrificial nature of American women’s work during the War.

The tale begins with a voiced narration: “This is the story of thirteen women. Only two of them—Captain Alice Marsh and Lieutenant Mary Smith—were members of the armed forces of the U.S. The others were civilians—American women who, until that fateful day in December, knew no more of war than did you or your nearest neighbor.”

The 13 women included two Army nurses and 11 civilians, who knew nothing of war until “that day in December.”

The feature is set in a field hospital during the Battle of Bataan (January-April 9, 1942) against the advance of Japanese forces down the peninsula.

In the first scene, head nurse Lt. Mary “Smitty” Smith (Margaret Sullavan) and her superior Capt. Alice Marsh (Fay Bainter) express their desperate need for supplies, as the men survive surgery only to die of malaria.

As time goes on, the women master their fear and deals with various challenges, tending the wounded; enduring a diet of horse, mule or monkey meat; picking up pieces of bodies; tallying the personal effects of the dead.

Cast

Margaret Sullavan as Lieutenant Smith

Ann Sothern as Pat

Joan Blondell as Grace

Fay Bainter as Captain Marsh

Marsha Hunt as Flo Norris

Ella Raines as Connie

Frances Gifford as Helen

Diana Lewis as Nydia

Heather Angel as Andra

Dorothy Morris as Sue

Connie Gilchrist as Sadie

Gloria Grafton as Steve

Fely Franquelli as Luisita

 

Credits

MGM

Produced by Edwin Knopf.

Directed by Richard Thorpe.

Screenplay by Paul Osborn, based on the play by Allan R. Kenward.

Release date: November 23, 1943

Note

I am grateful to TCM for showing the film on December 19, 2019.