Operation Pacific (1951): George Waggner’s War Movie, Starring John Wayne and Patricia Neal

Operation Pacific, written and directed by George Waggner, is a typical John Wayne War movie of the 1950s, presenting all the ingredients of his screen persona, including his relationship with women.

Grade: C+

While aboard the U.S. submarine Thunderfish, on patrol off an enemy-held island, the skipper (Ward Bond) views Lt. Commander Duke E. Gifford (Wayne) crashing out of the jungle with a baby in his arms.

Safely on board, Gifford explains that he adopted the baby because it reminded him of his own son, who had died at infancy.

Gifford has been divorced from his wife, a Navy nurse (Patricia Neal) for fourteen years, following the death of their son. It is clear, though, that he still loves her and wants to resume their relationship. Gifford takes the blame for their split on himself, “We had something–I guess I kicked it around.”

Gifford’s ex-wife apparently did not mind his absences from home, but she did mind that she could not cry with him or comfort him when their son died. In a big climactic scene, she says: “You went off into some corner alone, never realizing that by comforting you I could have helped my own grief.” She also spurns him for his love with the navy, “You don’t need anybody but yourself.”

Following a brief skirmish with opposing cruisers, the submarine returns to the base, where Gifford meets his former wife.  She is now dating a navy pilot (Philip Carey), who happens to be Ward Bond’s younger brother.

Thunderfish, off on another patrol, is damaged by an armed decoy, as a result of which Bind is wounded. Rather than risk the lives of the crew, Wayne orders the craft to submerge, leaving the skipper behind.

Carey blames Wayne for Bond’s death, but Wayne’s former wife intervenes. As in most of Wayne’s films, she is the one who has to compromise and accept him on his own terms as her superior at the hospital reminds her: “You married him for what he is, and then tried to make something else out of him, but you couldn’t.”

It is not until Gifford, in command of Thunderfish, intercepts the battle line of the enemy armada, alerting the base and rescuing several bailed-out pilots (including Carey), that he and his crew are acclaimed as heroes.

The sub returns from its victorious cruise to find Wayne’s former wife waiting for him.


John Wayne as Lt. Cmdr. Duke E. Gifford
Patricia Neal as Lt. (j.g.) Mary Stuart
Ward Bond as Cmdr. John T. “Pop” Perry
Scott Forbes as Lt. Larry
Philip Carey as Lt. (j.g.) Bob Perry
Paul Picerni as Jonesy
William Campbell as the Talker
Kathryn Givney as Cmdr. Steele
Martin Milner as Ensign Caldwell
Cliff Clark as Commander, SUBPAC
Jack Pennick as the Chief
Virginia Brissac as Sister Anna
Vincent Fotre as Soundman
Lewis Martin as Squad Commander
Sam Edwards as Junior
James Flavin Mick Shore Patrol Commander (uncredited)
Harry Lauter Freddie Commanding Officer Submarine Corvena (uncredited)
Milburn Stone Ground Control Officer (uncredited)
Frank Sutton as Chief Gunners Mate (uncredited)
Louis Mosconi as Radarman Mosconi