Wake Island (1942): John Farrow’s Oscar Nominated WWII Film, Starring William Bendix

Highly relevant and timely, Paramount’s war picture “Wake Island” was made right after the battle that it depicts on the Pacific Island. It was released on September 1, 1942, less than a year after the US had entered the War.

Expertly directed by John Farrow, the film was emotionally stirring but came under criticism due to fictionalizing the account of the heroic defense of a battle that was recreated on the shore of California’s Salton Sea.

As scripted by W. R. Burnett and Frank Butler (based on the records of the U.S. Marine Corps), the story centers on the heroic sacrifices and gallant conduct of a group of men, played by Brian Donlevy, Robert Preston, Macdonald Carey, Albert Dekker, Walter Abel, and perhaps best of all William Bendix, who received as Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his role. By standards of the time, the battle and action scenes were deemed realistic.

Even so, the public embraced the film, which was effective as propaganda and mass entertainment, and served as a call for the defense of freedom and attribute”Remember Wake Island.”

The N.Y. Times critic, Bosley Crowther, who saw the picture at the Quantico Marine base, reported how exciting it was to watch “2000 fighters cheering the movie with thunderous applause. Those Marines have a personal interest involved, and we will confidently stand on their response.”

Oscar Nominations: 4

Picture, produced by Joseph Sistrom
Director: John Farrow
Supporting Actor: William Bendix
Screenplay (Original): W. R. Burnett and Frank Butler

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context

Easily one of the worst films to win the Best Picture Oscar, Mrs. Miniver competed against The Invaders, Kings Row, The Magnificent Ambersons, The Pied Piper, The Pride of the Yankees, Random Harvest, The Talk of the Town, Wake Island, and Yankee Doodle Dandy.

Most of these films were patriotic flag-wavers, reflecting the surrounding reality of the U.S. 1941 entry into WWII. Next to “Mrs. Miniver,” the Gary Cooper sports biopic “The Pride of the Yankees,” was the most nominated (11) picture, though it won only one Oscar, for Daniel Mandell’s editing.

The Screenplay Oscar went to Ring Lardner Jr. and Michael Kanin for the comedy Woman of the Year, the first teaming of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. The winner of the Supporting Actor was Van Heflin for “Johnny Eager.”