Wake Island (1942): War Propaganda, Robert Preston, Brian Donlevy, and William Bendix

A moving, though fictionalized, report of the defense of the Pacific Island base, Wake Island placed strong emphasis on the heroic gallantry of three Marines.  They are played by character actors Robert Preston, Brian Donlevy, and William Bendix, who won a supporting actor Oscar nomination.

Despite the fact that it was shot in California, the battle scenes seem convincingly realistic. The film got rave reviews, though it was clear that the reviews themselves were tainted by the politics of the times.

For example, the Newsweek critic wrote that: “Although the United States has been at war for nine months, Wake Island is Hollywood’s first intelligent, honest, and completely successful attempt to dramatize the deeds of an American force on a fighting front.”

Howard Barnes of the NY Herald Tribune also rallied behind the film, describing it as “a memorable motion picture.” Barnes was particularly impressed with the cast: “The acting is as close to perfect as one could possibly ask, even in an epic of this stature. Brian Donlevy is utterly right as the commanding major. Robert Preston and William Bendix contribute an undercurrent of captivating comedy as a couple of tough Marine pals. Macdonald Carey’s portrait of a grief-stricken, vengeful flyer is entirely convincing, and Alebrt Dekker, Walter Abel, and the others give inspired performances.”

Bosley Crowther, who saw the film in a Marine base, praised the filmmakers who “deserve a sincere salute,” and predicted that the picture “should surely bring a surge of pride to every patriot’s breast.”