In the wake of Pearl Harbor's surprise attack, World War II hero, Lt. John Brickley's experimental squadron of agile fast-attack Patrol Torpedo boats is sent to warm and humid Manila to avert a potentially imminent Japanese invasion. As he and his second-in-command, Lieutenant "Rusty" Ryan, desperately try to prove the newly-founded naval unit's worth, the enemy launches a devastating all-out attack--and despite the PT boat flotilla's undeniable success--the considerably outnumbered and outgunned American soldiers are fighting a losing battle. Little by little, the Philippine campaign is doomed to cave in, as comrades-in-arms perish in the sea. Is there glory in defeat?Written by
Near the end of filming, John Ford broke his leg when he fell 20 feet off a scaffold. While Ford spent two weeks in traction in the hospital, Robert Montgomery directed the remaining scenes - mainly inserts for the battle sequences. When shooting wrapped, Ford returned to his Field Photographic Unit in Europe, just in time to cross the Rhine with Allied forces at war's end. See more »
By the time this movie was made, the class of PT boat used in the Philippine Islands was not available. They substituted 80-foot ELCOs for the 77-foot ELCOs actually used in Manila Bay. See more »
MGM produced a different version, dubbed and with credits in Spanish, probably to be used by television stations. This version omits the final sequence (nearly more than 15 minutes of running time) and the film ends a previous scene with Robert Montgomery and John Wayne saying farewell to the soldiers that had to remain in the Phillipines, then the scene cuts to a plane leaving the island and to a "The End" title in Spanish. This version aired in Argentina in a cable station called "Space". Turner Network Televsion, in all Latin American countries, used to air the film in its original form. However, they lifted the Spanish language dubbing from the old version and, without any explanation why, the last minutes of the film play in English. See more »
The Monkeys Have No Tails in Zamboanga
Music adapted from the official march of the Philippine Constabulary
Written by by G. Savoca (lyrics)
[Sung in the officer's club at the beginning of the movie.] See more »
I have very strong feelings about this film. As a baby boomer, I have always felt that mine and future generations owe an eternal debt to those who didn't come back.
One way of acknowledging this debt is the way we watch war films, not as bloody spectacles but as tributes and reminders.
And what kind of tribute and reminder is "They Were Expendable"? Consider the rueful irony of the title. Such a sentiment is quite uncharacteristic of director John Ford's other work, especially his westerns (possibly excepting "Fort Apache"), which border on jingoism. Yes, there's a scene that's pretty hard to take: When the boats are detailed to take MacArthur out of harm's way, Ford tries to make out like they're rescuing Lincoln, complete with "Battle Hymn of the Republic" soundtrack. Today we know MacArthur as an overrated blow-hard, but 1945 was too early to see past the hype. And yes, there's some of the usual Ford corn-ball and the familiar Ford players, with John Wayne and Ward Bond doing their thing. But then, there's the great Robert Montgomery, who did active duty (unlike Wayne), and I truly believe he was playing this film, both as actor and co-director, straight from the heart. You can see it in a scene in which he realizes his duty means his death. Much of that scene is shot in shadow, but paradoxically the darkness serves to enhance Montgomery's underplayed emotions. The emotions are similar when Montgomery and Wayne are later confronted with an order that saves their lives but dooms their men.
Implicit in the belief that war is sometimes necessary is the inevitability of some of the most excruciating moral dilemmas imaginable. And when I see these dilemmas imposed on men and women, boys and girls, demanding their lives in payment for their sacred honor, I'm humbled beyond words.
Life magazine used to do huge layouts of kids killed in World War II combat. When I look at these faces and think of the words "They Were Expendable," I . . .
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