They Were Expendableis the greatest American film of the Second World War, made by America's greatest director, John Ford, who himself saw action from the Battle of Midway through D-day. Yet it's been oddly neglected. Or perhaps not so oddly: for as … see full wiki
With regard to the film's title, not all of those involved with resisting the Japanese were expendable. General Douglas Mac Arthur is ordered by President Roosevelt to relocate with his family and staff to Australia. Brickley's squadron makes their escape possible. As the film ends, he and Lieutenant J.G. "Rusty" Ryan (John Wayne) return to the United States on the last plane out. Their men will now be fighting on foot...at least for a while. In the final scene, as they trudge proudly down the beach and the plane carrying Brickley and Ryan rises above them, the soundtrack offers a muted choral rendition of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." A distinctive Ford touch.
The greatness of this film is best explained in terms of (a) the generally non-verbal but nonetheless close relationships between Brickley and Ryan, and, between them and their crews; (b) the romantic feelings shared by Ryan and Lieutenant Sandy Davys (Donna Reed) which Ford never permits to deteriorate into sentimentality; (c) Montgomery's highly-effective portrayal of a soft-spoken leader; and (d) Wayne's (for me) surprisingly subtle and sensitive performance, perhaps equaled (in terms of nuance) only by his performances in The Searchers and The Shootist.
It is worth noting, also, that Ford as well as his cast and crew obviously had great respect for the men and women in the American military services. They avoid all of the pitfalls which ruin so many other war films. For example, character stereotyping (e.g. including a philosophical Jewish cab driver from Brooklyn) and using melodramatic music to manipulate a viewer's emotions during especially dramatic moments. This film has integrity in all respects, suggesting that although many of those whom it portrays may have been expendable, they are nonetheless admirable.
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