They Were Expendable (1945)

They Were Expendable (1945), directed by John Ford.

A mostly-true account of the battles of US Navy PT Boats against the Japanese invasion of the Philippines in the first part of WW2, made shortly after the actual events.

All I know about PT Boats I learned from PT 109 (1963) and McHale's Navy. They were light, made of plywood, fast and maneuverable and carried four torpedos.

The film doesn't have the mythical power or emotional depth of Ford's other films, but makes up for it in realism and is also a valuable account of those early days when the US was losing the war. It is a fighting retreat, scrounging for fuel and torpedos, with terrible attrition of men and boats until there is no squadron left.

The way the boats roar into battle: they are filmed just like cavalry charges. We have a combination of real locations and rear projection, but the location battles are very impressive action.

Robert Montgomery is the squadron commander with John Wayne as second in command. Wayne gets to spend time with nurse Donna Reed. Again it reminded me of the cavalry pictures: how eager the young officers are to have her over for a "formal" dinner, how courteous they are to her.

After Ford broke a leg Montgomery directed some scenes. He had been a Lt Commander in the Navy, served in both Europe and the Pacific, and had actually commanded a PT Boat.

On Blu-ray from Warner Archive.