I Dare Say – ‘Gung Ho’ forerunner of ‘tough’ war films (2-13-44)

The Pittsburgh Press (February 13, 1944)


Gung Ho forerunner of ‘tough’ war films

By Florence Fisher Parry

A remarkable motion picture is showing at the Fulton, Walter Wanger’s Gung Ho! It is as lean and hard as any war picture so far produced. It tells the story of the Marines landing on Makin Island in the Southwest Pacific. It shows their training and their ultimate assault. It is about as grim and painful a presentation of what war means as the human sensibilities can stand. I recommend it particularly to men. If there is a man remaining in your family, see that he sees this picture. It is the forerunner of a number of unsparing pictures which we can expect to see. For since the Hays Office lifted the ban on atrocity movies, all of our major studios have furiously entered loose on atrocity films. They have been handed the biggest propaganda plum ever to be given out by a government. The Office of War Information could ask for a better partner. Nothing could be devised that could offer sharper warning to the peace-table which will later sit in judgment upon the beaten enemy.

The motion picture industry has come a long way since the last war. It is hard for us to believe how infantile and clumsy the motion picture industry was in World War I. It made atrocity films but they were so grossly melodramatized that they became a caricature, and they defeated their purpose. The Kaiser, the Beast of Berlin was, you will recall, the title of the favorite of all these films. Perhaps the most gruesome of all these World War I pictures was that little thriller called Behind the Door in which Hobart Bosworth, then a great screen favorite, enacted the role of a skipper of a U.S. submarine who, upon capturing a German submarine commander who had ravaged and then killed his (Bosworth’s) wife, locked him in his cabin and skinned him alive.

Nazi terror too

Now that the Japanese atrocity stories have broken, and the motion picture producers have been given the word by our government to proceed with their pictorial footnotes to this monstrous document, we can expect a flood of such horror pictures as will dry up forever any milk of human kindness that we may ever have had for our enemies!

So far, we have soft-pedaled, in the movies, Nazi sadism. Pictures like The Moon Is Down, Mrs. Miniver and others have confined themselves more to the MENTAL cruelties imposed upon the conquered countries of Europe. Only in one motion picture, The North Star, have deliberate physical tortures been exploited.

In this picture, we are shown the visitation of Nazi terrorism upon the inhabitants of a border-town Russian village. A woman is deliberately taken into a hastily-devised Nazi hospital and her legs and arms broken by the medical staff. The children of the village are shown lined up in the corridors of this hospital and taken one by one into the operating room to be subjected to blood transfusions which cost their lives. Nothing yet shown on the screen has been quite as unbearable as this terrible picturization of childish terror and suffering.

A foretaste

This is but a foretaste of what is in store for us. The motion picture studios have bought up practically all of the best-selling horror books that have been written about Nazi and Japanese atrocities. I predict that the picturization of Arthur Koestler’s Arrival and Departure (not yet announced to my knowledge by any studio) will hit the all-time high in horror. It is significant that in Koestler’s report is to be found the greatest horror story of all atrocities so far reported. Nothing that the Japs have done to their captives can surpass the atrocities committed upon the Jews in Eastern Europe. Let us hope that we will be as relentless in expecting Prussian and Nazi sadism as we have been in revealing the Jap atrocities. There is little choice between our enemies. I hope that the motion pictures will make this plain to us and in a manner that we can never forget.

The motion pictures have been given an enormous responsibility and we can only hope that the whole home front audience will be deserving of the opportunity to see our enemy plain.

Imposing list

It has been feared that war pictures will reach the saturation point and that already motion picture audiences are wearying of them. This would be too bad; for while we can well understand the need for happier escape for our fighting forces, whether home on leave or in the combat areas, there is no excuse for the home front to bury its head and refuse to be informed, as only the movies can inform it, of what hell war is.

The war pictures have been growing better and better. Lillian Hellman protests that Samuel Goldwyn played fast and loose with her original story of The North Star (and indeed on seeing it, I strongly suspected that this very realistic and unsparing playwright would not have dwelt in such fond sentimentality upon the earlier scenes). But even so, The North Star is a magnificent picture.

Gung Ho! is a good example of what can be made of the facts of war, being as it is a glorified newsreel account.

The North Star shows us the vast panorama of the Russian battle reduced to a capsule of human anguish. And in the films to come, we may expect a steady improvement. Darryl Zanuck of 20th Century-Fox is finishing a picture called The Purple Heart based on the execution by decapitation of our American fliers who took part in the Tokyo raid.

RKO have entrusted to Dudley Nichols, one of the best producers in Hollywood, a screen version of This Is My Brother, that excellent novel by Louis Paul, about five soldier captives. Jack Darrow’s I Was a Prisoner of Japan is being done by Monogram. Republic is producing The Death March with Curt Siodmak, one of the best horror specialists in Hollywood, doing the writing.

MGM is busy making Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo with Spencer Tracy in the role of Gen. Doolittle. MGM is also starring Spencer Tracy in a motion picture version of that magnificent picture, The Seventh Cross. Twentieth Century-Fox will give the Battle of Midway in a picture called Wing and a Prayer. MGM will give us Hitler’s Madmen; and The Hitler Gang of Paramount can be counted upon to add to the atrocity list.