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They Were Expendable (1945)

Approved | | Drama, War | 31 December 1945 (USA)
The PT boat unit Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Three defends the Philippines from Japanese invasion during World War II.

Directors:

John Ford (as John Ford Captain U.S.N.R.), Robert Montgomery (uncredited)

Writers:

William L. White (book), Frank Wead (screenplay) (as Frank Wead Comdr. U.S.N. {Ret})
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Nominated for 2 Oscars. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Robert Montgomery ... Lt. John Brickley (as Robert Montgomery Comdr. U.S.N.R.)
John Wayne ... Lt. (J.G.) 'Rusty' Ryan
Donna Reed ... Lt. Sandy Davyss
Jack Holt ... General Martin
Ward Bond ... 'Boats' Mulcahey C.B.M.
Marshall Thompson ... Ens. 'Snake' Gardner
Paul Langton ... Ens. 'Andy' Andrews
Leon Ames ... Major James Morton
Arthur Walsh Arthur Walsh ... Seaman Jones
Donald Curtis ... Lt. (J.G.) 'Shorty' Long / Radio Announcer
Cameron Mitchell ... Ens. George Cross
Jeff York ... Ens. Tony Aiken
Murray Alper ... 'Slug' Mahan T.M. 1c
Harry Tenbrook ... 'Squarehead' Larsen SC 2c
Jack Pennick ... 'Doc'
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Storyline

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 Nick Riganas

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

M-G-M's Picture of the Year! See more »

Genres:

Drama | War

Certificate:

Approved | See all certifications »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

31 December 1945 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

They Were Expendable See more »

Filming Locations:

Florida Keys, Florida, USA See more »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

| (cut)

Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Opening credits prologue: "Today the guns are silent. A great tragedy has ended. A great victory has been won ... I speak for the thousands of silent lips, forever stilled among the jungles and in the deep waters of the Pacific which marked the way." Douglas Macarthur General of the Army. See more »

Goofs

When Brickley and Rusty (John Wayne) are receiving orders about the evacuation of Army and Navy personal, Rusty's "Fly" is unzipped. At Military burials, you do not have "Firing squads" you have an "Honor Guard" Rusty uses the phrase "firing squad" when burying two sailors from his Boat. See more »

Quotes

Lt. 'Rusty' Ryan: Listen sister, I don't dance!
See more »

Crazy Credits

Closing quote: "We Shall Return" Douglas MacArthur, General of the Army See more »

Alternate Versions

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 »

Connections

Referenced in Hollywood Hist-o-Rama: John Wayne (1961) See more »

Soundtracks

You're in the Army Now
(uncredited)
Music by Isham Jones and lyrics by Tell Taylor and Ole Olsen
[Instrumental version heard when the boat crews march off to be secunded into the army.]
See more »

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User Reviews

 
Memorable, slow-paced World War II film with fine performances from Robert Montgomery, John Wayne and Donna Reed with excellent direction by John Ford.
15 December 1999 | by Slim-4See all my reviews

This is a memorable war film. Unlike other war films which depict glamorous battles, brutal campaigns and heroic exploits, this film focuses on average sailors who are merely doing a job. This often touching story is sandwiched around the real life escape of General and Mrs. McArthur from Corregidor at the beginning of World War II. The film does a good job portraying the collapse of American and Fillipino resistance in late 1941 and early 1942. The war is going badly, and this film does not try to sugar coat it. General Martin's character (played by Jack Holt) articulates this well at the end of the film. "The end is near here", he says.

John Wayne plays Rusty, a somewhat disgruntled officer who is unhappy about serving on a patrol torpedo (PT) boat. "Plywood dreams", he calls them in one scene. The fortunes of war intervene and Rusty and his comrades must fight the invading Japanese. Wayne's performance is memorable here, because it is uncharacteristic of his work. Wayne is not the macho heroic fighter that we see in most of his other war films. Here he is a professional sailor doing his job the best he knows how. At the end he predictably tries to be a hero, but star Robert Montgomery polites reminds him that there are other priorities. "Who are you fighting for", he asks. Wayne's character has depth. Uncharacteristically for Wayne he is even a little unsure of himself at times. This is particularly evident in his relationship with the young nurse played by Donna Reed. This is a different Wayne.

Robert Montgomery's performance as the commander of the squadron is also first rate. Like Wayne he is a professional who wants to do his job. The burden of command falls on him as he begs, cajoles and even blackmails fellow sailors to put his PT's in the war. Montgomery's performance is understated, credible and moving. It may be his best work.

This film is a collection of images. The destruction at Subic Bay in a Japanese air strike comes the closest to graphic violence of any scene in the movie. Instead of bodies, we see fires, smoke, debris and the faces of dazed servicemen and civilians. In another scene Wayne and Montgomery stand on a long dock stretching out into an empty inlet. "Are you looking for the Arizona, too," Rusty asks. The scenes depicting the escape of the McArthur's are well staged and realistic. The scenes of the defeated American army retreating on Mindanao show graphically that the war is not going well. The last image in the film with the last American plane to leave the Phillipines flying over a tropical beach at sunset is one of the most memorable in any war film. The words "I shall return" which appear on the screen are trite and unnecessary. Director John Ford has created a collage of memorable images here.

This film is slow paced for a war film, but it works. There is sufficient action, but there are interludes of peace and tranquility. There is a candlelight dinner for Rusty and his girl. There are a few moments near the end in a bar. In another scene Wayne visits with an elderly shipwright. The journey with the McArthurs provides another appropriate interlude in the middle of the film. There are even light moments interspersed. In one of these Marshal Thompson is inspecting the galley and asks derisively "What kind of soup is this?" When told it's not soup but dishwater he goes quickly to his next stop.

This is a simple story of fighting men doing a job that isn't considered particularly important. John Ford's excellent direction turns these mundane moments into one of the most memorable war films ever. Star Robert Montgomery even had a chance to direct in this film when Ford was injured in a fall. I liked this film and would recommend it without reservations.


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