Story of G.I. Joe, The (1945)

Story of G.I. Joe, The (1945)

“He’s over 38 — he don’t need to be here!”

42-year-old journalist Ernie Pyle (Burgess Meredith) follows “doughfoot” members of an infantry unit fighting in Tunisia and Italy during WWII — including the lieutenant (Robert Mitchum) who first allows him to tag along; a tall private (John R. Reilly) who marries his Army-nurse fiancee (Dorothy Coonan Wellman) during a brief stop; a woman-obsessed Italian-American from Brooklyn (Wally Cassell); and a sergeant (Freddie Steele) desperately trying to find a record player in order to hear his young son speak for the first time.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Burgess Meredith Films
  • Journalists
  • Robert Mitchum Films
  • Soldiers
  • William Wellman Films
  • World War II

William Wellman directed this powerful depiction of life on the ground for infantrymen during World War II, as captured and portrayed by war correspondent Ernie Pyle (who, tragically, died by enemy fire in Japan before the film’s release). It’s notable for featuring Robert Mitchum in an Academy Award-nominated breakthrough role:

… and for casting 150 paid, real-life infantrymen who were about to be shipped back out to the Pacific:

Wellman’s sure directorial hand — assisted by DP Russell Metty — is in evidence throughout, and thankfully we don’t seem to be given a sugar-coated version of the unit’s harsh existence. There is a cute dog that hops on board near the beginning of the film:

… but he primarily serves to remind us how many simple pleasures and comforts these boys have left behind. Some sections feel slow and deliberate — but that’s likely precisely the point, given that plenty of interminable wait time was always intermingled with fear, high-octane fighting, and loss of compatriots. Be sure to check out TCM’s article for a detailed overview of the film’s production and reception, and this page for additional info as well as numerous photos of Ernie Pyle himself on the set of the film — including several of him standing side-by-side with Meredith.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Robert Mitchum as Lt. Walker
  • Burgess Meredith as Ernie Pyle
  • Russell Metty’s cinematography

Must See?
Yes, for its historical significance in honoring such a beloved journalist and the brave men he shadowed. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.


  • Historically Relevant


One thought on “Story of G.I. Joe, The (1945)

  1. Must-see. Powerful stuff here.

    As good as Wellman’s subsequent ‘Battleground’ is, ‘G.I. Joe’ is even better. Unlike ‘Battleground’, it doesn’t wait for its second half to come up (more effectively) to the plate; it’s almost immediately engaging and more consistently compelling.

    The film is notable for its authentic-sounding dialogue. Both Wellman films have scenes of small-talk but, in ‘G.I. Joe’, those scenes are much sharper, more economic – closer to the way groups of men in battle (or anywhere, for that matter) are more likely to talk. (The film is also surprisingly candid, for its time, about sex.)

    The effort in the accuracy of Pyle’s reporting has been remarked on and it’s noteworthy.

    Meredith is appropriately low-key and stalwart. Mitchum is particularly impressive in a downtime sequence with Meredith: “If only we could create something good out of all this energy… and all these men…”. (It’s quite easy to see why this role catapulted Mitchum to stardom.) As Sgt. Warnicki, Steele also makes a solid impression.

    Sometimes the film had me near tears; other times it pushed me over into tears.

    Truly among the best war films. And I love the dog!

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