Wake Island (1942)

Wake Island (1942)

“Boys, the honeymoon’s over. From now on you’re Marines.”

Just before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Major Caton (Brian Donlevy) arrives at the Pacific atoll of Wake Island ready to command his forces. On the island, he finds a pair of trouble-making privates — Doyle (Robert Preston) and Randall (William Bendix) — with Randall eager to head home. However, Japanese aggression quickly ensues, and it’s up to everyone on the island — including a fighter pilot (Macdonald Carey) whose wife was killed on Pearl Harbor, and a grumpy military contractor (Albert Dekker) — to pitch in and help.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Brian Donlevy Films
  • Military
  • Robert Preston Films
  • William Bendix Films
  • World War II

John Farrow directed this harrowing but inspirational look at the events that transpired on tiny Wake Island just as the U.S. formally entered World War II. With the first draft of the screenplay completed before we knew what the ultimate outcome was, this film remains an impressive attempt to show what Americans early in the war effort were up against. As described in TV Guide’s review:

The heroic but doomed defense of Wake Island against the Japanese in the opening days of WWII provided the basis for this slightly fictionalized, immensely popular flag-waver that garnered several Academy Award nominations. A perfect example of Hollywood’s contribution to the war effort, the film demonstrated that even in defeat there was victory, and provided needed inspiration for a nation reeling from loss after loss at the hands of the Japanese.

The fictionalized characters bear enough resemblance to who and what was actually on the island — a garrison of 449 Marines, a handful of sailors, a few Wildcat fighter planes, and 1,221 civilian construction workers — to make the narrative feel plausible, and the cinematography and battle sequences are impressive. This one isn’t must-see, but remains worth a look for its historical relevance as a morale booster.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Brian Donlevy as Major Caton
  • Atmospheric cinematography
  • Powerful fighting sequences

Must See?
No, but it’s worth a one-time look and of course is must-see for fans of WWII-era battle films.


One thought on “Wake Island (1942)

  1. First viewing. A once-must, as a sobering view of valor leading to loss.

    It’s interesting that (acc. to Wikipedia) “[t]he film was based on official Marine records and a copy of the script by W. R. Burnett and Frank Butler was sent to the marines for approval prior to filming.”

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