In Harm’s Way (1965)

In Harm’s Way (1965)

“All battles are fought by scared men who’d rather be someplace else.”

At the start of World War II, an American Navy captain (John Wayne) begins a romance with a divorced nurse (Patricia Neal) and meets his estranged son (Brandon De Wilde), who is serving as an ensign in the Naval Reserve and engaged to a young nurse (Jill Haworth); meanwhile, “Rock” (Wayne) gives a troubled naval aviator (Kirk Douglas) a second chance by asking him to serve on a crucial mission, but Douglas’s presence causes unexpected challenges.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Burgess Meredith Films
  • Dana Andrews Films
  • Franchot Tone Films
  • George Kennedy Films
  • Henry Fonda Films
  • John Wayne Films
  • Kirk Douglas Films
  • Military
  • Otto Preminger Films
  • Patricia Neal Films
  • Paula Prentiss Films
  • World War II

Otto Preminger directed this big-budget adaptation of a novel by James Bassett, focusing on the efforts of the U.S. Navy in the Pacific Theater during World War II. For a lengthy war film, there are surprisingly few fighting sequences; instead, the sprawling narrative covers numerous character-driven subplots, some better limned than others. The primary protagonists are Wayne’s “Rock” and Neal’s Maggie, representing a refreshingly mature new couple who are comfortable with what they want from one another.

Much less likable is Douglas’s Commander Eddington, who we feel sorry for early in the film given his wife’s outrageous behavior, but who eventually shows his own dark side.

We also see brief snippets of a loving couple (Tom Tryon and Paula Prentiss) who’ve been kept apart while Tryon is MIA, and are reunited for an uncertain amount of time.

Meanwhile, we observe De Wilde and Wayne making uneasy peace with one another:

… as De Wilde begins working for a public relations commander (Patrick O’Neal) who in turn reports to an incompetent admiral (Dana Andrews).

Looking much more mature than she did in her breakthrough role in Preminger’s Exodus (1960) is Jill Haworth as De Wilde’s fiancee.

The vast supporting cast also includes many other minor characters, including Burgess Meredith as Wayne’s loyal assistant:

… Henry Fonda in an extended cameo as a stoic admiral:

… and Franchot Tone in a short sequence as a commander, among others.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Fine cinematography and location shooting

Must See?
No, though of course Preminger fans will be curious to check it out.


One thought on “In Harm’s Way (1965)

  1. First viewing (6/12/22). A once-must, as a solid war drama.

    It seems this film’s reputation has improved with time. It has solid direction by Preminger, fine performances (with Wayne nicely laid-back for a change, while Douglas’ character is uniquely flawed) and the script has enough different angles to make it of interest for a film of its type.

    Despite the film’s length, I felt rather engaged throughout. I did, at first, feel that the ‘personal stories’-focus following the opening Pearl Harbor attack slowed the film up some – but, in retrospect, those stories had real purpose and resonated with me later (as I then felt them to be more integrated than I’d first thought).

    Sidebar: It’s always nice to see Paula Prentiss (esp. when she’s given a chance, like here, to show her ability)!

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