Friday, March 8, 2013

Battle Cry (1955)

Battle Cry is one of those films that surprised me because it was better than I imagined. To begin with, I was under the impression that it was a black-and-white film (and that isn't a negative to me). It isn't -- it is a beautifully photographed color movie. I also thought this was a heavy duty war film, but 80 % of the movie involves down time during World War II. The movie also features a lot of female roles, which is unusual for most war films of the 1950s.

Battle Cry follows a group of men from basic training after the start of World War II until most of them return home in 1944. Van Heflin, one of the great character actors of the 40s and 50s, got top-billing even though his role is more supporting as this is definitely an ensemble cast. Heflin portrays a tough Marine colonel who trains his soldiers thoroughly and has them ready to be called to action at any time.  The recruits are an assorted lot and include Aldo Ray as a lumberjack from Wisconsin, Tab Hunter as a teenage boy-next-door with a girl at home, John Lupton as a studious volunteer, Fess Parker as a musically-inclined Texan, and L. Q. Jones as a southern country boy. James Whitmore is the sergeant who gets involved in the lives of the men under him. Heflin, Ray, and Whitmore deliver outstanding performances. Hunter is surprisingly good after a weak start.

The female cast members include Nancy Olson, Dorothy Malone, Allyn Ann McLerie, Anne Francis, and Mona Freeman. One of the film's shortcomings is that there isn't a lot of distinctive personalities between the women. Olson gives is the strongest performance of the bunch as the young widow who falls for Ray's brawny soldier. The movie also has a scene with Raymond Massey playing a general, and character actor Frank Ferguson appears as the irate father of Hunter's character's girlfriend.

Famed Hollywood director Raoul Walsh, who helmed many war movies in his career, does an excellent job with the sprawling cast and the layered interactions. Battle Cry is an adaptation of a novel by Leon Uris, and it is interesting enough that I wouldn't mind reading the novel someday. The cinematography is excellent, the script is sound, and the editing sharp. The soundtrack is exceptional; in fact, Max Steiner's score was Oscar-nominated.

There are multiple plot lines in the movie; some better-developed than others. The film is long but never boring. While it is certainly a Hollywood studio film complete with a heavy dose of patriotism, Battle Cry manages to present a wide array of details about Marine life. Maybe the film veers a little too close to soap opera, but it managed to keep me involved and its production values are top-notch. In fact, Battle Cry is one of the better war movies that I've seen that was made prior to 1960. It hits all the right notes. Grade: A-

I watched Battle Cry on DVD on March 6, 2013.

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