Friday, July 09, 2010

MOVIE: "The Gallant Hours" (1960) *****

I knew a lad who went to sea and left the shore behind him;
I knew him well; the lad was me and now I cannot find him.

– from the opening chorale

From the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB)
semi-documentary dramatization of five weeks in the life of Vice Admiral William F. "Bull" Halsey, Jr., from his assignment to command the U.S. naval operations in the South Pacific to the Allied victory at Guadalcanal

"There are no great men, only great challenges that ordinary men are forced by circumstances to meet." Fleet Admiral William F. 'Bull' Halsey Jr.:

Last week I discovered that one of my favorite movies of all time was on DVD but could only be purchased from under their "burn on demand" program where they only make the DVD when the movie is purchased. They are doing this with select classic movies that may not have a broad audience. So I ordered it and it arrived yesterday. I first saw the movie at a drive in movie theater with my parents in 1960. After watching it last night I can only say that after 50 years it is still an outstanding and moving movie experience. The movie was directed by Robert Montgomery who was in the navy during World War II and stared in John Ford's "They Were Expendable" about PT boats in the Pacific during the war. Bull Halsey is one of my favorite military leaders of World War II. He had his faults but he was a real warrior. I remember when I saw this movie as a kid I was a little disappointed there were no battle scenes in the movie but I appreciate it even more now. The semi religious cappella choral music soundtrack adds a lot to the movie and gives it a feeling of honor you don't see in movies today and might be a "turn off" to a younger more cynical audience.

From Wikipedia:
The Gallant Hours is a 1960 American biopic docu-drama about Admiral William F. "Bull" Halsey and his efforts in fighting against Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto and the forces of Imperial Japan in the Guadalcanal campaign in World War II.

The black & white film was directed by Robert Montgomery, who also did uncredited narration, and stars James Cagney as Halsey. Featured in the cast are Dennis Weaver, Ward Costello, Vaughn Taylor, Richard Jaeckel and Les Tremayne. The screenplay is by Frank D. Gilroy and Beirne Lay, Jr. and the unusual a cappella choral score was composed and conducted by Roger Wagner, although the theme song was written by Ward Costello.
The film was produced by Montgomery and Cagney, the only film made by their joint production company, and released by United Artists on June 22, 1960.
The Gallant Hours depicts the crucial five-week period in October–November 1942 after Admiral Halsey (James Cagney) took command of the beleaguered American forces in the South Pacific, which became a turning point in the struggle against the Japanese Empire during the Second World War. The story is told in flashback, framed by Halsey's retirement ceremony in 1947.

Unusual for a war film, The Gallant Hours has no battle scenes; all the fighting takes place off-screen, and there is an emphasis throughout the film on logistics and strategy rather than tactics and combat. Fundamentally, the film becomes a battle of wills and wits between the dogged Halsey and his brilliant Japanese counterpart, Admiral Yamamoto (James T. Goto). For dramatic effect, the mission to kill Yamamoto is made contemporaneous with the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal; in fact it took place five months later, in April 1943.

Also somewhat unorthodox is that scenes depicting Japanese staff officers were performed in Japanese, with only summary translations provided by the narrator, which are remarkably even-handed in their characterization for an American feature film of this period.

Director Robert Montogomery had served under Admiral William F. "Bull" Halsey as a Commander in the U.S. Navy during World War II, and came up with the idea of making a film about Halsey when he attended the 75th birthday celebration honoring the Admiral in 1957. Montgomery and his good friend James Cagney acquired the rights to Halsey's life story later that year, and formed a production company, Cagney-Montgomery Productions, to make the film. Montgomery had started directing on 1945's They Were Expendable, substituting for John Ford when Ford was ill, and made his credited directorial debut in 1947 with Lady in the Lake. He had also produced for television before, but The Gallant Hours was the first feature film he both directed and produced. It turned out to be his last involvement of any kind in film and television, as producer, director or actor. Cagney's foray into production was also his first, and his last.

The voiceover narration technique Montgomery utilized was similar to what he had done in Lady in the Lake, although in that case the narration was in the first person. What is striking about the narrative in The Gallant Hours is the degree of detail provided to introduce both main and minor characters to the audience, even sometimes indicating the manner of their death in the near future. Also unusual is that both American and Japanese characters are treated in a neutral and even-handed way.

The production team utilized the services of three technical advisors in making the film – Captain Joseph U. Lademan, Captain Idris Monahan, and James T. Goto, who not only was the Japanese advisor but also portrayed Admiral Yamamoto in the film.[5]

For James Cagney, The Gallant Hours was "a labor of love, a tribute to that wonderful man Admiral William F. "Bull" Halsey" for himself and his long-time friend Robert Montgomery. Cagney praised Montgomery because he "steered away from big battle scenes and roaring guns. We concentrated on Halsey himself, trying to convey some of the tension of high command" in the film.[6]

In researching his role as Halsey, Cagney interviewed many men who had served under the Admiral, including two interviews with the admiral himself, but he found the role a difficult one, despite the physical similarities between the two men. Cagney was very concerned that he not impose any of his usual acting mannerisms on the character of Halsey – on the other hand, despite having met his subject several times, he didn't try to imitate Halsey's mannerisms either. As Cagney biographer John McCabe noted: "The film would be utterly boring wthout Cagney's thoughtful performance. Nowhere in his career had he been called on to do so much by doing so little."[7]

There was one aspect of Halsey's personality neither the script nor Cagney touched on in any way: his reputation as a "sea dog", with "a girl in every port". Halsey's nickname "Bull" was supposedly conferred on him by his fellow officers not for his toughness in combat, but for his off-duty exploits ashore.[8]

The Gallant Hours was Cagney's last starring role in a dramatic film. Thereafter he starred in a comedy, One, Two, Three, in 1961, and appeared briefly in Ragtime in 1981.

The Gallant Hours was filmed in black & white at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios in the spring of 1959,[9] with some exterior scenes shot in San Diego.[10] The film employed a new construction technique to make the interior battleship shots easier to light: the sets were hung from overhead grids to enable them to swing in and out as needed.[11] Working titles for the film were "Bull Halsey" and "The Admiral Halsey Story".

It had its world premiere in Washington, D.C. on 13 May 1960, sponsored by the Navy League, and was released generally on 22 June 1960 in New York City.[12][13]

The real "Bull" Halsey

*Vice Admiral Halsey was at sea in his flagship, USS Enterprise, during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Upon learning of the Japanese attack, he was rumored to have remarked, "Before we're through with 'em, the Japanese language will only be spoken in hell." Halsey's contempt for the Japanese was well-displayed throughout the war to the officers and sailors under his command in very successful campaigns to boost morale. One such example was the slogan attributed to Halsey, "Kill Ja*s, Kill Ja*s, Kill More Ja*s!" The more of the little yellow bastards you kill, the quicker we go home! During the first six months of the war, his carrier task force took part in raids on enemy-held islands and in the Doolittle Raid on Japan. By this time he had adopted the slogan, "Hit hard, hit fast, hit often." (*edited by me for current sensibilities and from Wikipedia)

Halsey's greatest blunder was at the navel battle of Leyte Gulf when he took the Japanese bait and went after their "decoy" fleet and left the landing troops under General MacArthur vulnerable to another Japanese fleet that was only beaten off with airplanes from some small "jeep carriers."