Plot: What’s it about?
Wedge Donovan (John Wayne) might not be enlisted in the military service, but he still does what he can to help the American forces. The war in the Pacific is heating up and Donovan and his crew of construction workers are right in the thick of it, on an isolated island where they labor as construction workers. Most of the equipment these men build goes right to the U.S. Navy, which obviously makes them a target for the Japanese military forces. As such, there are times when Donovan and his men find themselves in danger, but usually all of them evade harm. But not this time, as a Japanese squadron took down several of the workers as they were enjoying a smoking break. This enrages Donovan, who requests that his men be allowed to carry arms, which the Army agrees to allow. Those guns won’t be idle either and they’re put to use the very next time the Japanese attempt to take over the island, when Donovan and his men stage a resistance. In this resistance, almost all of Donovan’s men are left dead and Donovan finds himself being court martialed for his actions. But instead of being punished Donovan is offered the chance to lead a team of soldiers, The Fighting Seabees into battle against the Japanese.
Now I like John Wayne movies and all, but this one just didn’t turn the old switches for me. I know almost all of Wayne’s films were American sentimental types, but this one just thumps the flag a little too much and offers little else for the audience. Obviously, this film was made to raise hopes and inspire the folks back home and soldiers as well, but it doesn’t turn much these days. I can see how it would rally people back in the time it was released, but unless you’re nostalgic for those days, time was not kind to this movie. It just seems so dated that it’s hard for me to connect with it or even the characters. This one uses the typical flag waving techniques and characters to build up emotion and reaction, but the writing is miserable outside of the patriotic message. I will say a few smaller characters were interesting, but they were too infrequent and quickly disappear. While I didn’t care for the movie as a whole, I did enjoy the battle scenes, which were well planned and executed. If you’re a John Wayne lover, then this is a release you’ll want to pick up right away, but others should give this a rental before they buy.
This film was directed by Edward Ludwig, who has a rather extensive resume including some other war based movies. As I mentioned above, I didn’t care for the writing used in this film, but I will say the directing seems to be very good. The visual compositions are well crafted, and the battle scenes are very well staged and played out. While I haven’t seen many of Ludwig’s movies, I will venture an assumption that this guy can make an excellent movie when his actors have some decent material. If you want more movies by Ludwig, check out The Last Gangster, Swiss Family Robinson, Smuggler’s Island, The Fabulous Texan, and Big Jim McClain. On the acting side of this movie, John Wayne is the main man and carries the movie as well as anyone could, playing the living version of G.I. Joe to perfection. While I am more interested in his cowboy natured films, Wayne (The Sands Of Iwo Jima, The Quiet Man) does a fine turn as a military man as well, and has played similar roles many times. The supporting cast in this movie includes Susan Hayward (The Conqueror, I Married A Witch), Dennis O’Keefe (All Hands On Deck, Inside Detroit), J.M. Kerrigan (The Fastest Gun Alive), and William Frawley (Abbot & Costello Meet The Invisible Man).
Video: How does it look?
The Fighting Seabees is presented in the original 1.33:1 or full frame aspect ratio. While this is an adequate transfer, compared to the other black and white releases in the John Wayne Collection, this one is on the disappointing side. The condition of the source print is the main concern, as it shows frequent nicks and dirt, which can be a little distracting. The contrast is a mixed bag to be truthful, with only about half the scenes showing the perfect blend of light and darkness. Despite these problems, I recommend the disc because I doubt a better version will surface any time soon.
Audio: How does it sound?
The original mono track is included to handle the audio issues, and while it does a fair turn this movie has some scenes that would sound terrific in surround sound. The scenes I speak of are the battle scenes, which are filled with all manner of effects that would fill up your speakers. But this mix is solid, and nothing seems to be lost or glazed over, even in the most hectic sequences. The music sounds very good, and doesn’t show any signs of distortion. The vocals come through clean and clear also, with no volume issues to speak of.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This release containssome production notes and talent files.