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DVD Review HTF REVIEW: Back To Bataan (RECOMMENDED). (1 Viewer)

Herb Kane

May 7, 2001

Back To Bataan

Studio: Warner Brothers
Year: 1945
Rated: Not Rated
Film Length: 95 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: DD Mono
Color/B&W: B&W
Languages: English
Subtitles: English, French & Spanish
MSRP: $19.97
Package: Snap Case

The Feature:
On May 4th Warner Bros. released a wave of vintage war films from their library. They are: Battleground (1949) starring Van Johnson, Flying Leathernecks (1951) starring John Wayne and Robert Ryan and the feature film, Back To Bataan (1945), starring John Wayne and Anthony Quinn. Battleground was originally an MGM film while the other two were RKO productions.

Set during 1942 and after the fall of the Philippines to the Japanese in World War II, Col. Joseph Madden (played by John Wayne) of the U.S. Army is in charge of recruiting and organizing a group of loyal Filipino guerrilla fighters to impede the Japanese Imperial Army from taking over the entire island nation. Their training is rather primitive and consists of nothing more than killing Japanese soldiers and using the dead soldier’s weapons. The guerilla fighters are headed up by Andres Bonifacio (played by Anthony Quinn), the grandson of a great Filipino patriot. Much of their trek is alongside a mountainous region in the Philippines with an aging schoolteacher, Ms. Barnes (played by Beulah Bondhi) brought along for her own safety after her school was invaded by Japanese soldiers to use as a billet.

The film is a graphic reminder of the horrors that take place during wartime and this film pulls very few punches in reminding us of the brutality that was bestowed upon the Filipinos by the Japanese Imperial Army during their attempt at conquering the island. There is one scene in particular where a school principal is hanged for merely refusing to lower an American flag. The film also does an admirable job at morale-boosting as the movie opens and closes showing actual American soldiers who were captured and eventually rescued during the liberation.

1945 was a great year for the RKO Studio, perhaps the best ever. The studio was enjoying the largest smash hit in their history and basking in huge profits from the financial success of The Bells Of St Mary’s which paved the way for a number of heavyweights to appear in upcoming RKO titles. The film was directed by fellow Canadian, Edward Dmytryk who was responsible for directing some of the best known classic films from the 40’s and 50’s such as The Caine Mutiny, Murder, My Sweet (soon to be released by WB as part of their upcoming Film Noir set), Crossfire, The End Of The Affair (1955 version) and Raintree County to name but a few.

Absolutely gorgeous. It’s no secret that many of the RKO titles now controlled by Warner Brothers are in pretty rough shape which is unfortunate since most of the stuff I’m waiting on from WB are indeed RKO titles. While I don’t know what has been done to this in terms of restoration, what I can say is this; I was absolutely delighted.

Blacks were as deep as imaginable and whites were decent and clean. There was an exceptional level of grayscale and shadow detail that was also most impressive.

The majority of the film looked very sharp with only occasional instances of softness, save for the expected close-ups on the female actresses. Fine grain was present but was minimal and appropriate.

There were instances of dirt and dust and infrequent scratches but this transfer was cleaner than I would have imagined. There also appeared to be some staining (like water stains) during a couple of scenes but were short lived and not really a big deal. Same with light shimmer – there were occasions of instability but it never became bothersome. Thankfully, there were no compression errors or any type of enhancement issues.

A very nice job…!!

This monaural track is virtually hiss free and there were never any crackle or popping problems.

Dialogue was always clear and intelligible and never lost during the many action and battle scenes that took place. The track is relatively thin but there was a “decent” amount of range and depth during some of the explosions etc.

A problem free track that does what needs to be done.

Special Features:
I’m afraid in this case, not even a trailer. Nothing…!

Final Thoughts:
Back To Bataan was produced in a manner that was almost necessary for the time. It plays out almost as though it were a documentary in its narration, structure, use of documentary footage and its recreation of historical events. Central to the theme of the film is the portrayal of loyal Filipino guerillas who indeed played a critical role in the liberation of their nation. Keeping in the mind the production year, the film boasts a healthy dose of propaganda including the stereotypical portrayal of various ethnic types during the film that was in fact necessary – at least at the time.

I’m of the opinion that two hours spent with John Wayne is, well… time well spent. And there’s no doubt that you’ll enjoy that time even more once you get a chance to assess the presentation of this fine disc.


Release Date: May 4th, 2004


Second Unit
Aug 23, 2003
Thanks for reviewing this Herb. This is the kind of lesser known film that can be overlooked at times.

I've always liked this movie. It has one of my favorite Anthony Quinn performances. Plus of course it has the Duke. It's one of the most in-your-face war movies of the period in my opinion. It's been a couple of years since I've seen it and I'm looking forward to owning it.

It looks like now that the studios are running out of their a-list movies to release, we'll be getting more of these kind of gems in the next couple of years before the next medium takes over.


Oct 12, 2000
Thanks for the review Herb! I plan on picking this one up. I like the cover art as well.


Senior HTF Member
Jan 3, 2002
My uncle was a huge John Wayne fan and I watched with him, if only to get the TV back afterward, and eventually grew to appreciate The Duke in my later years. Good review! Makes me want to pick this one up.


Apr 5, 2004
Thanks for the review, Herb. Although I'd have liked to see at least some extras, even if just a newsreel, I'm going to be picking up this release. I recall enjoying this film during AMC's Memorial Day marathons -- back when AMC was worth watching.

[After lurking here for quite some time, I've finally decided to emerge from the shadows. This is a terrific forum and I can't tell you how much useful information I've gleaned here. Thanks all.]

Lyle H.

Stunt Coordinator
Apr 22, 2003
Question about John Wayne war films (Sands of Iwo Jima, Back to Bataan, The Flying Leathernecks):

I like John Wayne. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is one of my favorite movies. Ever. I really like John Wayne Westerns. However, I'm not a huge fan of war films, and I can only name around 10-or so that I actually like (Paths of Glory, Platoon, Bridge on the River Kwai, Apocolypse Now, Saving Private Ryan, Salvador, Patton, Band of Brothers, and Ran. I'm not counting Gone With the Wind, Casblanca, or To Have and Have Not, and never seen Gunga Din). Is this film good even if I'm not interested in war films? Thanks.

Herb Kane

May 7, 2001
Lyle, I'm not so sure I'd rate this film in the same league among some of those you have listed - several of which are the crown jewels of the genre. When I think of some of the "better" John Wayne war films, a few that quickly come to mind are: The Green Berets, The Longest Day, Sands of Iwo Jima and In Harms Way.

Back to Bataan is a good war movie and I was throughly pleased with the presentation, it's just not quite in the same ballpark as a few others that were mentioned here at least IMHO.


Lyle H.

Stunt Coordinator
Apr 22, 2003
Thanks, Herb. I enjoyed the review, and like most reviews I read (even if i'm not particularly interested in the subject matter!), it makes me want to see the film. I'll rent this first. Thanks again.

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