Beginning his career during the early days of Hollywood, Raoul Walsh first gained notice as an actor – playing John Wilkes Booth in D.W. Griffith’s polarizing epic The Birth of a Nation (1915) – before ascending to the director’s chair a year after, adding to his resume the silent classics The Thief of Bagdad (1924) and What Price Glory? (1926). When a car accident during the production of In Old Arizona (1928) cost him his right eye, he gave up acting and focused squarely on directing, becoming adept at action thrillers. He had his greatest success with Warner Bros., of which Objective, Burma! can count among his best films. Previously released on DVD, Warner Bros. has given the movie its Blu-ray debut as part of their Warner Archives line.
The Production: 4.5/5
“I claim we got a hell of a beating. We got run out of Burma and it is humiliating as hell. I think we ought to find out what caused it, go back and retake it.” – Lt. General Joseph Stilwell, 1942 (The quote was slightly amended in the final opening title card.)
A group of paratroopers under the command of Captain Nelson (Errol Flynn) are tasked by Army brass to go behind enemy lines in Burma and destroy a Japanese Army radar station. They succeed in that mission, but their route back is cut off when the Japanese Army is waiting for them at their rendezvous site at an airstrip. This leads Nelson to make the difficult decision to hike their way back and split up their battalion to better avoid detection; it soon becomes clear that Nelson and his men need to stay a step ahead of their pursuers in order to buy some time for the Allies to begin to fulfill Stilwell’s prophecy.
Released just months before the end of WWII, Objective, Burma! brought a genuine and stirring look at one of the more neglected – at least in terms of Hollywood movies up to that point – theaters of the conflict in the Pacific. Based upon the six month raid in the Burma Campaign by Merrill’s Marauders (whose exploits would also be the subject of the eponymous film by Samuel Fuller in 1962), director Raoul Walsh doesn’t resort to phony heroics to get his point across; the script by Ranald MacDougall and Lester Cole (from an Oscar nominated story by Alvah Bessie – both Cole and Bessie would later become infamous as two members of the Hollywood Ten, who were blacklisted due to their refusal to testify before the House of Un-American Activities Committee in 1947) is well detailed in the painstaking procedures Nelson’s men undertake in their mission in the first half and genuine in the camaraderie between the troops throughout. Since Burma was clearly unavailable for location shooting, much of the action was shot at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanical Gardens to substitute for the nation; the end result – including integration of authentic film from the campaign shot by the cameramen of the US Army Signal Corps – proved to be so convincing that some veterans of the campaign believed that Warner Bros. had actually pulled off the impossible in making a movie there! If there’s only one demerit to the movie, it’s that the runtime could have been shortened, as there’s some scenes that feel repetitive and drawn out, keeping the movie from fully reaching masterpiece status. That minor quibble aside, Objective, Burma! still stands as one of the most rousing WWII dramas made during the period and a feather in the cap of it’s director.
In one of his best performances outside of the swashbuckler genre, Errol Flynn exhibits a genuine quality of leadership in the part of Captain Nelson; despite being medically unable to serve in military service, Flynn was still able to do his part by appearing in a cycle of war films for Warner Bros. to help boost morale (of which this film was the last in that cycle). Second billed James Brown – who would become better known for his appearance on TV’s The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin – is decent as Staff Sergeant Treacy while William Prince likely has his best role of his film career as Lt. Jacobs, the only member of a unit tortured by the Japanese who lives long enough to tell Captain Nelson. Reliable character actor George Tobias – also later reaching later TV fame as Abner Kravitz on Bewitched – is a delight as Corporal Gabby Gordon while Henry Hull makes the most of his time as veteran war correspondent Mark Williams. Rounding out the cast here are Warner Anderson as Col. Carter, Mark Stevens (credited here as Stephen Richards) as Lt. Barker the paratrooper and Richard Erdman as Private “Nebraska” Hooper, with uncredited appearances by Erville Alderson as General Stilwell, George Tyne as Private Soapy Higgins, Lester Matthews as British Major Fitzpatrick, Rodd Redwing as Sergeant Chattu, Anthony Caruso as Pvt. Miggleori and Hugh Beaumont (the future Ward Cleaver on Leave It to Beaver) as Captain Hennessey.
3D Rating: NA
The film is presented in its original 1:37:1 aspect ratio and in its complete 142 minute version, taken from a brand new 4K transfer created for this release. Film grain is organic throughout, with gray scale and fine details rendered faithfully; there’s next to no problems like scratches, tears, dirt or dust present here. This release is by far the best the movie will ever look on home video and easily surpasses both the 2003 DVD release and the Errol Flynn Adventures DVD release of the film.
The film’s original mono soundtrack is presented on a DTS-HD Master Audio track for this release. Dialogue is both strong and clear in addition to both the sound effects and the Oscar nominated Franz Waxman score represented faithfully; there’s very minimal problems like distortion, cracking or hissing present here. This is also likely the best the movie will ever sound on home video, also surpassing the previous DVD releases of the movie.
Special Features: 2.5/5
The Tanks Are Coming (20:05) – Carried over from the 2003 DVD release, the Oscar nominated short – in Technicolor – showing the recruitment of soldiers in the US Army’s 1st Armored Division and the maneuvers of the tanks; in addition to George Tobias (who later appeared in Objective, Burma!), cast members include Gig Young (billed here as Byron Barr), Richard Travis, Frank Wilcox and an uncredited Richard Egan.
The Rear Gunner (20:29) – Also ported over from the 2003 DVD, the short instructional film shows how an air mechanic in the US Air Army Corps becomes the eponymous soldier; this is abbreviated version from the original 26 minute version. Burgess Meredith, Dane Clark, Ton Neal, future director Richard Quine and the future 41st President of the US Ronald Reagan stand out among the cast.
Theatrical Trailer (2:16)
Noticeably missing here are the special features from the TCM Spotlight: Errol Flynn Adventures DVD boxset release of the movie: a commentary by film historians Rudy Behlmer, Jon Burlingame and Frank Thompson, a vintage newsreel, the Joe McDoakes short So You Think You’re Allergic, the cartoon A Tale of Two Mice and a bonus trailer for Pride of the Marines (1945).
A success with both critics and audiences upon release, Objective, Burma! is one of the best WWII adventures of the era, guided by a solid script, great performances and sturdy direction. Warner Archives is still one of the best labels in town as evidenced by this release, which features a terrific HD transfer and some – but not all – of the legacy special features from previous home video releases. Very highly recommended and worth upgrading from previous DVD releases, but hold on the Errol Flynn Adventures boxset – if you have it in your collection – for the additional special features with this movie.
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