A galvanizing look at the war effort in the Pacific during the opening months of World War II, Mark Sandrich’s So Proudly We Hail views the fighting from the focus of war-torn nurses struggling to keep themselves and their patients together until help can arrive.
The Production: 4/5
The harrowing and darkly romantic saga of army field nurses coping with the horrors of the early months of World War II in the Pacific forms the basis of Mark Sandrich’s wonderfully rich and rewarding So Proudly We Hail. Admirably less sentimental and jingoistic about the early failures of the U.S.-Allied war effort than other films of the era, the movie nevertheless stirs the blood and rouses the senses in a story that focuses on women but is not the typical romantic “woman’s picture” of the 1940s.
Headed to Hawaii near the end of 1941, a corps of Army nurses helmed by Lt. Janet Davidson (Claudette Colbert) must be diverted to the Philippines after Pearl Harbor is bombed. The stalwart women find themselves in the thick of battle at Bataan as casualties mount and supplies begin to run low. Janet and fellow nurse Lt. Joan O’Doul (Paulette Goddard) are somewhat diverted by relationships with soldiers they meet on the boat: Janet with the earnest Lt. John Summers (George Reeves) and Joan with a goofy, lovable former football star from Kansas (Sonny Tufts) as they come to and from battle, but as the situation grows dire on Bataan and the unit is hastily evacuated to the island of Corregidor, it’s unlikely that there will be many survivors as the Japanese carry on an all-out assault early in the war when the Empire was at maximum power.
Allan Scott’s Oscar-nominated screenplay does a fantastic balancing act with calm and collected opening expository scenes, the evolving romantic stories, and the increasingly violent war effort sequences: quite a few characters who become favorites of the viewer as the film runs will not make it until the end. It’s told in flashback, so there are clues as to the identities of survivors and victims, but war claims its prey at often inopportune and unexpected moments, and those scenes always deliver with powerful and tragic impact. Director Mark Sandrich coordinates a most impressive and lengthy sequence during the horrific evacuation of Bataan (with Oscar-nominated special effects seeming most real and quite thundering), and yet he does take the time to stage a tender wedding sequence and a subsequent “honeymoon” that take our minds away from the bombs and blood for at least a little while. Filmed before the U.S. had begun to make significant inroads into the Pacific front, there is a sense of impending danger and uncertainty that hangs over the movie, and while the acts of heroism are notable and praiseworthy (the film’s narrative is based on a true story of nurses who were successfully evacuated from Corregidor though there were many who were captured by the Japanese and served the length of the war in prisoner camps), one can’t help sensing that the worst was yet to come.
One couldn’t ask for a more solid or reliable star to helm the story of dedicated nurses facing challenges beyond their comprehension than Claudette Colbert. Her star quality blazes forth constantly whether she’s dodging bombs or clinging to the arms of her lover. Paulette Goddard earned her only Oscar nomination as the frisky girl-on-the-make brought down to earth by the seriousness of the mission they’re on and one man who stumbles his way into her heart. But one might feel that Oscar nomination might have better been awarded to Veronica Lake as an embittered nurse out for vengeance on the Japanese. Her monologue revealing her reasons for hating the enemy is likely the apex of her acting career, and her climactic scenes certainly rank as among the most memorable of the film (it’s also the only moment in the movie where we get a glimpse of her peek-a-boo bang since she has her long, long hair up for most of the movie). Three men make solid impressions in the picture. This was probably George Reeves’ greatest claim to cinema (as opposed to TV) fame as the romantic interest for Colbert’s Janet. His John Summers is earnest and romantically available. Sonny Tufts in his screen debut establishes a quirky aw-shucks charisma that carries forth throughout the movie endearing himself to Joan as well as the viewer. As the chaplain who finds himself with the nurses at most of their most dangerous moments, Walter Abel is most admirable. Also making very favorable impressions during the lengthy picture are Mary Servoss as the head nurse Capt. “Ma” McGregor whose pride in her handsome pilot/son (ably played by Dick Hogan) knows no bounds, Ted Hecht as gentle surgeon Dr. Jose Bardia who has a loving rapport with nurse Rosemary Larson played by Barbara Britton, and Mary Treen, Kitty Kelly, Dorothy Adams, and Ann Doran who play other brave nurses who withstand every assault the Japanese (bullets and bombs) and Mother Nature (dysentery and malaria running rampant on the islands) can muster.
3D Rating: NA
The film’s 1.37:1 original theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully rendered in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. Charles Lang’s Oscar-nominated cinematography is well represented in this new high definition master with crisp details and black levels very rich and deep. There are a couple of noticeable scratches and one thin gray ribbon along the right side that appear during the 126 minutes, but mostly the images are excellent. The movie has been divided into 8 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix very much represents the era of audio recording. Dialogue has been well recorded and has been mixed superbly with Miklos Rozsa’s compelling background score and the multitude of sound effects that are always under control. There are no problems with age-related hiss, crackle, pops, or flutter.
Special Features: 2/5
Audio Commentary: film historian Julie Kirgo offers an edifying and welcome commentary covering the historical facts as well as offering background information on the personnel both before and behind the camera.
Theatrical Trailer (1:41, SD)
Kino Trailers: The Gilded Lily, Since You Went Away, Thunder on the Hill, Rap the Wild Wind, Nothing But the Truth, Unconquered, Wake Island, Five Graves to Cairo.
A galvanizing look at the war effort in the Pacific during the opening months of World War II, Mark Sandrich’s So Proudly We Hail views the fighting from the focus of war-torn nurses struggling to keep themselves and their patients together until help can arrive. The Kino Blu-ray release adds a much appreciated perspective to other war films of the time and earns a firm recommendation for its excellent performances and first-rate production.
Some of our content may contain marketing links, which means we will receive a commission for purchases made via those links. In our editorial content, these affiliate links appear automatically, and our editorial teams are not influenced by our affiliate partnerships. We work with several providers (currently Skimlinks and Amazon) to manage our affiliate relationships. You can find out more about their services by visiting their sites.