Kit Parker Films and VCI's WWII Double Feature pairs two unrelated war movies from slightly different eras: Jungle Patrol (1948), a surprising low-budget programmer from 20th Century-Fox, with Silent Raiders (1954), an even lower-budgeted Lippert release. Both seem to have been acquired by Kit Parker through the Medallion TV Enterprises, a '60s-era outfit that syndicated cheap movies. Additionally, an 88-minute compilation of U.S. Army Signal Corps Combat Bulletins is included as a bonus feature, along with original trailers.
The transfers are on the weak side but the films are marginally interesting.
Jungle Patrol is "not a story of war but of men - boys, really." It's about eight 20-something USAF flyers stationed at a remote New Guinea outpost in 1942, chiefly following their relationship with a stranded USO singer, Jean Gillis* (Kristine Miller).
It doesn't get off to a promising start, but stick with it and you'll likely be as pleasantly surprised as I was. Most of the war is off-screen - there's no "machine-gun action" at all, despite what it says on the DVD box - and what little action there is consists of stock footage. Indeed, the film was shot entirely indoors on what appears to have been a single jungle soundstage set. It couldn't have taken more than a week to shoot, probably significantly less. The characters are all stock war-movie genre types, and the talky film resembles a filmed stage or radio play, which it might very well have been conceived as.
Gradually though, the above-average cast and their performances, combined with the fatalistic story, well told, works on the viewer. It's basically a steal, certainly enough to be considered an unofficial remake, of Howard Hawks' Only Angels Have Wings (1939), though it does a good job emulating that film's strengths while adding some original touches, particularly its unexpectedly ruthless ending.** (Major spoiler at the bottom of this review.)
The eight men have shot down over 100 Japanese bombers and fighters without losing a single man (though they've lost a few planes in the process). They can't believe their extraordinary luck - but are all too aware the law of averages could catch up with them and hit them without mercy at any time. Someone makes a scorecard of their incredible record but no one is anxious to display it; it only serves as a reminder that they're living on borrowed time.
Like Jean Arthur in Only Angels Have Wings, Miller's nurturing USO singer lets the men blow off a little steam, and as with Arthur and Cary Grant, Miller falls for the leader of the group, Skipper Wright (Ross Ford), though in a neat twist (and in keeping with Hawks' preference for strong, experienced women), he's a virgin who's never been in a serious relationship (and a year younger than Jean) while she's already a war widow.
And, like Hawks' film, enormous suspense is generated as men nervously sit close to the radio helplessly, anxiously listening to the pilots as they fly their dangerous missions. In Jungle Patrol this obviously saved a lot of money but it's highly effective anyway and the editing of the radio chatter sounds realistic and creates a lot of tension.
Mostly, the film shows how Jean's visit provides each man with a little respite before the Final Battle; she's a reminder of girlfriends and wives left behind: Lt. Mace (Arthur Franz, very good), a one-time pacifist, recalls seeing Jean in a pacifist play before the war, a lifetime ago. She inspires songwriter Johnny (William Murphy), and gets Lt. Minor (Gene Reynolds) to open up about a new wife whose face he's ashamed to admit he's all but forgotten. Reynolds later became a prominent television producer-writer-director best known for the series M*A*S*H, and this film somewhat resembles a 1981 episode called "That's Showbiz."
The above average cast also includes Tommy Noonan, Richard Jaeckel, Mickey Knox, Harry Lauter, and G. Pat Collins.
Silent Raiders is more easily dispensed with. Cheap bordering on threadbare, this indie was produced by its stars, Richard Bartlett and Earle Lyon, who made a pair of equally cheap Westerns soon after this for Lippert, The Lonesome Trail and The Silver Star, features paired by VCI for DVD release in 2006.
Like Jungle Patrol there's little in the way of story; unlike its co-feature, Silent Raiders doesn't offer much in the way of characterization, either, though the attempt is there. Twenty-four hours before the Invasion of Normandy, D-Day, seven commandos slip ashore charged with a suicide mission: capture a German communications center several miles inland.
After their lieutenant is killed early on, Sgt. Jack (Bartlett) takes command but doesn't want it; the weight of responsibility - the lives of his men - is too much to bear, while less intense, more pragmatic Sgt. Malloy (Lyon), a Hollywood actor-turned-soldier, tries to ease Jack's burden.
The film is extremely cheap, basically seven men in fatigues, three German uniforms (recycled on a number of actors throughout the picture), prop helmets and rifles, and a rubber raft. Though set in lushly green Northern France during early summer, the film by the look of it was shot in the hot, dry scrub country around the Santa Monica Mountains near Malibu, and the location doesn't make a convincing substitute. In the opening scenes, the men paddle toward shore, but are clearly in a darkened studio (or maybe in Bartlett's garage) sitting on the floor and not going anywhere. This is inter-cut with day-for-night shots of a real raft on a real beach and stock wartime footage, none of which matches.
Forgive this boastful digression, but while watching the film I jotted down an estimate of the film's cost: $25,000-$30,000. Later, on the IMDb, I discovered a figure attributed to co-producer Lyon: $27,000. It looks it. An ambitious high school student with a Super-8 camera and an Army Surplus store nearby couldn't do much worse.
Besides acting and co-producing the film, Lyon sings a ballad called "Sergeant Jack" which is interspersed throughout the film; co-producer Bartlett wrote and directed the film, and also co-wrote the song's lyrics. The only other actor credited during the opening titles is "Jeanette Bordeaux" as a French girl who turns up briefly near the end. I suspect that's not her real name, and I'd bet money she's not really French, either.
One person in the cast even the usually sharp-eyed IMDb missed (and misattributes) is Dean Fredericks of Steve Canyon fame, billed here in the end credits as Fred Foote, playing the tight-lipped "Chief." The gimmicky character never speaks until the final scene, which is supposed to be a dramatic surprise, or something, but the character's muteness during most of the picture is awkward, and the intended surprise tossed off so casually that it has no chance of making any impact at all.
Video & Audio
Both films are watchable, barely, but the transfers are dull and lifeless. Silent Raiders looks like it was shot for widescreen cropping, probably 1.85:1 though it's hard to tell with this old transfer. Trailers for both films are included, and each looks better than the feature film. The mono audio is also on the shaky side, but at least the single-sided, dual-layered disc is region-free.
Besides trailers, about 20 segments from the U.S. Army Signal Corps' Combat Bulletin have been cut together into two halves (European and Pacific Theaters) and run a total of about 88 minutes, making this something like a feature-length documentary supplement.
War buffs and fans of bottom of the bill indie movies might enjoy this WWII Double Feature. Overall it's marginal, at best - but I was glad to have seen it, especially the unexpectedly involving Jungle Patrol. Recommended.
* No relation to Jean Willes or Jean Gillie, poverty row ingénues.
** The entire cast - everyone last man and woman - dies at the end. Even Hamlet and the average Hammer horror film allowed at least a few people to survive at the fade-out, but not here.
Stuart Galbraith IV's latest audio commentary, part of AnimEigo's forthcoming Tora-san DVD boxed set, is available for pre-order, while his latest book, Japanese Cinema, is in bookstores now.