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In Harm's Way
Paramount Home Video
1965 / B&W / 2:35 anamorphic 16:9 / 165m. / Street Date May 22, 2001 / 14.99
Starring John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Patricia Neal, Tom Tryon, Paula Prentiss, Brandon De Wilde, Jill Haworth, Dana Andrews, Stanley Holloway, Burgess Meredith, Franchot Tone, Patrick O'Neal, Carroll O'Connor
Cinematography Loyal Griggs
Production Designer Lyle R. Wheeler, Al Roelofs
Special Effects Larry Butler, Farciot Edouart
Film Editors Hugh S. Fowler, George Tomasini
Original Music Jerry Goldsmith
Writing credits Wendell Mayes from the novel Harm's Way by James Bassett
Produced and Directed by Otto Preminger

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Otto Preminger isn't a name that's bandied around much any more, but in the 1960s he was synonymous with huge multi-character stories that took on complicated issues. Almost personally responsible for the easing of the Production Code in the 50s, Preminger's Advise and Consent and Anatomy of a Murder handled adult content in a mature fashion. Already having done a reasonably solid job with a military subject in his earlier The Courts-Martial of Billy Mitchell, Preminger took on politics and passions in the WW2 Pacific Theater with this sprawling epic.


The attack on Pearl Harbor brings war to the U.S. Navy, and cues the varied destinies of an epic-full of colorful characters. Captain Rockwell Torrey (John Wayne) has the good fortune to be out of port when the raid begins. While Commander Kimmell (Franchot Tone) takes the fall for the loss of the fleet, Torrey hangs on, and with the help of Commander Egan Powell (Burgess Meredith), a screenwriter-turned intelligence man, and friendly nurse Lieutenant Maggie Hayes (Patricia Neal), he weathers the post-Pearl career storm to become one of the key fleet commanders in the South Pacific campaign under Admiral Nimitz (Henry Fonda). Further down the chain of command, Torrey's trusted aide Commander Paul Eddington (Kirk Douglas) falls apart after the death of his faithless wife (Barbara Bouchet), and proceeds to display erratic behavior, especially his undesired attentions to young nurse Ensign Annalee Dorne (Jill Haworth). It so happens Dorne has an interest in Torrey's estranged son, Ensign Jere Torrey (Brandon De Wilde). Jere's hostility toward his father results in his assignment as aide to sleazy public relations lizard Commander Neal Owen (Patrick O'Neal), who rides the coattails of incompetent Admiral 'Blackjack' Broderick (Dana Andrews), a screw-up who Torrey must gently indulge. Battling the Japanese and weathering enough subplots to float a battleship, Torrey's island-hopping campaign races toward a head-on naval clash with the enemy fleet.

In Harm's Way is a monumental soap opera, well cast and well told, with only a bad subplot here and there to momentarily bog it down. Otto Preminger's flair with actors doesn't fail him, and only his lack of faith in special effects gives his 'gut busting, mother-lovin' Navy war' any logistical problems. John Wayne plays his part with an authority and easy-going likeability he didn't show in most of his gung-ho WW2 movies. Either Preminger brought out the solid actor in Wayne, or the Duke decided to leave his tiresome 60s western persona behind for this one. His scenes with the warm and wonderful Patricia Neal are some of his best; the pair seem to have picked up where they left off in Operation Pacific twenty-two years earlier.

Kirk Douglas is also in fine form as a boozing officer who runs interference for Wayne, and the scene showing the 'boys club' way of handling bureaucratic differences, with Kirk picking a fight with the weasely jerk played by Patrick O'Neal is a highlight. But the necessity for some sex fireworks forces the Douglas character to also be a sex maniac and atones for his crimes by flying a hokey suicide mission that would be laughed off the screen in a PRC quickie: "Well, what have we here? Looks like a little ol' Task Force down below..."

The film works because Preminger paces everything for the scale of his canvas. A full romantic subplot with Tom Tryon and Paula Prentiss as a young officer and his faithful wife is very moving, especially in a homecoming scene reminiscent of the real footage in the television landmark Victory at Sea. John Wayne's release from the career doghouse is no overnight flash, but instead a credible combination of the faith of Henry Fonda's good Admiral, and the conniving of lovable strategy master Burgess Meredith. Preminger knows how to populate his cast with familiar faces and still keep the show under control: keep your eyes peeled and you'll be treated to good work from Slim Pickens, Carroll O'Connor, George Kennedy, Larry Hagman, Stanley Holloway, and James Mitchum. On the less successful side is Jill Haworth, a Preminger protégée from Exodus who just looks uncomfortable in her scenes with that rascally wabbit Kirk.

Like the later Tora! Tora! Tora! this picture suffers from a desire to attract a female audience that's the only possible explanation for the terribly anachronistic female costumes and hairstyles. Patricia Neal's sober hair is okay, but Haworth, Prentiss and especially Barbara Bouchet look terrible running around in shift dresses and Clairol coiffures. Bouchet in particular looks as if she should be frugging at a go-go club instead of swinging to the big band sound. These were the macho years before Bonnie & Clyde made retro fashionable; now that all sex in mainstream films seems to be portrayed from a female perspective, it's the males who wear the ridiculous long hairstyles, like Brad Pitt's ponytail in the trenches of WW1.

Finally, In Harm's Way suffers from some really quirky special effects. Good full-sized work often has superimposed over it unconvincing smoke, and even a few explosions, in terrible optical-printer failures. The production built an armada of giant battleship models, some longer than the flatbed lowboy trailers that were used to haul them to the Salton Sea for filming. According to model maker Greg Jein, when Preminger saw the models, which were big enough to fire their cannon realistically, he had all of the flags, rigging and other details taken off and then insisted that the special effects men raise them all high up in the water. Real destroyers and the like cut through the brine with a profile so low you'd expect waves to wash over their decks, but in the show the waterline of all the boats has been lowered right to the bottom of the hull. The sea battles are impressive and even the far-too-big explosions are okay, but the realism of these giant models was severely hampered.

With that said, the battle recreations and military atmosphere of the show are top notch. And grace notes, like Jerry Goldsmith's slick going-into-battle music and Saul Bass's explosive end credits sequence, are solid highlights.

Paramount's DVD of In Harm's Way enables us who missed the show in the theaters to finally see it in its widescreen glory. It's been mostly pan-scanned on TV and home video, and Savant was plenty tired of looking at the back of Hugh O'Brien's head knowing that B-B-Barbara B-B-Bouchet was stripping off to the right somewhere. It showed in a 70mm festival in 1990, the one where Blade Runner was rediscovered. I missed it but at least one attendee claimed it was a longer road show cut with more scenes and an intermission. Yet the IMDB only carries the one length, so the longer version might be a myth. The B&W transfer is a good one, 16:9 - enhanced to please big-screen war fans that can't wait to see Pearl Harbor.

The extras are great - a featurette and three different trailers from 1965, also in perfect 35mm 'scope. The featurette has a bunch of interesting outtakes and behind the scenes material. It's supposed to be immature to laugh at a natural accent, but Otto Preminger's is a hoot, narrating and appearing onscreen in the trailers. His readings of the hyped ad copy are fall-down funny. He wasn't exaggerating his voice when he played Mr. Freeze on television's Batman.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
In Harm's Way rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: 3 trailers, contemporary featurette
Packaging: Snapper case
Reviewed: May 23, 2001

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