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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » To the Shores of Tripoli
To the Shores of Tripoli
Fox // Unrated // June 13, 2002
List Price: $14.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted July 10, 2002 | E-mail the Author
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Fox's War Classics DVD line brings together under one heading various films about World War II, most of which were made after the war was over, but some of which were in fact produced while the war was going on. 1942's To the Shores of Tripoli is one of the latter, which gives the film a certain historical appeal apart from whatever entertainment value it may have.

And it's certainly a product of its time: To the Shores of Tripoli is, through and through, a recruitment film for the U.S. Marines. Everything else is really secondary; the focus of the story is on the greatness of the Marines, and how any man worth his salt would of course want to join up and merrily go off to war. (The actual kill-and-be-killed aspects of fighting in a war are kept conveniently off-stage.) The story focuses around young, cocky recruit Chris Winters (John Payne) and the stern drill sergeant Dixie Smith (Randolph Scott) who swears that he'll either make Winters into a good Marine or run him out of the Corps for good.

Don't expect even the slightest bit of realism or critical thinking to appear in this movie; everyone is just so happy and excited about being a Marine that you'd think it was one big party. Sure, the recruits complain about being tired from the drills, but they certainly don't look very worn out, and tough-guy Dixie is clearly a nice guy who's just a bit gruff with his charges. No one seems to take anything seriously, and least of all any adherence to the truth; throughout the movie, Winters and other characters lie through their teeth repeatedly to get what they want, and it's all presented as perfectly normal and acceptable behavior. Winters himself is clearly depicted as a good-hearted rascal, which gives some weak context for overlooking the fact that he'll tell any lie to get what he wants (like a date with a pretty nurse), but even the serious, respectable figures like Sgt. Dixie or Winters' father play fast and loose with the truth to manipulate others. It seems like a small thing, but it gives a weird tint to the presentation of the characters.

The film features the obligatory romantic interest for Winters, in the form of Lt. Mary Carter (Maureen O'Hara), which of course means that as a modern viewer, I ran head-on into the brick wall of 1942 macho attitudes toward women. In the interests of fairness, I'll admit that the representation of the relationship between Carter and Winters didn't completely cause all of my hair to stand on end as, for example, the relationships in the contemporary film A Yank in the RAF... but that's not saying much. The character of Carter shows a bit of independent thought and assertiveness; for instance, the scene in the hospital in which she gives the pretending-to-be-ill Winters a taste of his own medicine is quite entertaining. But the film as a whole still represents a woman's "no" as "I really mean 'yes' but I'm playing hard to get," which is difficult for me to stomach.

With the propagandistic element so strong in To the Shores of Tripoli, it's somewhat surprising that it manages to be entertaining to this day and age, but it just manages. The film is short, at only 86 minutes, and hops smartly enough from one incident to the next that it's not hard to be entertained by smart-aleck Winters in his escapades in boot camp. It's nothing I'd watch more than once, but it's not bad light fare if you're looking for something on a military theme and you're willing to put up with the film's message and attitude.


There's one colossal problem with the DVD transfer of To the Shores of Tripoli: it's in black and white. The film is supposed to be in color. In fact, rather ironically, it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Color Cinematography. I'm a bit baffled how this rather obvious goof made it past quality control, but it's there.

As of the time of this review, Fox has acknowledged the error, and in a press release has stated that "A limited number of To the Shores of Tripoli are available at retail in black and white. A complete shipment of the film presented in color will arrive at retail within the next three weeks. In the interim, those who purchased the DVD in B&W can call the customer service number listed on the back of the box to exchange it for the full-color DVD version." This sounds promising; however, there is no customer service number listed on the back of the DVD case, nor is there a customer service number (or email address) on their web site. If you have already bought a copy and it's in black and white, your best bet would seem to be to swap it through the retailer you bought it from.

If you haven't bought it yet, the question arises of how to tell one of the new shipment of color copies from the defective black and white ones. The DVD case says that it's in color, though the screenshots on the back are in black and white; it's anybody's guess whether the promised new shipment will have any indication to distinguish them from the black-and-white earlier prints; hopefully Fox will label them appropriately.

Speaking of errors on the case, the back cover copy states that the film is presented in "a letterbox widescreen edition preserving the aspect ratio of its original theatrical presentation," which is only partially correct. The most important part is correct: To the Shores of Tripoli is indeed presented in its original aspect ratio, which happens to be a "full-screen" ratio of 1.33:1.

Apart from the lack of color... how does the image look? Quite good, actually. The print is clean, with essentially no noise or print flaws and only a faint hint of edge enhancement; judging from the poor condition of the trailer, it looks like some good restoration work is responsible for the quality of the DVD image. If I'd been able to see it in color, I'd likely have given it three and a half stars instead of two (and if I manage to find the promised customer service number and get a color copy, I'll update the review accordingly).


The DVD offers a Dolby 2.0 soundtrack for the film, which does the job well. The music and dialogue portions are kept in good balance throughout the film, with the dialogue always being clear. The one "battle" scene (a naval training maneuver) offers a few explosion sound effects, which are nicely robust but not overpowering.


There's a trailer for the film along with trailers for a selection of other Fox War Classic DVDs.

Final thoughts

To the Shores of Tripoli is a lightweight WWII propaganda piece that offers a highly idealized vision of basic training and military life in general. As a film, it has some modest entertainment value; I'd suggest it as a rental if you're interested in it. If you are inclined to buy it, I do recommend that you wait until there's some confirmation that the faulty black and white DVDs have actually been replaced, as promised, by the color version.
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