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Sands Of Iwo Jima

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Sands Of Iwo Jima

Starring: John Wayne, John Agar
Director: Allan Dwan
Rated: NR
RunTime: 110 Minutes
Release Date: March 1950
Genres: Action, War, Classic

*Also starring: Adele Mara, Forrest Tucker, Wally Cassell, Arthur Franz, Julie Bishop, Richard Jaeckel, Richard Webb

Review by Dragan Antulov
2½ stars out of 4

Many years ago I used to watch television show hosted by Irish comedian Dave Allen. One of the gags in that shows parodied American WW2 movies, featuring tough sergeant, determined to mold bunch of his soldiers into single combat organism. The scene had been funny in its own sense, but only after many years I managed to find the source of the inspiration. If parody could be viewed as an ultimate form of flattery, Allen must have liked SANDS OF IWO JIMA, 1949 war film directed by Allan Dwan and one of the best known examples of that particular genre.

The movie plot deals with the platoon of US marines in the Pacific Theatre of WW2. The year is 1943, and Sergeant John N. Stryker (played by John Wayne), platoon leader and battle-hardened veteran of Gualdacanal Campaign, receives new group of fresh, inexperienced marines. He begins training them for the upcoming battles in the island-hopping campaign and he trains them very hard, bullying them at every opportunity. Since Stryker happens to be embittered man after his family leaving him, many question his real motives. But Stryker's hard lessons become very valuable for the men when they experience their own baptism of fire during the landing on Tarawa Island.

This film is often referenced as an example of militaristic propaganda in Hollywood. On the surface, it really looks like the canticle for American military and the scriptwriters Harry Brown and James Edward Grant spare no effort to teach the viewers about patriotism, self-sacrifice and other virtues that embody US Marine Corps. On the other hand, they were subtle enough to allow characters to be more than one-dimensional. John Wayne, who was often seen as embodiment of American gung-ho militarism, gave rather realistic performance here; his Sergeant Stryker is tough, capable and very valuable to men in combat, but he is hardly a superman nor a perfect human being. His "Oscar" nomination for this role was well- deserved, although some scenes contained unnecessary sappiness. The other actors are shadowed by him, especially those playing stereotypical ethnic characters that were obligatory ingredient to this type of film. The real value of this film is not in the acting, though. Director Allan Dwan did a really impressive job in editing documentary war footage into the film, and the black-and-white photography works splendidly, making SANDS OF IWO JIMA one of the most realistic and exciting war films of that era. On the other hand, Dwan's zeal towards authenticity has hurt the film - some of the real life Marines and heroes of Iwo Jima appear in cameo roles playing themselves and their wooden, uninspired performances shatter the illusion. Which is real shame, because this celluloid monument to US Marines could have been as impressive work of as the one made of bronze.

Copyright 1999 Dragan Antulov

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