Director: John Farrow. Cast: Brian Donlevy, Robert Preston, William Bendix, Albert Dekker, Macdonald
Carey, Walter Abel, Mikhail Rasmuny, Rod Cameron, Bill Goodman, Damian O'Flynn, Frank Albertson.
Screenplay: W.R. Burnett and Frank Butler.
Taking its cue from the military campaign it describes, John Farrow's Wake Island is a brisk,
bold, and efficient film chronicling the U.S. Marines' defense of the archipelago from Japanese
air-raiders and gunships in December of 1941. Part of the glut of Hollywood films produced during the
'40s about key incidents in the American involvement in World War II, Wake Island's screenplay, by
W.R. Burnett and Frank Butler, alleges as its source the "official records of the United States Marine
Corps." The film also proclaims in a scroll following the opening credits that the dramatization of the
Wake Island attacks follow directly from official transcripts.
With such formidable claims to authenticity, Farrow doesn't bother much with subplots or melodrama,
though the film is not without its martyrs and its heroic, rallying speeches (often occasioned by the
deaths of said martyrs.) Rather, Farrow renders the Wake Island rather straightforwardly, confining all
of the action to the island itself except a few opening scenes of the soldiers bidding farewell to family
members in Hawaii. The first half-hour of this 90-minute film introduces the expected character "types"
among the forcesthe steadfast commander, the obdurate civilian maintenance chief, the practical
jokesters in the companybut the bombings and gunfire are well underway by the film's midpoint.
The different permutations of combat (air-to-air, air-to-sea, man-to-man) are all staged with tension and
excitement. Also laudable is Farrow's facility in separating a number of the soldiers as individuals
throughout all the action; the creation of unique personalities is also helped by proficient character
actors including William Bendix (Detective Story), Oscar-nominated here
during his first year in movies, and The Music Man himself, Robert Preston. Like Farrow, the
screenwriters, and the technicians who stage the battles so effectively, these actors helped make Wake
Island a commercial and consciousness-raising success when it debuted, as well as a stirring reminder
of our military history for contemporary viewers. B
Academy Award Nominations:
Best Director: John Farrow
Best Supporting Actor: William Bendix
Best Original Screenplay: W.R. Burnett & Frank Butler