Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

22 October 2017

Wake Island

Wake Island was apparently a huge box-office smash in 1942, as well as being widely acclaimed by critics. I was less impressed than the USAmerican populace in 1942, I guess. Act one is actually awful – stilted writing, bad acting, awkward editing.

Act two involves this absurd monologue about how women create memories or something. But the good part of acts two and three is the bombing of Wake island by Japanese forces. The sound, the explosions, the tension of it – all of that is great. I loved all of the air sequences too: they're balletic and exciting and dynamic.

As for the film's politics, Wake Island island surprised me by valorizing suicidal sacrifice by USAmerican soldiers. As much as the Japanese kamikaze would be demonized by United States media, our own media celebrated suicidal missions and sacrificing one's self for one's nation.

As for actual violence, Wake Island soft pedals things, like most films from this period under the PCA. When a man dies, he sort of clutches his breast, seizes up, and collapses. This isn't Bataan. Men don't bleed in Wake Island; they just fall over.

Honestly, though, it's sort of crazy that John Farrow made this movie in 1942, less than a year after the actual battle for Wake. And I was shocked to find that the film also references the Warsaw ghetto! Wake Island was released in August 1942, and evacuations of Polish Jews to Treblinka had only begun earlier that Summer.

The film ends with an upbeat musical sequence, over which a voice intones: "These marines fought a great fight!" as though the whole thing were a game. It's an odd bit of nonsense, that quote obviously makes the whole thing seem like a bit of fun rather than a slaughter in which hundreds of men were killed.

In any case, this ended up being sort of cool to watch, even if it is, more often than not, overly sentimental and awkwardly made.