Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Best & The Worst: Wake Island

I had almost given up on doing any more of these after the initial one, but I'm going to try to do them if I can because it's less intensive than a full-blown post and we can cut to the chase, i.e. - the best and worst parts of a movie! Today's flick, Wake Island (1942), was one that I watched on Veteran's Day and it would have been posted sooner after, but Morgan Fairchild swayed the vote! LOL

Filmed in the heat of the early days of the U.S.'s involvement with World War II, Wake Island centers on the title locale, a spot located in the Pacific Ocean between Guam and Midway. The story concerns the men working on the island (soldiers as well as a large contingent of civilian contractors) just before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In fact, Wake Island suffered an attack just eight hours after the far more famous Pearl Harbor. Three of the stars of the film are (as seen here) MacDonald Carey, Brian Donlevy and Albert Dekker. They are all quite good and don't necessarily fall into my categories of best or worst, but a few words about them nonetheless.

Donlevy was a rough and tumble, compact young man who'd served (while secretly underage) in the U.S. Army during the Mexican Revolution as well as in the Lafayette Escadrille during WWI. A handsome guy despite his hard image, he played villains well and dotted many a movie with snarling nastiness while also maintaining a level of appeal. (Not all his costars were fond, however. During Beau Geste, 1939, for which he was Oscar-nominated as a sadistic sergeant, the leads allegedly hated him and one - Ray Milland - reportedly stabbed him in real life "accidentally!" Thomas Mitchell of Stagecoach won the statuette, by the way.) Donlevy was also nominated for a New York Film Critics Circle Award for Wake Island, but James Cagney got it for Yankee Doodle Dandy. Donlevy worked until 1969 before passing of throat cancer in 1972 at the age of seventy-one.

Dekker is an actor whose often impressive career is almost completely overshadowed now by his incredible demise. A stage performer who found success in the movies from mid-1930s on, he popped up in wildly varied roles in things like The Man in the Iron Mask (1939), Beau Geste (1939), Dr. Cyclops (1940), Seven Sinners (1940) and Honky Tonk (1941.) Later projects of note include Gentleman's Agreement (1947), East of Eden (1955) and Suddenly, Last Summer (1959.) In 1968, however, when he was sixty-two, he was found strangled, hanging from the shower rod in his bathroom with sadomasochistic items on him and with expletives and vulgarities written on his nude body with lipstick! Apparently, he'd been engaged in a kinky ritual that went wrong. His final film, The Wild Bunch (1969) was released after his death.

Carey was just at the beginning of his film career, having risen to fame on Broadway as Gertrude Lawrence's love interest in Lady in the Dark, which resulted in a Paramount Pictures contract. In quite an admirable move, he found himself compelled (after squeezing in roles in Shadow of a Doubt and Salute for Three, both released in 1943) to enlist in the armed forces in real life, having enacted a heroic role here. This resulted in a four-year lapse in his movie career just as it had been heating up. He did continue with some moderate success until 1965 when he assumed the patriarchal role of Tom Horton on Days of Our Lives, a part he played until his 1984 death from lung cancer at age eighty-one. It was his voice that opened the show each day with, "Like sands from the hourglass... so are the days of our lives."

It's almost not fair to point out the "worst" about a movie that not only was a huge box office success and earned a Best Picture Academy Award nomination along with nods for Director (John Farrow, who'd been in the Canadian navy during the war until illness forced him out), Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor (an engaging William Bendix.) These awards went to Mrs. Miniver, William Wyler for the same, Woman of the Year and Van Heflin in Johnny Eager. However, we will say that one thing we grew tired of were the endless shots of loud airplanes in the sky as the participants fought it out.

Also a minor negative was the use of grainy stock footage of bombs dropping and in some of the air sequences. These moments, obviously from true and real war films, are of jarringly different quality than the crisp, new (well-handled) sequences of destruction on the ground. (I say well-handled, and they are, but there is one explosive shot in which very stiff mannequins are used in lieu of stuntmen.)

Another potential negative for some viewers today might be the way the Japanese are depicted. Chinese actor Richard Loo is depicted as a duplicitous repre- sentative of the soon-to-be enemy government with unusual, very thick glasses and prominent teeth, not to mention a rather slippery manner.

However, apart from the style of glasses, he did look reasonably close to the actual man he was portraying, including the suit, tie and lapel pin. (And subsequent pictures of Japanese soldiers and statesmen from that era did wear glasses of that type. These can be seen in particular on the men arranging the eventual surrender of the island.)
All the Japanese pilots and seamen are depicted with some degree of extremity. Some are almost goofily pudgy and comic,
...some are gleefully destructive...
...and some are intensely deranged during their assault on the island. However, one must remember that this movie was filmed not very long after Pearl Harbor and the war was not only ongoing, but still in its infancy as far at the U.S. was concerned. So one cannot expect a loving, affectionate balance in the depiction of people who attacked and killed a large number of our soldiers and civilians! (As an aside, the outcome on the actual Wake Island was far worse than anything shown here. Many men were captured, then worked or starved to death and, ultimately, nearly one hundred - some of them civilian - were mercilessly gunned down after having survived as long as they did. Those in charge of this outrage were later executed for war crimes.)

But, on a brighter note, lets move on to some of the things that could be considered "best." One is the appearance of the young Rod Cameron. He's the very tall (6'5") officer at left here and at far left in the dining sequence shown below. The 5'8" Donlevy had to get creative in this movie to not be dwarfed by the towering gent. Already a busy movie actor in small roles despite just having begun in 1939, he would soon be starring in serials of his own and eventually westerns.
In fact, he became best known for his cowboy image in westerns even though he'd never once been on a horse prior to his initial visit to Los Angeles. He felt hopelessly typecast and often did detective series to try to shift his image, but it was to no considerable effect. One notable thing about him is that he divorced his second wife, with whom he had a son, and almost immediately married HER mother! Happy Thanksgiving everybody...! LOL He passed away of cancer at seventy-two in 1983, leaving his wife/mother-in-law a widow.

Another plus for me, dog lover that I am, is the appearance of a cute little pooch who belongs to the afore- mentioned Bendix. I tried to determine whether or not this was Toto (aka Terry), the most famous Cairn terrier of the movies, and have come to the conclusion that it is not. But whoever the little doggie was, she was sweet in her own right. But the real BEST part of Wake Island, the reason for this post if you want the truth, is the man shown below to the left, sunning on the beach with Bendix and the dog.
Here's another glimpse of him. If you aren't familiar with the movie, I doubt you'll be able to tell who it is...
Here's another teasing shot from behind. You know this actor, almost surely, but I doubt you ever glimpsed him quite this way.
Getting closer to the reveal...
It's Robert Preston! Despite a long career in the movies and on stage, Preston is surely best known for his 1962 film The Music Man. By then in his mid-forties, he had shed the fresh, twenty-something gleam that he has here (at twenty-four!) Admittedly, 1962 was a tough year, but he didn't even warrant an Oscar nom for his iconic role of Harold Hill in Man.

I don't recall ever having seen his hair cut this short before and I do have a thing for closely-cropped hair on a man. He oozes relaxed charm in this part, a sort of buck-the-system ne'er do well who is always affectionately brawling with his best pal Bendix.

The two of them fight over a Russian net-covered urn that has washed ashore until their squabbling causes it to fall on the rocks and break.

The humpy Preston is shown for a lengthy period of time early on without his shirt on.
He also has a morning sequence in a clingy t-shirt and boxer shorts (which he, unfor- tunately, has briefs on under them...) I am confident that this is the sexiest that Robert Preston ever looked, but I'll happily research it further if there are suggestions!  Ha ha!
By the way, Preston, too, joined the armed forces (the U.S. Air Force) not long after this film and likewise experienced a four-year lull before his next movie. He did proceed to a successful film and stage career with some latter day highlights that included a showy part in Victor/Victoria (1982.) He was nominated for an Oscar that time, but lost to Louis Gossett Jr. for An Officer and a Gentleman. Preston died of lung cancer in 1987 at age sixty-eight.
The End!

7 comments:

Scooter said...

Love Robert Preston. What a special surprise to see him in this post and at such a young age. Very different from the way I think of him. Thanks for this!

Shawn McGuire said...

Robert Preston was a hottie. That is a total revelation. Was he a ‘mo? He seemed like one of us. I remember him as the yoda-ey/miyagi-ey character in The Last Starfighter. And I remember when Joel Siegel reviewed the film on Good Morning America, he practically creamed, gushing about his performance. Joel Siegel, what a hilarious guy, another one who seemed like a ‘mo to me.

Poseidon3 said...

Scooter, thanks! I'm happy that this was a treat for you. :-)

Shawn, Robert Preston was married to a woman for DECADES, no kids, and was notoriously private... So, yeah, I have my doubts. And some of his latter-day roles seemed to be from someone taking a step out of the closet. He did ping on my gaydar a bit. He and the burly William Bendix have a rather homoerotic thing going on in "Wake Island" despite Bendix's plans to head out and marry some girl. And I agree about Joel, too... (As an aside, it always seemed like he was trying to get his words out from beneath that big ol' mustache!)

Gingerguy said...

Poseidon this was a fun look at a flick I would have bypassed normally. Never expected in my life to see a sexy picture of Robert Preston (unless you like marching band uniforms). Donlevy was hot stuff, with some crazy eyebrows.
It's great when an actor is remembered for what they did before their scandalous death, as you did with Albert Dekker. Sidebar; Sharon Tates' Sister is auctioning off her clothing and effects and spoke in an article about protecting items from people who fetishize tragedy.
And finally, what was up with the coke bottle glasses on Asians? I am thinking of "Across The Pacific" where the poor actor is practically looking through a magnifying glass attached to his face. I guess to look more sinister? War is terrible and the movies are a mirror to what our society is going through. I am thinking recently of the Clint Eastwood film "The Sniper" that had some pretty heavy stereotypical depictions of middle eastern villains in it. Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Poseidon3 said...

Glad you liked this, Ginge. I agree about Robert. Not usually the "hunk" type. (Funny about the band uniform!) I always want to do a post about Sharon, but I don't want to go down that road at the end. (Frankly, am wary of even doing a photo search!) There is a "To Tell the Truth" from the early 1990s with Sharon's mother on it. She became an advocate for victims' rights and fought to keep her daughter's killer in prison. I don't know why, but I'm surprised to find that you went to see "The Sniper." It somehow seemed more a movie my parents would gravitate to. They love Clint, Mel, et al. Have a great holiday!

D ODay said...

Do love that look on Preston, and it is interesting how his personality comes through in these pictures.

This post reminded me of the number of leading men who enlisted in WWII - Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, Robert Montgomery, Tyrone Power, Victor Mature, Mickey Rooney, David Niven, Leslie Howard (who, of course, never came back) - I'm sure there are others. I recall reading that Joel McCrae was ineligible for service, I think because of the size of his family, and thereafter refused to make a movie that would put him in uniform.

Charles Durning, whose career started after WWII, survived three of the most horrific incidents of the war - the Normandy landings, the Battle of the Bulge, and the massacre of POW's at Malmedy - and was home by age 23.

All in all, a remarkable roster of men.

Poseidon3 said...

Thank you, D ODay. Errol Flynn made numerous attempts to enlist, also, but his health was horrible. He donned many a uniform in the movies in order to try to convey the fight to moviegoers and caught hell from some of them who thought he was shirking obligations. Interesting about McCrea's approach, which I can also understand. I believe Robert Mitchum, William Holden and Dan Dailey also served while Gregory Peck was exempt from a back injury he suffered (while in Martha Graham's dance class!) I knew about Charles Durning's amazing military career from close pal Burt Reynolds' book "But Enough About Me."