Cry 'Havoc' (1943) starring Margaret Sullavan, Ann Sothern, Joan Blondell, Fay Bainter, Marsha Hunt, Ella Raines directed by Richard Thorpe Movie Review

Cry 'Havoc' (1943)   3/53/53/53/53/5

Margaret Sullavan in Cry 'Havoc' (1943)

Courageous Civilians

With the medical out post in Bataan short staffed and short supplied Captain Marsh (Fay Bainter - Woman of the Year) sends one of the women to see if she can get any of the civilian evacuees to volunteer especially as chief nurse Lieutenant Smith (Margaret Sullavan) is not only stretched but also ill. The 11 women that come back only have the basic training and are a diverse bunch from a burlesque dancer to a Southern belle who has never worked. But as these untrained women face a situation they were never prepared for they discover a strength they never knew existed and unlikely camaraderie.

"Cry 'Havoc'" is a bit of a WWII curiosity because on one hand it tells this interesting drama about these civilian women who work as nursing assistants in a medical outpost. But on the other hand it also has a jokey tone with this eclectic bunch of women with some of them being over the top stereotypes even caricatures which seems at odds with drama. This element of humour doesn't ruin the movie but for me it dilutes the power of the drama and in a way it needed to commit to one or the other rather than trying to mix them both.

Joan Blondell and Ann Sothern in Cry 'Havoc' (1943)

What this means is that we have the drama of these women dealing with the situation they are in from those who become scared by the sound of air raid sirens to others struggling with dealing with the death around them. We also have drama as on more than one occasion one of these women go missing especially as on one occasion one of the women who goes missing is another one's sister. And whilst "Cry 'Havoc'" is a predominantly female cast there is a touch of romantic rivalry between Lieutenant Smith and one of the women over the unseen Sgt. Holt. But then all of the sudden we will get a moment of humour thrown in, a wise remark or one of the lesser characters coming across as more of a caricature for being overly stereotypical.

Despite this mix of humour and drama making "Cry 'Havoc'" uneven it is entertaining as we watch these diverse women unite and find a strength they were unaware of. Much of that is down to the stellar cast of actresses picked to play the women. Ann Sothern is full on as the brassy Pat who finds herself rivalling the seemingly proper Margaret Sullavan as Lieutenant Smith. Plus there is Joan Blondell as Grace the smart mouthed burlesque dancer who not only brings some light entertainment but also plenty of emotional drama as for all the front she struggles with what she sees.

What this all boils down to is that "Cry 'Havoc'" is mostly an entertaining and interesting drama which takes a look at the lives of civilian nurses in Bataan during WWII. But the occasional foray into humour with overly stereotypical characters dilutes its power as it tries to break its oppressive nature.