Wayne drives a Wedge between Hayward and O'Keefe
"The Fighting Seabees" maybe known for being a John Wayne movie but it is also one of those war movies which highlights the efforts of those who seem to be forgotten, in this case we are talking about the Seabees aka the Construction Battalions made up of construction workers who whilst building fuel dumps and airstrips would also fight the enemy. As such we have this interesting story, I must say heavy fictionalized story, of how the Seabees came to be after Construction manager Wedge Donovan and Lt. Cmdr. Robert Yarrow agree to work together to have the Construction Battalion formed and the workers trained to fight. But that is not all there is to "The Fighting Seabees" because on top of this we also get a romantic love triangle so that this story will appeal to more than a select few, it's a sappy romantic tale but at least provides for a bit of variety.
As the manager of a team of civilian construction workers Wedge Donovan (John Wayne - Reap the Wild Wind) is less than impressed that his men are expected to put their lives on the line whilst building air fields and fuel dumps in the middle of the Pacific as the Japanese invade especially as they are not allowed to carry arms. But he is approached by Lt. Cmdr. Robert Yarrow (Dennis O'Keefe - The Lady Wants Mink) who agrees and wants the construction men to have their own Battalion, the Seabees who will be trained to fight as a military force. Not overly happy on the idea of his men going through military training Donovan finds himself forced to agree. But things between Donovan and Yarrow are made all the more complicated when Yarrow's girlfriend Connie (Susan Hayward) falls for Donovan and he for her.
So as already mentioned "The Fighting Seabees" is a mix of two storylines, we have a romantic love triangle and also the formation of the Seabees and it is the Seabees side which is not only the more interesting but also takes precedence. Now it is a heavily fictionalized tale as to how the Seabees came to be but it works from the first time we meet Wedge Donovan who is furious that some of his men were killed whilst on a military construction job right through to the battles he has with authority and on to becoming this military unit. One of the greatest things about this is that it makes you realise how brave these men were, these construction workers who originally would be shipped to a Pacific Island to build air strips with no weaponry just the army and navy to protect them.
Now in a way the story unfolds in a cliche manner as we watch Donovan in an almost pig headed manner disagree with his men getting weapons training yet learning the hard way that they need it rather than just being given guns. And as you can expect with this being a John Wayne movie everything in this movie leads to a heroic final battle as Wayne leads the attack on the invading Japanese with his battalion of Seabees in support. All of which is good and there are some stunning action scenes, some of which are surprisingly hard hitting as we witness the brutality of war.
But then there is the other side to "The Fighting Seabees" and before I get to the romantic love triangle there are some lighter moments such as some comedy as the workers go through military training. Those in fact aren't that bad but two which are is a very surprisingly and out of place sing a long as the workers party and then there is a very uncomfortable jitterbug which sees John Wayne trying to swing a nimble young woman around, I don't know whose more embarrassed us as an audience or John Wayne as he blushes his way through it. Then there is that romantic love triangle which sees Wedge falling for Connie who falls for him but also happens to be already Robert's girl. It's thrown in to provide some variety and as such it does but it is one of the weakest love triangles which you will witness with Robert basically paving the way for Connie and Wedge to get together.
And sadly this romantic issue ends up clouding the performances because when John Wayne and Dennis O'Keefe are focussing on the actual war side of things and the construction they come alive. But then when we have them turning on the charm with Susan Hayward as Connie it becomes very weak almost cheesy despite Susan Hayward actually putting in an entertaining performance.
What this all boils down to is that "The Fighting Seabees" is an entertaining movie and gives an interesting look at the work of the Seabees whilst also giving a fictionalized account as to how they came to be. It's not so much spoilt but watered down by a mainstream romantic element which whilst adding a bit of variety ends up very cliche. But despite this "The Fighting Seabees" works and the action scenes coupled with a rawness caused by a small budget makes it both interesting and entertaining.