They Were Expendable (1945) starring Robert Montgomery, John Wayne, Donna Reed, Jack Holt, Ward Bond directed by John Ford Movie Review

They Were Expendable (1945)   3/53/53/53/53/5

John Wayne in They Were Expendable (1945)

John Ford's Expendables

This is going to be a bit of a ramble and I apologise for that but I am kind of struggling with "They Were Expendable", the much praised war movie which director John Ford made immediately after his Navy service ended. Now my knowledge of WWII thanks to the poor education system in Britain during the 80s is limited, we weren't taught anything about WWII in history lessons and most of what I learned has come from reading up thanks to various movies. But without the knowledge of various conflicts and that it is almost 70 years since "They Were Expendable" was released I found it incredibly hard to connect to and not so easy to follow either.

Now part of that is down to Ford giving us a very different sort of war movie as this isn't about a big conflict but about a group of men who operate the PT boats and their dealings with war whilst doing their jobs. As such we see things such as Lt. John "Brick" Brickley being very proud and protective of the boats and the men he commands due to their unique ability whilst the more antagonistic Lt. "Rusty" Ryan is not so bothered about the boats and is looking for something which will progress his career. As I said it is very different too your stereotypical war movie.

Donna Reed in They Were Expendable (1945)

What is also pleasantly surprising is that for once here is an American war movie which is drenched in flag waving patriotism. In fact the realism which Ford puts on show is actually quite surprising because in typical moments of victory such as when a PT sinks a much larger boat there is no celebration as the mood is sombre because of the casualties incurred. It makes "They Were Expendable" quite hard going for those more use to pure action war movies especially when this is another Ford movie featuring John Wayne. But Ford's attempt to create impact is successful none more so during a scene where we witness one patient after another wheeled through an operating room with no breathing space between them.

I suppose what I am finding with "They Were Expendable" is a typically impressive John Ford movie with some typically impressive performance from the likes of Montgomery, Wayne and Reed. But the realism and its desire to be hard hitting just didn't grip me like it has some especially those who saw this when it was released or who have a deeper under standing of the part of the war it is focussing on.

What this all boils down to is that "They Were Expendable" is as you would expect from John Ford a very good movie. But it is a movie which to me works best for those whose interest in WWII goes beyond the typical portrayals you find in the majority of war movies and those who watch because they expect some typical John Wayne heroics might find it hard going.