That was embarrassing. The reason why Raoul Walsh hasn’t survived the test of time to be considered among Hollywood’s great directors is made clear by his 1955 effort, Battle Cry. While his contemporaries, like John Ford and Howard Hawks, got to ride out into the sunset with a few late-career masterpieces, Walsh was not afforded this luxury. During the 1950s, Walsh lost his way and got stuck with his named attached to a lot of bad movies. One of these is Battle Cry.
Based on a novel by Exodus author Leon Uris, who also wrote the film’s screenplay, the movie centers on a U.S. Marine battalion lead by Major Huxley (Van Heflin) during the early days of the Pacific theater in World War II. Clearly, the point of the film was to look at the soldiers, not the war. Even though Walsh himself had done this much better in the silent days with What Price Glory?, the half-baked melodrama of Battle Cry isn’t worthy of his skill. Uris’ script turns the story of young men getting ready to fight into a terrible parody of Douglas Sirk’s best work. There’s even a sequence where Dorothy Malone (who won an Oscar for Sirk’s Written on the Wind) plays a married woman who sleeps with one of the marines!
Why would Walsh be interested in such material beyond a paycheck? The movie doesn’t even show an actual fight until the last half-hour of the film – which you’ll only see if the first two hours didn’t put you to sleep. It’s infuriating to hear James Whitmore’s narration gloss over battles that kill off the marines we’ve been following for so long. Even Tab Hunter is robbed of a death scene!
So not only is there not enough war in this “war movie,” but there’s also not enough Van Helfin. While Aldo Ray is pretty good as the marine who falls in love with a Kiwi (Sunset Boulevard‘s Nancy Olsen), Heflin is the true star in this film. He has two great scenes – his soliloquy about his terrible relationship with his wife and his confrontation with his superior (Raymond Massey) – but that’s it. Heflin was a really great actor and sadly underrated. Had this movie more closely followed his story, it would have been much better.
Battle Cry is a sad movie, not because of its subject, but because of the fact that Walsh wasted his time on the material. I haven’t seen much of his later work, but if most of those films are like this, I’ll skip them. At least Band of Angels (1957) was somewhat enjoyable, mostly thanks to Clark Gable. But these films are a long way from White Heat (1949).
Battle Cry is available on DVD from Warner Bros. It comes with a trailer (which tries its hardest to bill this as a real war movie) and a text bio of Walsh. You can also get it in a two-pack with William A. Wellman’s 1949 masterpiece, Battleground.