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They Were Expendable (1945)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

They Were Expendable (1945)

In director John Ford's semi-patriotic, well-directed, old-fashioned, under-rated, inspiring and bleak (black and white) action-war drama, the story was based upon the historically-true account of the Navy's fast moving PT (patrol torpedo) boats, military squadrons and crews based in the Philippines that were supporting the naval war in the Pacific campaign of WWII - it was based on William L. White's bestselling 1942 book of the same name:

  • the film's title-card prologue was a quote from General MacArthur, who had to be evacuated from the Philippines (with his famous "I shall return" statement): "Today the guns are silent. A great tragedy has ended. A great victory has been won....I speak for the thousands of silent lips, forever stilled among the jungles and in the deep waters of the Pacific which marked the way"
  • the two main characters: torpedo boat squadron commander Lt. John Brickley (real-life Congressional Medal of Honor winner John Bulkeley) (Robert Montgomery) and his second-in-command executive officer, PT boat officer/skipper Lt. J.G. "Rusty" Ryan (real-life Robert Kelly) (John Wayne)
  • the exciting footage of the defense of the Philippines by the highly maneuverable PT boats with gun turrets
  • Ryan, while hospitalized due to blood poisoning and in sick bay, was involved in a romance with Army nurse Lt. Sandy Davyss (Donna Reed)
  • the ending airlift sequence occurred during the evacuation of key personnel from the Philippines to Australia; the last plane had only 30 seats, with Brickley in seat # 27 and Ryan in # 28; seats # 29 and # 30 were given to two individuals on the waiting list: hospital ward worker Captain "Ohio" Carter (Louis Jean Heydt) and Major James Morton (Leon Ames), but once the doors were shut, the two late-arriving ensigns for those assigned seats (Ens. 'Snake' Gardner (Marshall Thompson) and Ens. George Cross (Cameron Mitchell)) knocked on the plane's hatch door and took their assigned seats - replacing the two now-unlucky substitutes
  • readying for take-off, Brickley explained the reason for their evacuation, when asked if there would be any more planes: "Look, son, we're going home to do a job. And that job is to get ready to come back. Check?"; the two responded in unison: "Check"; the small remaining group on the ground solemnly watched as the plane took off
  • MacArthur's words: "We Shall Return" came into view (before 'The End' title), as "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" was heard on the soundtrack


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