Today is Memorial Day when the nation officially pauses to honor the men and women who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice in service of the U.S. military. For us, there are few better ways to mark the occasion than by another look-see of perhaps the finest, unheralded war movie ever made.
First, a few words from Michael Caine (a dogface who fought in the Korean War): British war films were always about officers; American films were about enlisted men.
Caine is right, and no movie better illustrates his observation better than A Walk In The Sun, made by 20th Century Fox, directed by Lewis Milestone and released in January 1945.
The movie has an all-star cast of character actors (George Tynes, Herbert Rudley, Sterling Holloway, Huntz Hall, Norman Lloyd, Steve Brodie and a very young-looking Lloyd Bridges) aided by bigger stars, Dana Andrews, John Ireland and Richard Conte — all portraying dog faces. A hapless lieutenant’s face is blown away in the movie’s opening scenes, after which not a single officer appears in the rest of the movie.
A Walk In The Sun tracks an Army infantry platoon in the 1943 Italian campaign from a Salerno beach landing through to an assault on a bridge and a rural farmhouse crawling with German machine gunners.
Note: The mission succeeds at a considerable loss of life despite the fact that there is no certainty at all that the capture of the farmhouse and the destruction of the bridge was of any strategic or military significance whatever.
There are bursts of action but equally emphasized are the personality quirks of each GI, even their interior monologues. Ireland’s Pfc Windy Crave, for example, mentally composes letters from the battlefield to a female cousin. (We know this because we hear his voiceover narration of what he is composing.)
The movie is based on a book written by Harry Brown, originally published in 1944 by Alfred A Knopf Inc., and reprinted in 1998 by First Bison Books, Univ. of Nebraska Press. When it first came out, the book was highly praised as being right on target. So is the movie.
The long-suffering soldiers had a job to do and they did it, so don’t think too hard about how necessary the orders might or might not have been. The narrator was perfect: Burgess Meredith.
FRANKS SAYS: I have been smitten with A Walk In The Sun for decades now (I am not entirely sure I did not catch the movie upon its original theatrical release).
I love the poetic touches spoken in the movie by John Ireland and in the book by the sergeant portrayed in the film version by Dana Andrews, one of my very favorite actors. The combat action seems credible to me, and so does most of the profanity-free GI talk, albeit mild-mannered by today’s screen standards, from screenwriter Robert Rossen
HERE’S JOE: As coauthor of The Films of World War II (The Citadel Press, 1973), Joe surveyed nearly 100 wartime titles and found that A Walk in the Sun hit the core of what must have actually happened in countless small encounters on battlefields wherever fighting men met the enemy.
“(The film) concerns itself intimately and in close-up with the men involved, with their thoughts and feelings. It was a compelling and honest account of humans caught in the, mill of an inhuman situation.” Seeing this film — what better Memorial Day tribute?