Hello, everybody. Your classic movie guys back again with a special treat, another in our six-part series devoted to Allan Dwan.
Dwan’s career is the subject of an exhaustively researched recent biography by Fredric Lombardi.
The book — Allan Dwan and the Rise and Decline of the Hollywood Studios, is published by McFarland. 2013. For more information click on the title.
Lombardi is a friend of Classic Movie Chat, and we were most pleased that his book prompted (and was the basis of) a full-fledged retrospective on Dwan’s work that was staged at New York’s Museum of Modern Art from June 5 through July 8.
Fred has kindly agreed to adapt portions of his new book into six guest blogs for us. Here’s he is with the next contribution to our series, this one about John Wayne starring in one of the most famous war films of all time:
“Allan Dwan made his most famous movie SANDS OF IWO JIMA (1949) at the least-esteemed film studio he worked for in the sound era.
Known for cranking out B movies and cliffhanger serials, Republic was derisively referred to as “Repulsive Pictures.” However, by the mid-1940s Republic was trying to do some upgrading.
SANDS OF IWO JIMA was the brainchild of Republic producer Edmund Grainger who felt that a major film needed to be made about the contributions of the U.S. Marines.
John Wayne was cast in the lead role of Sgt. Stryker, and it was a sign of his rising power that Wayne was able to bring in his own writer (James Edward Grant) to re-write the script which had begun as a forty-page treatment by Grainger before being turned into a screenplay by Harry Brown (A WALK IN THE SUN).
The central figure of SANDS OF IWO JIMA is Wayne’s Sgt. John Stryker whose toughness alienates him from most of the men in his squad. By the film’s end Stryker is revealed to be a man plagued by his own inner doubts, and who hides his own concern for his men.
While the tough sergeant with the heart of gold is a cliché, there is another component to Stryker’s character. His wife had left him a decade ago, taking their infant son with her. Stryker now waits in vain for his son to respond to his letters, and for all purposes his son is lost to him.
Stryker had named his son Sam after Col. Sam Conway who was his C.O. and who was killed at Guadalcanal. When Stryker learns that one of the recruits in his squad (John Agar) is Conway’s son, Stryker becomes unusually solicitous to him. But the young Conway rebuffs Stryker’s offer of friendship. Conway has joined the Marines because of his father’s death but is still bitter because he believes his father considered him too soft.
Stryker and Conway are each painfully reeling when they meet and both see in each other the chance to resume the father-son relationship they had lost. In doing so, their former conflicts are re-played.
This aspect of the story did not originate with Dwan. But Dwan’s direction helped to bring an intensity to this relationship, and Wayne would here win his first Oscar nomination. In this brief blog I have chosen to emphasize this aspect because it was a personal obsession of Dwan’s.
Dwan was destined to be childless, and a particularly traumatic incident in his younger days caused him to bring this element into his work. As early as 1914 he began to make films emphasizing the role of a “lost father.”
Often these were fathers would could not reveal their paternity to their offspring but several variations developed over the years. Probably the most bizarre of Dwan’s “lost fathers” was portrayed by Eddie Albert in the satiricial comedy RENDEZVOUS WITH ANNIE (1946) and like much else that Dwan did, it is ripe for rediscovery.”