Grade:  B/B-
Not rated (would be PG-13)

Studs Terkel won the Pulitzer Prize for The Good War: An Oral History of World War Two, a title he said was suggested by an army correspondent. “The Good War” was a phrase “frequently voiced by men of his and my generation” because it was the last war fought that was not divisive or controversial, Terkel said. Americans rallied behind the flag after Pearl Harbor, and when everyone is in the same boat, rowing in the same direction, there’s a sense of shared purpose and commitment. That leads to a feeling of solidarity, of shared joys or sorrows that nonetheless bind people into a greater family or community stronger than the individuals themselves. There really is strength in numbers, and patriotism at its workable best is a group activity dependent upon full (or nearly full) participation, not an individual attitude—and certainly not competing attitudes.

All of which is to say, aside from the aesthetics of film, there’s value in watching an old black-and-white patriotic war movie because it can remind us of what patriotism really involves.

Colbert tends to Lake

So Proudly We Hail (1943) is an interesting case in point. Most of America’s World War Two movies were about the front-line heroism of fighting men, designed to keep the recruits coming and the people on the home front encouraged, still feeling the commitment and still willing to accept the sacrifices of wartime patriotism. When So Proudly We Hail was first released, Bosley Crowther of The New York Times praised the film’s  “shattering impression of the tragedy of Bataan” and producer-director Mark Sandrich’s reenacted battle-action scenes, but complained that “we behold the horror of Bataan through a transparency, through the studiously disheveled glamour of the Misses [Claudette] Colbert, [Paulette] Goddard and [Veronica] Lake.”

To a degree, that’s unfair, because the formula behind every patriotic war movie pulled against the film’s intended realism. I think Sandrich (who would direct Holiday Inn the following year) does a decent job of focusing not only on the professional aspects of military nurses serving in Bataan and Corregidor, but also on their love lives. So Proudly We Hail was billed as the “First great love story of our girls at the fighting front,” and Sandrich does a commendable job of adding romantic involvements to the standard war movie.

Reeves and Goddard

The film is based on I Served on Bataan, a memoir by Lt. Col. Juanita Hipps. It follows the “Angels of Bataan,” who tended to the wounded under impossible conditions on the Bataan Peninsula—where American and Filipino soldiers made a last stand—and on the island of Corregidor, to which many where evacuated but still fell under heavy bombardment and were forced to attempt another desperate retreat. War is neither in the foreground or background; it’s a fact of these nurses lives that exists on the same level as their flirtations (which are wholesome, mild, and necessarily superficial).  Filming began just seven months after the Bataan Death March began, where Filipino and American forces left behind were rounded up by Japanese soldiers and forced to march 65 miles on foot to a POW camp.

Claudette Colbert  (It Happened One Night) stars as Davidson (last names or nicknames are mostly used), one of eight nurses who survived the evacuation but remains catatonic. In this frame story, a doctor asks the others to tell them about what happened so he can try to figure out how to cure her. The bulk of the film is a flashback that follows Davidson and Joan (Paulette Goddard, Modern Times, The Ghost Breakers), starting when they are en route to the Philippines and ships in the convoy are torpedoed. One of the survivors taken aboard is Olivia (Veronica Lake, I Married a Witch), who is antagonistic and annoys everyone around her. But that “bad” is balanced by a “good” as Davidson finds herself super-attracted to a soldier named John, played by George Reeves, a man who nine years later would become famous as the Man of Steel in TV’s The Adventures of Superman.

Tufts and Goddard

Colbert’s performance is decent, but Academy Award nominee Goddard and her potential beau “Kansas” (Sonny Tufts) are more engaging, and Lake’s character travels the most ground.

So Proudly We Hail doesn’t have any of the expansive romantic interludes of From Here to Eternity because the women in this film aren’t on leave. They’re in combat, and the unrelenting attacks force any romantic interest to be measured, brief, and improvised. But romance is at the heart of this film, which is why it held so much appeal “back home” when it was first released. It’s uniqueness still makes it a patriotic war movie worth watching—and I’d bet anything that the wheelchair-bound Davidson was the inspiration for that quintessential melodramatic romance, An Affair to Remember (1957).

Entire family:  No (6th grade or older?)
Run time:  126 min. Black and White
Aspect ratio:  1.37:1
Featured audio:  DTS 2.0 Mono
Studio/Distributor:  Universal/Kino Lorber
Bonus features:  B-/C+ (commentary by historian-writer Julie Kirgo)
Best Buy link
Not rated (would be PG-13 for intense sequences of wartime action and some drinking, smoking and language)

Language:  2/10—A dozen or so lesser swearwords

Sex:  2/10—It’s all fully-clothed flirtations, and one serious implied night of passion occurs only after a wartime marriage; you think a sponge bath is going to go “south” but it doesn’t

Violence:  6/10—Hospitals and ambulances are blown up, nurses tend to wounded soldiers, people are shot and killed, people die in explosions; it’s not so much the severity (compared to contemporary films) but the unrelenting nature of the violence that feels oppressive as we see the war through these nurses’ eyes

Adult situations:  3/10—A couple shares a bottle of wine on a honeymoon, a older nurse deals with the death of her soldier-son, and there’s incidental smoking and drinking

Takeaway:  As a Baby Boomer I grew up with patriotic war movies, but never saw this one until Kino Lorber released it; the best way to describe it is still “unique,” because we see the war at the front from a woman’s point of view