Friday, November 23, 2012

Merrill's Marauders

Based on the non-fiction book The Marauders by Charlton Ogburn Jr., Merrill’s Marauders is the story about a U.S. general leading his troops against the Japanese in Burma during World War II. Directed by Samuel Fuller and screenplay by Fuller and Milton Sperling, the film explores the Burma campaign as a general struggles to keep his troop going despite the obstacles they face. Starring Jeff Chandler, Ty Hardin, Andrew Duggan, Claude Akins, Peter Brown, Will Hutchins, John Hoyt, and Samuel V. Wilson. Merrill’s Marauders is an extraordinary war film from Samuel Fuller.

The film is essentially the story of how Brigadier General Frank Merrill (Jeff Chandler) led his platoon of 3,000 men through thousands of miles in Burma to retake the country from the Japanese men. Through many obstacles including the landscape, illness, and other moments, it would be a campaign that would take toll not just Merrill but his men including his Lt. Stockton (Ty Hardin) who Merrill is very close to. Through three different missions on their journey to Myitkyina to attack a strategic airbase, the obstacles become more dangerous and tiring as many begin to question Merrill’s command as he starts to succumb to his own ailments. With his troops dwindling and morale low, it’s up to Merrill to pull them all together for the sake of winning the war.

The screenplay by Samuel Fuller and Milton Sperling goes into deep into what men go through in war as it is told from the perspective of many characters as they all deal with burn-out and desperation as they all want to go home. Even General Merrill feels like they need a rest but his superiors need someone to go out there and attack a strategic airbase to regain control of Burma. With the British unavailable to relieve these men, General Merrill realizes that he must do what is needed for the sake of the war. Once the story progresses, it reveals the wear and tear that these men go through as even General Merrill starts to succumb to his own illness but know that if that they don’t attack. The Japanese will rebound and get their chance to maintain control in Burma.

Fuller’s direction is very engaging for the way he presents the film as an uncompromising vision of war as it’s shot on location in the Philippines. With the use of amazing widescreen shots to get a depth of field of the locations as well as framing the soldiers to show their numbers. Fuller’s direction is also intimate for the way he explores the human drama that occurs as it features a volunteer named Muley (Charlie Briggs) who is always taking great care of a mule that is carrying supplies and is willing to defend that mule when the men get hungry. Fuller’s approach to the action is very intense with amazing tracking shots and wide angles to create something that is almost like an epic film.

The only qualm about the film that really doesn’t fit in with what Fuller wanted to say is it’s ending that is essentially stock footage of a parade that celebrates Merrill’s work. It’s the one part of the film that really doesn’t work since it wants to maintain something upbeat and patriotic as it feels jarring since Fuller’s film is about the struggle and hardship of war. Despite that tacked-on ending, Fuller does create a very captivating film about war.

Cinematographer William H. Clothier does excellent work with Cinemascope photography to capture the beauty of the landscapes as well as carry a sense of realism to the film in its action and battle scenes including some entrancing shots at night. Editor Folmar Blangsted does terrific work with the editing to create rhythmic cuts for some of the film‘s action as well as maintaining a leisured pace throughout the film. The sound work of Francis M. Stahl is brilliant for the atmosphere is creates in smaller, intimate moments as well as big moments in the battle scenes . The music of Howard Jackson, with additional music by Franz Waxman, is wonderful for the orchestral bombast to maintain an air of intensity that is needed for the film along with some other music to play up its sense of patriotism that is really unnecessary.

The film’s ensemble cast is incredible as it features some noteworthy standout performances from Charlie Briggs as Muley, John Hoyt as Merrill’s superior General Joseph Stillwell, Claude Akins as the hardened Sgt. Kolowicz, Pancho Magalona as the Filipino soldier Taggy, Will Hutchins as the desperate soldier Chowhound, Peter Brown as the sniper Bullseye, and Andrew Duggan as the medical expert Captain Kolodny. Ty Hardin is great as the Lt. Stockton who tries to assure the other soldiers about what’s happening as he would also be their voice where he would also question what General Merrill is up to. Finally, there’s Jeff Chandler in a remarkable performance as Brigadier General Frank Merrill as a man dealing with his own flaws as a leader as he goes into conflict into doing what is right for his men or what is right for the war as it’s a truly engrossing performance from Chandler.

Merrill’s Marauders is a superb and captivating war film from Samuel Fuller. Armed with a great ensemble cast and amazing cinematography, it is definitely a war film that captures the struggle of what men do in war as well as the troubles of what a war leader has to do. Despite an ending that feels heavy-handed and unnecessary from the studio, Fuller does manage to create something that is needed to be said about the men who do what they do to fight for their country. In the end, Merrill’s Marauders is a brilliant film from Samuel Fuller.

Samuel Fuller Films: I Shot Jesse James - The Baron of Arizona - The Steel Helmet - Fixed Bayonets! - Park Row - Pickup on South Street - (Hell and High Water) - House of Bamboo - (China Gate) - Run of the Arrow - Forty Guns - Verboten! - The Crimson Kimono - Underworld U.S.A. - Shock Corridor - The Naked Kiss - (Shark!) - (Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street) - The Big Red One - White Dog - (Thieves After Dark) - (Street of No Return) - (The Madonna and the Dragon)

© thevoid99 2012

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