He directed an anti-war film starring John Wayne and the recently-departed Kirk Douglas

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he directed an anti-war film starring John Wayne and the recently-departed Kirk Douglas, which is one of the few movies not a John Wayne or Kirk Douglas Picture but a Preminger Film they happened to star in

Very different for The Duke in that, set in Pearl Harbor, beginning with the last jazz-soaked night of oblivious peace, when the wife of yet unseen Kirk Douglas and her lover (a sexy Barbara Bouchet and Air Force stud Hugh O’Brien) are frolicking at the beach, IN HARM’S WAY is not gung-ho or overly patriotic but more cerebral and cautious in tone, which fits Douglas’s forte after PATHS OF GLORY late in the previous decade.

The camera glides around a slew of characters in various scenes where eventually Wayne, who was blamed for attacking a Japanese sub after the attack, later has a chance for a comeback — despite the fact he did nothing wrong in the first place.

Meanwhile, during the attack are random scenes on the harbor, and while bombs splash the surrounding sea, we never do see, only hear, the attacking planes. Making this one of the more low budget war pictures featuring The Duke, and Douglas.

Preminger’s former leading man from Film Noir classics LAURA, FALLEN ANGEL, DAISY KENYON and WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS, Dana Andrews, plays the token idiotic Admiral, and he’s mentioned more than actually seen, a contrary persona to Wayne’s diamond in the rough.

What Andrews’s Broderick fails at, Wayne makes right… with the sporadic help of his flawed and cocky sidekick, Douglas, seeming a tad more free-spirited 1960’s than 1940’s (and resembling his LUST FOR LIFE Vincent Van Gogh at one point): He winds up raping a grownup but still young, flirtatious Jill Haworth, who Preminger directed in the horrible EXODUS.

Providing Douglas the kind of flawed character he preferred to play (like in his personal favorite role, LONELY ARE THE BRAVE); while Wayne showcases a thoughtful, slowburn style, painfully dealing with the fact his bitter and one-dimensional, long-lost son is in cahoots with Andrews and political patsy Patrick O’Neal…

Everyone other than the “good guys”, also including Burgess Meredith, are basically buffoons, making it too easy for the overly obvious heroes to be capable without proving it through action or dialogue: basically, they are who they are (Wayne, Douglas, Meredith) because they aren’t who they aren’t (Andrews and O’Neal).

What works in IN HARM’S WAY is almost everything except the war/battle scenes, thrown together via archive footage, not visually gelling with the otherwise beautiful B&W cinematography that Preminger revels in.

And, as is his style, during each moment of every conversation, the camera moves like a slow dance among the characters… Making this one of his most creatively filmed films, which is surprising given such an otherwise mainstream genre and leading man

And while the war scenes, especially during the rushed climax, are extremely cheated and phony looking, what Preminger does well… showing people being people… is visually sublime

Providing John Wayne and love interest Patricia Neal… as a nurse providing a big sister for Haworth and a kind of motherly yet romantic figure for Wayne… natural, easygoing performances, like they’ve known each other forever and simply have to remind themselves of their place in life

And while the war scenes, especially during the rushed climax, are extremely cheated and phony looking, what Preminger does well… showing people being people… is visually sublime.

Proc.BY MOVIES
by James M. Tate
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