Cry 'Havoc' (1943)
You know what's wrong with kids today? They never get a chance to see a picture like this by accident on a Saturday afternoon or on a Late Late Show on a local UHF station. That's how I first saw Cry 'Havoc' , sometime in the mid-1970s, when there were still people in my family who had actual memories of World War II, either fighting in it or seeing movies like this in the theaters when they came out.
Except for a handful of atmospheric men and fewer barbs, this film is strangely like The Women. All the main characters are women: nurses and volunteers at a military hospital in Bataan, how they cope with each other, the wounded, their dwindling resources, and eventual surrender to the Japanese. Margaret Sullavan and Fay Bainter are two army nurses struggling to keep up with the ever-increasing stream of wounded. They recruit a handful of civilian women from among hundreds of refugees encamped not far away to help out: two students, a factory manager, a waitress (Ann Sothern), a Southern Belle (Diana Lewis, from Asbury Park, not Alabama, and soon-to-be Mrs. William Powell), a burlesque performer (Joan Blondell, who else?), and a fashion writer (Ella Raines).
The cast is kind of a cavalcade of Tier 2 and Tier 3 stars of the day (1943), except possibly for Margaret Sullavan, who may have been the biggest star in the cast and whom I've always loved in spite of those stupid bangs. Joan Blondell, who turns out to be adorable in work clothes, was not the draw she used to be by then, and Marsha Hunt (the sweet, skinny thing) was hitting her stride as a strong supporting actress.
Cry 'Havoc' was the film adaptation of an unsuccessful Broadway play called Proof Through the Night, starring Carol Channing (?!), that only ran for two months. I can imagine the play being fairly plodding without the benefit of close-ups and medium shots, or the occasional explosion. Many of the scenes in this movie are very stagey, in fact, with only the barracks, the communications hut, and kitchen serving as backdrop to the women's stories. There are a few outdoor shots of, well, havoc, but much of the real drama is indoors. There are friendships and rivalries and real conversations in this picture; Ann Sothern in particular is wonderfully cagey and natural.
It's a very affecting and effective movie that's well worth a look.
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