I always remember this wrong: in 1944, Merrill’s 3,000 U.S. troops join soldiers from other countries, launching a mission from India to reclaim Burma from the Japanese. It opens with narration aplenty, stock footage and even animation, all to set up the plight of these anonymous-looking soldier-actors led by silver-haired Jeff Chandler (in his final film, dead at age 42 from surgery complications). It’s a long slog for the soldiers, ordered to march across Burma with not enough food or rest, all sick and short-tempered, but the movie tries to keep things lively for us with its relentlessly boisterous soundtrack. Fuller says the studio convinced him to make this film as a dry run for The Big Red One. He had an actual Marauder hired as technical advisor, and was excited to have Gary Cooper play Merrill, but Cooper was too sick and would die before the film’s release.
The guys win a decisive battle near the start, think they’ll be relieved by the British, but are ordered to keep moving. Nicely shot battle at a railroad – only the aftermath is shown, a survivor standing above hundreds of casualties.
Standing on what looks like giant 3-D coffins – creepy:
The first woman in the entire movie isn’t glimpsed until an hour in, as they crash at a village to recuperate. The doctor reports: “from a medical viewpoint, they’re finished as a fighting unit.” But orders are orders, and Merrill pushes them forward, to another battle, forward again to the next one. Most of the film is the drudgery of pushing wearily forth to the next battle (Fuller: “For cryin’ out loud, the work of GI’s at war is nerve-racking and frustrating, not glorious!”), and that’s how it ends, Merrill dropping (not dead) of a heart attack while ordering them to rise from the mud and move on, and the men moving. The narrator tells us that they achieved their mission, but that only 100 of the 3,000 remained in action.
It’s not all trudging through mud and dropping dead from hunger.
There’s some good action and ‘splosions, too:
Weird for a war film to focus on the dull parts and resign the climactic battle to a mention by the voiceover. Fuller explains:
To my surprise and anger, the studio decided to cut my final scene in the editing room. Right after Merrill’s collapse, they spliced in footage of a victory parade of soldiers marching down Fifth Avenue. Jack Warner and his executives wanted an overt patriotic ending, and they decided to end the picture what that propaganda-like crap and a pompous narrator bragging about the American victory at Myitkyina. … Merrill’s Marauders got good reviews. Critics for Time and Newsweek remarked that the film had a documentary flavor, giving realistic depictions of war’s simplicity and death. The only thing they said was ‘Hollywood’ was the ending. Ironically, the opposite was true. The ending that Jack Warner’s boys tacked on was real documentary footage of a military parade. In the context, it seemed phony. My film was fiction. But it smelled of truth.
Lt. Stockton, surrogate son of Merrill: Ty Hardin of I Married a Monster from Outer Space
Doc: large-headed Andrew Duggan, a star of Larry Cohen’s Bone. Jeff Chandler was best known (and oscar-winning) for playing head Apache Cochise in three movies.
Sgt. Kolowicz: round-headed Claude Akins, the jailed killer in Rio Bravo
Muley: Georgia native Charlie Briggs
Not pictured: Taggy (Pancho Magalona), a Filipino with the movie’s best comic scene, “I will wear my shirt out until all tyrants are dead!”