I love this movie. It’s all about redemption and second chances. It also shows how important getting breaks from friends are. The title of this film comes from a quote by Revolutionary War captain John Paul Jones: “I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast, for I intend to go in harm’s way.”
This movie follows a group of people starting the night before the attack on Pearl Harbor and follows them through the turning tide where the American Navy starts winning the war. It is loosely based on the Battle of Guadalcanal during WWII.
As each character falls from grace they are given a reprieve often with the help of a friend. In the same way, the USA is given a second chance after they failed to prepare for the coming war. For clarification, I will use a system made famous by American anthropologist Marshall Sahlins. He wrote of pig exchange in New Guinea which is known as the Big Man political system. In essence, you give a man a pig, he owes you. If you take a pig from a man, you owe him. The man that gives away the most pigs is the big man. I will use this system to show that 2nd chances that are given and taken in this movie.
This movie was directed by Otto Preminger who was a pretty mean guy but was great at making movies. In his autobiography, John Huston states the Preminger was so mean to Tom Tryon that Tryon almost left the movie business at that time. This is the movie that nearly drove Tom Tryon out of the acting business. Preminger took the same tact with Kirk Douglas as well. Douglas walked over to Preminger and stood nose to nose and calmly said: “are you talking to me?” And was never bothered again.
Preminger had 42 directing credits and 12 acting credits. I am most concerned with the middle part of his career and I want to mention a few of his movies including Carmen Jones (1954), The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell (1955), Porgy and Bess (1959), Anatomy of a Murder (1959), Exodus (1960), and Advise & Consent (1962).
The single acting credit that I want to mention is Stalag 17 (1953 ) where he played the sadistic POW camp commandant Oberst von Scherbach. He was born in Austria-Hungary but he played the part to the nines.
In Harm’s Way (1965) is an epic movie with an all-star cast so it will take awhile to go through this list of actors so I will try to be concise.
We begin of course with John Wayne who is quite believable as Captain Rockwell ‘Rock’ Torrey a hard as nails Navy skipper that is willing to give up all for the military. Wayne never served in the military and used the excuse that it would interrupt his acting career. Ask the guys that were drafted into WWII how they feel about that.
The old friend of Rock was Commander Paul Eddington who was played by Kirk Douglas. Douglas wrote that Wayne wanted him for the role. He was surprised because they had extremely diverse political opinions. However, they became friends and starred in The War Wagon (1967) together. Wayne made a cameo in Douglas’ ode to Israel, Cast a Giant Shadow (1966). Douglas made so many fine movies that I will only mention a few. The ones that I choose to mention are The Man from Snowy River (1982), Seven Days in May (1964), Spartacus (1960), The Viking (1958) this one I mention because it was an earlier telling of the Ragnar Lothbrok story, Paths of Glory (1957), and Lust for Life (1956).
Douglas served in the navy during WWII.
Patricia Neal played the role of Lieutenant Maggie Haynes, nurse and love interest of Rock Torrey. Some of her important roles include the sci-fi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and what may be her greatest role was in director Elia Kazan’s tale of a demagogic media mogul that foreshadowed current media in A Face in the Crowd (1957). Also, this movie is unique in that it has beloved TV sheriff Andy Griffith that plays a truly evil character.
Neal never served in the military.
Tom Tryon played Lieutenant William ‘Mac’ McConnel. Tryon has three other movies of note such as The Longest Day (1962), The Glory Guys (1965), the surprisingly good I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958). Tryon became disenchanted with Hollywood and left to pursue a successful writing career.
Tryon severed in the navy during WWII
Paula Prentiss played the role of Bev McConnel the wife of Mac Prentiss, was a gorgeous almost 6 foot tall brunet with a heavy Texas accent. She was a talented comedic actress as well. She is married to Richard Benjamin who was a director and starred in Love at First Bite (1979). Prentiss’ movies include The Stepford Wives (1975), Follow the Boys (1963), and Where the Boys Are (1960) where she played the role of Tuggle.
Prentice never served in the military.
Brandon De Wilde played Ensign Jeremiah ‘Jere’ Torrey the son of Rock Torrey. His first role was a biggie. He played Joey in Shane (1953). Remember the line “Shane come back.” He received an Oscar nomination for that role. He had another big role in Hud (1963) starring Paul Newman and Patricia Neal. Unfortunately, his life ended at the age of 30 from a traffic accident.
De Wilde never served in the military.
Jill Haworth played Ensign Annalee Dorne the ill-fated love interest of Ensign Torrey. Discovered by Otto Preminger, she performed perfectly in the role as Sal Mineo’s ill-fated Jewish girlfriend in the epic Exodus (1960). Preminger cast her in one other large role before this movie, but she never received the notice she got for that first role. Over time she fell into b-roles. While perfect for the role of the damaged girl in Exodus she appears to be too weak in her roles as an American heroine.
Haworth never served in the military.
Dana Andrews was cast in the role of Admiral ‘Blackjack’ Broderick, an inept bureaucratic commander was the counterpoint to Wayne’s Rock Torrey. Andrews was raised in south Mississippi and had a gentle strength in his characters. Andrews was the president of the Screen Actors Guild for three years and had 107 acting credits. I will only mention three of his films. First, the Battle of the Bulge (1965) where he played an Army version of Admiral Broderick. In The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) Andrews shined in the role of a fallen WWII aviator, and in The Ox-Bow Incident (1943) Andrews played a man falsely accused of cattle rustling and to me this may be his finest role.
Andrews never served in the military.
Burgess Meredith played Commander Egan Powell a naval intelligence officer with a Hollywood connection. Meredith was a character actor that had a great long and varied career. The older crowd knows him as the Penguin from the Batman television show. A slightly younger crowd will remember him as Mick in the Rocky series. However, I like to remember him from Of Mice and Men (1939) and a light little comedy Foul Play (1978) where he was cast with Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase.
Meredith served in the Air Corp during WWII
Patrick O’Neal played Commander Neal Owynn. IMDB.com states that he was “elegant heroics and elegant villainy.” In this role, he nailed it as a slimy ex-congressman trying to make it through the war on wit alone. While he had 117 movie and television roles I remember him most for Under Siege (1992) where he played an inept commander of the battleship.
O’Neal served in the Army Air Corp in WWII.
George Kennedy had a small part in this movie as the para-marine commander. Kennedy had almost 200 roles but is perhaps best know for Cool Hand Luke and The Dirty Dozen both from 1967.
Kennedy served in WWII.
Slim Pickens, a real cowboy, had a small part in this movie. He is best known as Major Kong in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) where he rode the atomic bomb like a saddle bronc.
Pickens never served in the military.
Henry Fonda has a small part in this movie playing CINCPAC II according to the original credits. It was later changed to Admiral Nimitz. According to IMDB Henry Fonda served in the Navy in WWII stating “I don’t want to be in a fake war in a studio”.
Other cast members in this movie include Carroll O’Connor (Merchant Marines WWII), James Mitchum, Larry Hagman (Air Force Korean Conflict), Christopher George (Marines Korean Conflict), Hugh O’Brian, and of course Bruce Cabot (Army Air Corp WWII).
This movie starts the night before the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Good guy ‘Mac’ McConnel (Tom Tryon) is dancing with his beautiful and loving wife Beverly (Paula Prentiss). On the other side of the dance floor is Liz Eddington (Barbara Bouchet) dirty dancing [Nobody puts baby in the corner] with an Army major (Hugh O’Brian). Her husband, Paul Eddington (Kirk Douglas) is at sea. Good ole Mac asks the band to play a slower song, giving the first pig to Eddington. Liz and the unnamed major head to the beach to cavort and sleep off the booze.
When the sun comes up on attack day, Rock Torrey (John Wayne), wakes to find Liz’s husband Paul Eddington (Kirk Douglas), hung over and missing revile. Since Eddington is drinking himself silly because of his bad marriage to Liz, Rock gives his final warning with the line ‘fish or cut bait’ giving Eddington a pig.
Good ole Mac reports to his ship and quickly is informed that another destroyer is in contact with an unknown submarine. Torrey’s gets the same message but the attacking Japanese airplanes are already attacking the base. Good ole Mac, a junior officer orders his ship to sea, which could be his first mistake possibly giving away a pig. Torrey gathers all of the ships that escaped the harbor to join him, which should get him a pig.
Meanwhile back at the beach Liz and her lover jump in the car and speed towards Pearl Harbor. When a truck rounds the curve they are forced over the cliff and die a fiery death. No second chance for those two, no pigs.
Vice Admiral B.T. Broderick (Dana Andrews) urges his Admiral Kimmel to position Torrey’s force in a defensive position, showing his weakness as a commander early on and losing a pig. But the commander orders Torrey to find and destroy the enemy. Running low on fuel Torrey decides to stop zigzagging despite the threat from submarines. As could be expected the Japanese submarine is quick to put two torpedoes into Torrey’s cruiser causing him to lose at least one pig. Torrey breaks his arm and Eddington goes right to work saving the ship. Eddington’s first redemption giving a pig back to Torrey. Good ole Mac sinks the sub with his destroyer possibly earning redemption for leaving the dock without orders as he gathers a pig.
For not zigzagging they relieve Torrey of his command and chain him to a desk. Eddington learns of his wife’s death and later in a drunken haze he attacks another army officer and ends in the brig costing him another pig. Torrey gets him out of jail but they are both on the outs.
A few months later meets a nurse while having his arm checked by the name Maggie Haynes (Patricia Neal). Torrey’s roommate, Commander Egan Powell (Burgess Meredith), invites Torrey to a party where he runs into Maggie who let him know that his estranged son – Jeremiah Torrey (Brandon De Wilde), is in the Navy and dating Maggie’s roommate, Annalee Dorne (Jill Haworth). Of course, this is the point in the movie where you find out that John Wayne’s character is estranged from his wife and doesn’t know his kid. Does this sound familiar?
Torrey visits Jere at his PT boat for a little family reunion that doesn’t go very well. Jere does tell his dad that Broderick’s staff for operation ‘Skyhook’. Jere will be working with former Congressman Neal Owynn (Patrick O’Neal), who is as greasy as Broderick is incompetent.
A few weeks later Powell shows up at Torrey’s office for lunch. They run into Jere and Owynn. Owynn starts talking about ‘Skyhook’ and Powell shuts him down. That night Torrey and Maggie have a date and fall for each other. Owynn slips away from Jere and Annalee. She sees through the trick and breaks off with Jere.
A few days later Powell returns to Torrey’s office and gives him a convoy routing assignment, a possible pig. Torrey figures out the plan and explains it to Powell. That night Maggie shows up at Torrey’s house and lets him know they are shipping out. She takes off her shoes and the rest is left to the imagination. I wouldn’t really want to see that anyway.
It takes Maggie about three weeks to reach Touleboone where Eddington has gone almost completely native. Maggie introduces him to Annalee who he shows immediate interest.
In Hawaii, Torrey lets Bev know that good ole Mac is missing in action Bev shows Torrey a letter that says all of the bad things that are happening are Broderick fault. Later Torrey is summoned to Admiral Nimitz’s (Henry Fonda) where he is promoted to Rear Admiral and given command of Skyhook, herd of pigs. Just one catch, he is stuck with Broderick. Broderick is pissed so he assigns Owynn as a liaison and he drags Jere along. Torrey uses his good fortune to make Eddington his chief of staff, pig. This must be Eddington’s 5th-second chance.
Torrey goes to Gavabutu and meets an Australian coastwatcher Clayton Canfil (Stanley Holloway) and a gung-ho Marine paratroop battalion commanded by Colonel Gregory (George Kennedy). Torrey and crew quickly suspect that Owynn and Jere are spies for Broderick. Torrey promises Maggie he will be a better boyfriend.
So this part is a little complicated so pay close attention. Torrey feeds true information to Owynn who immediately give it to Broderick. Broderick is playing the big man to the press when Torrey changes the attack plan after it has already started. Eddington pimp slaps Owynn and tells him to get off the island. Jere is the only witness but he decides to go back to PT boats and the war rather that work with snakes. Jere is totally impressed with his dad and Eddington now which makes Eddington next move more reprehensible if that’s possible. After the island is taken Torrey gives Broderick a chance not to make an ass out of himself with the press but you know asses gotta be asses.
Jere is put on mail duty and runs into Maggie and Annalee. He and Annalee decide to get engaged and marry when the war is over, second chance pigs. Good ole Mac makes it home but quickly has to leave as old buddy Torrey has him promoted and assigned to his group.
Back on Gavabutu, Eddington separates Annalee from the group and rapes her. She scratches his face but he seems unaware of his crime.
Back on ship Torrey and crew are planning the invasion of Levu-Vana when Canfil returned from his recon. Other than reporting that the island is heavily fortified the Japanese are assembling their own task force for an attack. Torrey needs a long-range recon plane but none are to be had.
Back on Gavabutu Maggie finds that Annalee has committed suicide following the rape. She calls Torrey with the news. Eddington asked what happened and Torrey somberly tells him. Eddington finally realizes what he has done and he is guilt-stricken.
The next morning Eddington flies away on a one-way trip to locate the enemy fleet trying too late to give a pig to Torrey. Torrey tells Jere what has happened and they all prepare for battle. Eddington finds the enemy fleet and is then killed by Japanese Zeros. With his best friend dead Torrey decides to launch the invasion of the island and then turn the fleet out to sea to meet the naval attack. Good ole Mac asks about a posthumous award to Eddington, but Torrey says no, knowing that Eddington was trying to atone for Annalee’s death and clearly does not deserve a pig.
While looking for the enemy fleet Torrey realizes that they are making a run through the narrow pass between the islands. He orders the PT boats, including his son, to engage the larger fleet. Jere dies a heroic death. In the morning Torrey finds that his son is dead and Japanese flagship is still intact. He orders the fleet in and during the battle he loses his cruiser. Good ole Mac saves Torrey’s life.
About three weeks later Torrey wakes from a coma to find Maggie on the hospital ship. He thinks he has lost his fleet for no reason. However, he is quickly informed that his fleet saved the day and now the Americans were winning. Torrey falls back to sleep with Maggie watching over him.
World-Famous Short Summary- People get second chances mostly with the help of their friends. But they still might be assholes.