The Purple Heart (1944)

99 mins | Drama | March 1944

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HISTORY

After the opening credits of this film, a written prologue reads: "Let it be known that he who wears the military order of the purple heart has given of his blood in the defense of his homeland and shall forever be revered by his fellow countrymen--George Washington, General and Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, Aug. 7, 1782." Excerpts from the poems "How Do I Love Thee--Let Me Count the Ways," by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and "The Boys," by Oliver Wendell Holmes, are recited in the film.

       As noted in contemporary sources, the picture was a fictionalized account, based on facts known at the time, of the trial of eight American fliers captured after the 18 Apr 1942 bombing raid on Japan, which was led by James H. Doolittle. On 20 Apr 1943, the U.S. War Dept. issued an official statement that the heretofore classified raid had been launched from the U.S.S. Hornet , and that eight of the fliers were presumed to be prisoners in Japan. On 21 Apr 1943, President Franklin Roosevelt revealed that in Mar 1943, the Japanese government had confirmed that the eight captured aviators had been tried and convicted, and that an unspecified number of them had been executed. At the time of the production and release of The Purple Heart , the fate of all of the fliers was not known to the American public. [Contemporary sources discussing the film indicate that it was believed that four of the airmen had been executed, and the rest had died as a result of torture.] At the end of the war, it was learned that three of the Americans had been ... More Less

After the opening credits of this film, a written prologue reads: "Let it be known that he who wears the military order of the purple heart has given of his blood in the defense of his homeland and shall forever be revered by his fellow countrymen--George Washington, General and Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, Aug. 7, 1782." Excerpts from the poems "How Do I Love Thee--Let Me Count the Ways," by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and "The Boys," by Oliver Wendell Holmes, are recited in the film.

       As noted in contemporary sources, the picture was a fictionalized account, based on facts known at the time, of the trial of eight American fliers captured after the 18 Apr 1942 bombing raid on Japan, which was led by James H. Doolittle. On 20 Apr 1943, the U.S. War Dept. issued an official statement that the heretofore classified raid had been launched from the U.S.S. Hornet , and that eight of the fliers were presumed to be prisoners in Japan. On 21 Apr 1943, President Franklin Roosevelt revealed that in Mar 1943, the Japanese government had confirmed that the eight captured aviators had been tried and convicted, and that an unspecified number of them had been executed. At the time of the production and release of The Purple Heart , the fate of all of the fliers was not known to the American public. [Contemporary sources discussing the film indicate that it was believed that four of the airmen had been executed, and the rest had died as a result of torture.] At the end of the war, it was learned that three of the Americans had been executed by the Japanese and one had died in captivity. The four survivors were rescued from prison by American troops in Aug 1945. For more information on the Doolittle raid, please see the entry below for Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo . Although most of the Japanese characters in the film are fictional, Mitsuru Toyama (1855--1944) was an influential politician and prominent member of the Japanese Black Dragon Society during the war.

       A 25 Jun 1943 HR news item announced that Bryan Foy would be producing the film. Aug 1943 conference notes in the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collections, located at the UCLA Arts--Special Collections Library, indicate that William A. Bacher may have been scheduled to produce the picture with Foy. On 29 Sep 1943, HR noted that Richard Loo had been tested for the role of "Tojo," although in the finished film, he plays "General Ito Mitsubi." Oct 1943 HR news items stated that J. Edward Bromberg, Herbert Rudley, Michael Chekhov, Paul Gordon, Abner Biberman and Alan Napier were tested for the picture, and that Dave Willock was to be in the cast. According to information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department, also at UCLA, Biberman was definitely slated for a role, but was released when "it was decided to use all Oriental people in the picture." Farley Granger was borrowed from Samuel Goldwyn for the production, and Donald Barry was borrowed from Republic.

       At the time of the film's production, the War Dept. had recently decreed that no filmic depictions of Japanese atrocities could be produced. According to an 18 Feb 1944 NY World-Telegram article, "the ban was invoked because it was feared that such movies would provoke reprisals against other prisoners." NARS files contain a 27 Sep 1943 letter, to the Chief of the Feature Film Section, declaring that the Public Relations Bureau of the War Dept. had "no objection to the filming" of the script, providing that the "deleted references to Japanese torture of American prisoners of war" were observed and there would be "no other specific references to Japanese atrocities."

       Studio production chief Darryl F. Zanuck, who had returned from active military duty in the Signal Corps, decided to make the film anyway, according to contemporary sources, and kept the set closed to prevent any censorship or interference. His onscreen original story credit is under his frequent pseudonym Melville Crossman. The final script was not submitted to the War Dept. for approval or cooperation, according to letters in NARS. On 27 Jan 1944, the U.S. War and Navy Departments issued an official statement detailing the atrocities committed by the Japanese against thousands of American and Allied prisoners of war after the fall of Bataan and Corregidor. Following the government's official acknowledgment, the War Dept. lifted its ban and allowed films depicting wartime atrocities to be released. On 1 Feb 1944, a HR article about the decision disclosed that Zanuck had been prepared to delay the film's release until after the end of the war, if necessary. The article also included the OWI's statement about the lifting of the ban: "We have been informed by Washington that convincing use of atrocity material will be useful overseas, especially after the war in Europe has ended, as a means of keeping alive an understanding of our enemy and the will to defeat him." A 10 Feb 1944 HR news item noted that the War Dept. insisted that producers not "run wild on depicting tortures or brutalities," however, and that "any atrocities shown on the screen must be documented, or at least credible."

       The War Dept. maintained objections to The Purple Heart even after the ban was lifted, according to letters at NARS. Among the objections were the speculative nature of the story; the use of the words "purple heart" in the title, which some officials felt was misleading; and worry that the "general tenor of this horror story may have a bad effect on our recruiting program, especially for the seventeen-year-old boys in the cadet plan." The studio did seek official approval from the War Dept. in Feb 1944, and although the department refused to offer an opinion on the film's suitability for domestic distribution, it did approve the picture for export. The approval was subject to the studio establishing the fact that the film was "a fictionalized version," to "avoid the acceptance of the film as a truely [sic] factual story when the complete story is not yet available." To accommodate the War Dept., the studio agreed to insert the following foreword between its trademark and the picture's opening credits: "Out of the dark mists of the Orient have come no details of the actual fate of the heroic American aviators forced to earth in the bombing of Tokyo. Perhaps those details will never be known. The Japanese Government, in mingled hate and fear, announced only that some were executed. This picture, therefore, is the author's conception of what may well have happened, based upon unofficial reports." This foreword was not included in the print viewed.

       According to information in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the PCA rejected an 11 Oct 1943 draft of the film's screenplay due to the killing of "Yuen Chiu Ling" by his son. The PCA stated: "The action of Moy in killing his father is unacceptable, as a murder of revenge....likewise the condoning of the act by the Americans." The film was later approved, however.

       Technical advisor Otto Tolischus, who is credited onscreen, was a NYT and London Times correspondent stationed in Tokyo when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Tolischus was taken into custody and held as a prisoner for over five months before being allowed to return to the U.S. with a number of other journalists. In 1943, Tolischus published a book detailing his treatment and experiences during his captivity. In his book, Tolischus reveals that he heard the American bombing raid on Tokyo from his jail cell. Contemporary sources also note that Tolischus had been tried in the same courtroom as the American aviators. According to HR news items, other technical advisors included Ernst von Harringa, who "spent a number of years in Japan in the import business," Alice Barlow, "an American who was raised in Japan," and Lt. Eugene D. Wallace, an Army Air Force pilot.

       In a Feb 1944 letter to a War Dept. official, Zanuck disclosed that one of his inspirations for the screen story was the experiences of another journalist, J. B. Powell. Like Tolischus, Powell, the editor of The China Weekly Review , was held prisoner by the Japanese. Zanuck's letter states that although he did not talk to Powell personally, he heard about Powell's stories of being incarcerated in a cell next to a group of the captured airmen. Several reviews of the film also mentioned Powell's assertion that he had heard the fliers being tortured. Powell suffered serious, permanent injuries during his months in captivity, and according to a modern source, one of the film's previews was held at Harkness Military Hospital in New York, where Powell was recuperating.

       The picture received many laudatory reviews upon its release. The NYT reviewer called it "an overpowering testimonial," and declared: "Americans cannot help but view this picture with a sense of burning outrage--and hearts full of pride and admiration for our men who have so finely fought and died." According to a 14 Apr 1944 HR news item, it took only seven weeks for the film to recoup its production, advertising and print costs. A Sep 1945 HR news item announced that the film would be reissued "because of the timely confirmation of its torture story," and that "excerpts from statements by Gen. MacArthur, Wainwright and other Allied military authorities in the Far East" would be used in new advertising campaigns. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
4 Mar 1944.
---
Daily Mirror (NY)
28 Feb 1944.
---
Daily Variety
23 Feb 44
p. 3, 10
Daily Variety
17 Mar 1944.
---
Film Daily
23 Feb 44
p. 6.
Harrison's Reports
26 Feb 44
p. 36.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Jun 43
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Sep 43
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Sep 43
p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Sep 43
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Oct 43
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Oct 43
p. 3, 6
Hollywood Reporter
11 Oct 43
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Oct 43
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Oct 43
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Nov 43
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Nov 43
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Jan 44
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
31 Jan 44
p. 1, 17
Hollywood Reporter
1 Feb 44
p. 1, 7
Hollywood Reporter
7 Feb 44
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Feb 44
p. 1, 12
Hollywood Reporter
23 Feb 44
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Feb 44
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Mar 44
p. 33.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Mar 44
pp. 5-6.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Mar 44
pp. 7-14.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Apr 44
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
17 May 44
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Sep 45
p. 1.
Life
13 Mar 1944.
---
Los Angeles Daily News
9 Feb 1944.
---
Los Angeles Examiner
17 Feb 44
p. 15.
Los Angeles Times
21 Apr 43
p. 11.
Los Angeles Times
10 Mar 1944.
---
Motion Picture Daily
23 Nov 1943.
---
Motion Picture Daily
23 Feb 44
p. 1, 3
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
26 Feb 44
pp. 1773-74.
New York Herald Tribune
5 Mar 1944.
---
New York Herald Tribune
17 Mar 44
pp. 7-14.
New York Times
9 Mar 44
p. 15.
New York Times
19 Mar 1944.
---
NY World-Telegram
18 Feb 1944.
---
PM (Journal)
5 Mar 44
pp. 8-10.
Time
6 Mar 1944.
---
Variety
23 Feb 44
p. 10.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
Darryl F. Zanuck's Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
WRITERS
Wrt for the screen by
Story development
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
COSTUMES
MUSIC
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog eff
DANCE
Sword dance stage by
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
PRODUCTION MISC
Tech adv
Tech adv
Prod mgr
Unit mgr
SOURCES
MUSIC
"Memories," music by Egbert Van Alstyne.
SONGS
"The Army Air Corps Song," music and lyrics by Robert Crawford
"Battle Hymn of the Republic," music by William Steffe, lyrics by Julia Ward Howe.
DETAILS
Release Date:
March 1944
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 8 March 1944
Los Angeles opening: 9 March 1944
Production Date:
11 October 1943--mid January 1944
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Copyright Date:
1 March 1944
Copyright Number:
LP12811
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Recording
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
99
Length(in feet):
8,962
Length(in reels):
11
Country:
United States
PCA No:
9636
SYNOPSIS

In April 1942, a group of Axis reporters are ushered into a courtroom in Tokyo, where they speculate about the upcoming proceedings. General Ito Mitsubi of the Japanese Army and Admiral Kentara Yamagichi, commander of the Imperial Fleet, enter and are followed by three judges, including Mitsuru Toyama, the head of the Black Dragon Society. The reporters are astonished when eight American defendants are then brought in: Capt. Harvey Ross, Lt. Kenneth Bayforth, Lt. Angelo Canelli, Sgt. Martin Stoner, Lt. Peter Vincent, Sgt. Jan Skvoznik, Lt. Wayne Greenbaum and Sgt. Howard Clinton. Despite Greenbaum's protests that the civil court does not have jurisdiction over military prisoners, Toyama insists that they will be tried in his court. Toyama then informs the prisoners that they are accused of targeting civilians and non-military sites during the American bombing raid on Japan on 18 April 1942. The men deny the accusations, but the first witness, a Chinese traitor named Yuen Chiu Ling, describes how he picked up the Americans when they parachuted into China after the bombing raid, and how they bragged about hitting civilian targets. Mitsubi then shows newsreel footage of destroyed shrines and wounded civilians, but Brazilian reporter Francisco de los Santos recognizes the film as air raid drills conducted before the war. As the lights are turned back on, a yell is heard and Ling is discovered dead. Ling's son Moy admits to killing him to atone for his betrayal, and the American fliers stand in respect as Moy is led out. Mitsubi and Yamagichi then argue about where the American planes originated, and after Toyama recesses court to discuss the issue, Mitsubi questions a ... +


In April 1942, a group of Axis reporters are ushered into a courtroom in Tokyo, where they speculate about the upcoming proceedings. General Ito Mitsubi of the Japanese Army and Admiral Kentara Yamagichi, commander of the Imperial Fleet, enter and are followed by three judges, including Mitsuru Toyama, the head of the Black Dragon Society. The reporters are astonished when eight American defendants are then brought in: Capt. Harvey Ross, Lt. Kenneth Bayforth, Lt. Angelo Canelli, Sgt. Martin Stoner, Lt. Peter Vincent, Sgt. Jan Skvoznik, Lt. Wayne Greenbaum and Sgt. Howard Clinton. Despite Greenbaum's protests that the civil court does not have jurisdiction over military prisoners, Toyama insists that they will be tried in his court. Toyama then informs the prisoners that they are accused of targeting civilians and non-military sites during the American bombing raid on Japan on 18 April 1942. The men deny the accusations, but the first witness, a Chinese traitor named Yuen Chiu Ling, describes how he picked up the Americans when they parachuted into China after the bombing raid, and how they bragged about hitting civilian targets. Mitsubi then shows newsreel footage of destroyed shrines and wounded civilians, but Brazilian reporter Francisco de los Santos recognizes the film as air raid drills conducted before the war. As the lights are turned back on, a yell is heard and Ling is discovered dead. Ling's son Moy admits to killing him to atone for his betrayal, and the American fliers stand in respect as Moy is led out. Mitsubi and Yamagichi then argue about where the American planes originated, and after Toyama recesses court to discuss the issue, Mitsubi questions a sailor, who testifies that his boat was sunk by another vessel on the morning of the bombing raid. Yamagichi claims that American aircraft carriers are too small to launch B-25s, such as those flown by the prisoners, and Mitsubi vows to commit suicide if he cannot prove that the Navy was responsible for the attack through its failure to stop the aircraft carriers. While the other Americans wait in their cells, Ross is introduced to Swiss Red Cross representative Karl Keppel, who assures him that he will alert Washington, D.C. about the situation. After Keppel leaves, Mitsubi warns Ross that he will block Keppel's message unless Ross tells him if the planes came from an aircraft carrier. When Ross refuses to talk, Mitsubi intimates that he will torture the men, and Ross is sent out as Skvoznik is brought in. That night, as he sleeps, Ross hears voices ordering him to protect the U.S.S. Hornet , the aircraft carrier from which the raid was launched, at all costs. The next morning, the fliers are taken back to the courtroom and are horrified when Skvoznik, who has lost his mind after being tortured, is brought in. Canelli and Vincent are knocked out by the guards as they attempt to protect Skvoznik, and are dragged from the room. Before the trial can resume, news arrives that the Japanese have captured Corregidor, and as the judges celebrate, the prisoners are returned to their cells. Later that day, Canelli, whose arm has been broken, returns, and the unconscious Vincent is carried in on a stretcher. The terrified men then sit together but are alone in their thoughts as they remember their families and friends back home. Clinton is taken away, and when he is brought back, his larnyx has been damaged so that he can no longer talk. The next morning, Bayforth is led off, and Clinton writes a note to Greenbaum that he cannot bear the strain any longer and will talk if Bayforth is tortured. Mitsubi, who has planted a microphone in the cell, listens as Greenbaum discusses the note with his comrades, and later, in the courtroom, Bayforth is brought in wearing gloves to cover his shattered hands. When Clinton is asked to testify, he passes another note to Greenbaum, who speaks for Clinton and the others when he states that the Japanese forces must now redouble their efforts to guard every possible border. With the Japanese military thus distracted, the fliers feel that they have accomplished their mission. Desperate, Toyama offers to dismiss the charges and send the prisoners to a military camp if they talk, and Ross asks to speak with his men. In Toyama's chambers, the men debate the offer and decide to cast a secret vote by putting their aviator's wings into a vase. If even one pair of wings is broken, the men will reveal that they came from the Hornet and thus avoid the inevitable sentence of death that the court will hand down. Telling the men that they must bear responsiblity for the still insensible Skvoznik and Vincent, Ross leads them into the courtroom, where Toyama empties the vase and finds eight unbroken pairs of wings. After thanking his comrades for their patriotism, Ross tells the Japanese that even if they kill the fliers, American forces will keep fighting until they are triumphant. Mitsubi then shoots and kills himself, and Toyama sentences the airmen to be executed. As the men are led out of the courtroom, they hold their heads proudly, and even Skvoznik and Vincent march with a determined step. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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