Wake Island (1942)

87-88 mins | Drama | 1942

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HISTORY

The opening credits note that W. R. Burnett and Frank Butler's screenplay was based on official records of the United States Marine Corps. The film opens with the following written foreword: "In this picture the action at Wake Island has been recorded as accurately and factually as possible. However, the names of the characters are fictional and any similarity to the personal characteristics of the officers and men of the detachment is not intended. America and Americans have long been used to victory but the great names of her military history--Valley Forge--Custer's Last Stand--The Lost Battalion--represent the dark hours. There, small groups of men fought savagely to the death because in dying they gave eternal life to the ideas for which they died. Such a group was Marine Fighting Squadron 211 of Marine Aircraft Group 21 and the Wake Detachment of the First Defense Battalion, United States Marine Corps, the units which comprised the garrison at Wake Island." Wake Island is considered by many modern film historians to be the first film about World War II to deal factually with the grim realities of battle, and also was the first to be produced with the supervision of the War Department. According to modern sources, Paramount held up production on the closing sequence of the film to see if United States forces could recapture Wake Island. As depicted in the film, Wake Island fell to the Japanese on 23 Dec 1941 when, after having defended the island against Japanese attack since 7 Dec 1941, the Marines were battered by a full scale attack. Although the film shows the Marines fighting to their deaths, U.S. forces did, ... More Less

The opening credits note that W. R. Burnett and Frank Butler's screenplay was based on official records of the United States Marine Corps. The film opens with the following written foreword: "In this picture the action at Wake Island has been recorded as accurately and factually as possible. However, the names of the characters are fictional and any similarity to the personal characteristics of the officers and men of the detachment is not intended. America and Americans have long been used to victory but the great names of her military history--Valley Forge--Custer's Last Stand--The Lost Battalion--represent the dark hours. There, small groups of men fought savagely to the death because in dying they gave eternal life to the ideas for which they died. Such a group was Marine Fighting Squadron 211 of Marine Aircraft Group 21 and the Wake Detachment of the First Defense Battalion, United States Marine Corps, the units which comprised the garrison at Wake Island." Wake Island is considered by many modern film historians to be the first film about World War II to deal factually with the grim realities of battle, and also was the first to be produced with the supervision of the War Department. According to modern sources, Paramount held up production on the closing sequence of the film to see if United States forces could recapture Wake Island. As depicted in the film, Wake Island fell to the Japanese on 23 Dec 1941 when, after having defended the island against Japanese attack since 7 Dec 1941, the Marines were battered by a full scale attack. Although the film shows the Marines fighting to their deaths, U.S. forces did, in fact, surrender to the Japanese. Modern historical sources note that the Marines killed over 800 Japanese soldiers, while 120 Americans lost their lives and 1,500 were taken prisoner. After the fall of Wake Island, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt hailed the Marines for their "heroic and historic defense."
       The script received the official approval of the Marine Corps and the Navy department in Washington, D.C., and production was supervised by the U.S. Navy. Pre-production HR news items reported that Fred MacMurray, William Holden, Lynne Overman, Buck Jones, Richard Denning and Richard Arlen were initially cast in the film. Wake Island was shot primarily on location in and around Salton Sea, in Imperial Valley, CA. Information in the Paramount Collection indicates that the production encountered many delays due to severe weather conditions, such as wind and sandstorms. An additional $16,000 was added to the cost of location shooting because the company had to grade areas at the location. According to Paramount press information, the actual Wake Island encampment was recreated for the production, including a runway designed by the same engineer who built the runway at Wake Island. HR news items indicate that the air field was turned over to the Navy for military use after production ended.
       Some scenes were also shot on location in San Diego, CA and Salt Lake City, UT. HR news items reported that on 27 Apr 1942, when air scenes of Japanese attack planes were filmed over the Great Salt Lake, UT, citizens were notified through the media that any planes with "Rising Sun" insignias were prop planes and not real Japanese fighter planes. The planes for this scene were manufactured by Ryan Aeronautical Corp. of San Diego, CA, and were used because they resembled the Japanese Nakajima 97, which was reportedly the type of plane used to attack Wake Island. Extras portraying Japanese soldiers were played by Filipino and Chinese actors, as in early 1942, the U.S. government required the detention in internment camps of all Japanese and Japanese-American citizens. Because of the newly initiated military draft, Paramount had to arrange for many of its staff and crew to enlist at a draft board while on location. The original story, written by an unidentified Paramount staff member, was purchased for one dollar. The film's final cost was $826,061.18, approximately $175,000.00 over budget.
       Wake Island was previewed in Aug 1942 at the Marine Corps Bases in Quantico, VA, and Camp Elliott in San Diego, CA. The film had its premiere in two theaters in Los Angeles. At one theater, forty Marine recruits were sworn into service onstage. Proceeds from the New York premiere went to the U.S. Marine Corps Fund. The film was voted one of the Ten Best of 1942 by FD and was nominated for Academy Awards in the following categories: Best Picture; Best Supporting Actor, William Bendix; Best Direction, John Farrow; and Best Writing (Original Screenplay), W. R. Burnett and Frank Butler. Brian Donlevy and Robert Preston reprised their roles in a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast of the story on 26 Oct 1942. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
15-Aug-42
---
Daily Variety
13 Aug 1942.
---
Film Daily
12 Aug 42
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Dec 41
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Jan 42
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Feb 42
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Feb 42
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Feb 42
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Feb 42
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Feb 42
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Apr 42
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Apr 42
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Apr 42
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Apr 42
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Jun 42
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Aug 42
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Aug 42
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Aug 42
p. 2.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
15 Aug 42
p. 837.
New York Times
31 May 1942.
---
New York Times
2 Sep 42
p. 19.
Variety
12 Aug 42
p. 8.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Earle Tex Harris
Pete G. Katchenaro
James A. Millican
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
2d unit dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCER
Exec prod
WRITERS
Contr wrt
Contr wrt
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
Aerial photog
Aerial photog
2d unit photog
Cam op
Cam op
Asst cam
Asst cam
Asst cam
Asst cam
Asst cam
Asst cam
Transparency cam
Stills
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
Asst art dir
FILM EDITORS
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec supv
Painter
Carpenter foreman
Props
Props
Props
Prop shop
Prop shop
Prop shop
Prop shop
Prop shop
Prop shop
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Mus score
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog eff
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
For Headquarters Marine Corps: Commandant [Militar
Dir of public relations [Military rep]
Tech staff: Supv officer
Spec weapons detail
Asst prod mgr
Cam mechanic
Scr clerk
Clapstick op
Stage engineer
Stage engineer
P.A. op
Electrician
Head grip
Grip
Grip
Grip
Physician
Timekeeper
Contact man
Contact man
Projectionist
Coordinator
Loc auditor
Nursery
Nursery
Nursery
Nursery
Laborer
Laborer
Laborer
Laborer
Dog handler
STAND INS
Stand-in
Stand-in
Stand-in
Stand-in
DETAILS
Premiere Information:
New York premiere, 1 September 1942
Los Angeles premiere, 23 September 1942
Production Date:
17 April--20 July 1942
Copyright Claimant:
Paramount Pictures, Inc.
Copyright Date:
25 September 1942
Copyright Number:
LP11606
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
87-88
Length(in feet):
7,906
Length(in reels):
9
Country:
United States
Passed by NBR:
Yes
SYNOPSIS

In June 1941, 4,254 air miles from San Francisco, Wake Island is taken over by two units of the Marine Corps: the Marine Fighting Squadron #211 of the Marine Aircraft Group 21, and the Wake Detachment of the First Defense Battalion. By the end of October, the defense outpost has been equipped with naval guns, twelve mobile 3-inch anti-aircraft guns, a squadron of twelve Fruehman F4F3 "Wildcats," and 385 officers and men. Major Geoffrey Caton reports as the new comanding officer and civilian Shad McCloskey, who accords no special respect for the military, arrives at the island to supervise the construction of bomb shelters. Despite a variety of nationalities among the officers and men, a deep sense of camaraderie exists. On 7 Dec 1941, after he has visited Wake Island with talk of peace, a special Japanese envoy goes to Washington, D.C. to discuss problems in the Pacific. That same morning, however, the Japanese make a surprise air attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, during which thousands of American lives are lost and battleships are destroyed. Wake Island is subsequently attacked by the same Japanese forces and sends four planes to combat twenty-four Japanese fighters. After several losses, the Japanese return home, but Wake Island is left with many wounded and dead and seven planes destroyed. After the attack, a Clipper airship returns the remaining civilians stateside. The crisis creates an understanding between Caton and McCloskey, who accepts orders from Caton to dig trenches all over the island. After Caton is forced to tell pilot Cameron that his wife was killed at Pearl Harbor, he urges the distraught man to put all his energy ... +


In June 1941, 4,254 air miles from San Francisco, Wake Island is taken over by two units of the Marine Corps: the Marine Fighting Squadron #211 of the Marine Aircraft Group 21, and the Wake Detachment of the First Defense Battalion. By the end of October, the defense outpost has been equipped with naval guns, twelve mobile 3-inch anti-aircraft guns, a squadron of twelve Fruehman F4F3 "Wildcats," and 385 officers and men. Major Geoffrey Caton reports as the new comanding officer and civilian Shad McCloskey, who accords no special respect for the military, arrives at the island to supervise the construction of bomb shelters. Despite a variety of nationalities among the officers and men, a deep sense of camaraderie exists. On 7 Dec 1941, after he has visited Wake Island with talk of peace, a special Japanese envoy goes to Washington, D.C. to discuss problems in the Pacific. That same morning, however, the Japanese make a surprise air attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, during which thousands of American lives are lost and battleships are destroyed. Wake Island is subsequently attacked by the same Japanese forces and sends four planes to combat twenty-four Japanese fighters. After several losses, the Japanese return home, but Wake Island is left with many wounded and dead and seven planes destroyed. After the attack, a Clipper airship returns the remaining civilians stateside. The crisis creates an understanding between Caton and McCloskey, who accepts orders from Caton to dig trenches all over the island. After Caton is forced to tell pilot Cameron that his wife was killed at Pearl Harbor, he urges the distraught man to put all his energy into fighting "to destroy destruction." When Japanese battleships encroach upon the island, Caton withholds fire to lure the ships into close range so that the island's big guns can sink or disable several ships. Cameron volunteers to fly solo and makes a direct hit on another battleship that is approaching. He is then shot at by Japanese planes, and barely manages to land safely at Wake Island before dying. He is buried on Wake Island. The Japanese, now based on nearby Marshall and Gilbert islands, mercilessly barrage Wake Island. After five days and an eighth attack, the U.S. forces still hold the island, and on 21 December 1941, Caton sends some of the men home for Christmas on a transport plane during a momentary lull in the fighting. Sensing that the end may be near for his outpost, Caton also sends with one of the returning men a full report to command and a personal letter to his daughter. After Wake Island's sole remaining pilot is shot down and the ammunition depot is destroyed, the Japanese demand the surrender of the Wake Island troops. Caton refuses to give in, and on 23 December 1941, the Marines fight valiantly to their deaths, as the Japanese overtake the island. +

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

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.