Sands of Iwo Jima (1949)

Directed by Allan Dwan

Cinematography by

Reggie Lanning

Sands of Iwo Jima is a 1949 war film starring John Wayne that follows a group of United States Marines from training to the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II. The film also features John Agar, Adele Mara and Forrest Tucker, was written by Harry Brown and James Edward Grant, and directed by Allan Dwan. The picture was a Republic Pictures production.

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Compared with most combat films of its time, Sands of Iwo Jima was fairly nuanced in its view of war and military people. Ironically, many references to it in mass media and popular culture depict it as the quintessential “flag-waving” World War II film. This may have less to do with the movie’s actual contents than with star John Wayne’s later identification with conservative politics.

Several of the actors were re-united in the 1970 western Chisum (1970): John Wayne, John Agar, Forrest Tucker, and Richard Jaeckel.

The 1982 Academy Award nominated comedy short film The Great Cognito makes an implied reference to Sands of Iwo Jima. The only character to be seen onscreen is an entertainment impersonator, who actually changes into the people and events he talks about in his comic patter, using Will Vinton‘s technique of stop-motion claymation. In the end, while talking of Iwo Jima, Cognito breaks down in tears and leaves the stage, blubbering about how “…John Wayne gets shot.”

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Exploiting A Symbol

8/10
Author: bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York
9 November 2006

Although Clint Eastwood’s recent Flags of Our Fathers has told the real story about the flag raising at Iwo Jima, it hasn’t diminished any of the impact that Sands of Iwo Jima has, either back when it was released or viewed today.

In fact because the three surviving flag raisers, Joseph Bradley, Rene Gagnon, and Ira Hayes all were in this film it’s even more proof of how the symbolic flag raising has become mythologized.

Of course the real heroism was in capturing the island that was less than a 1000 miles from the main islands of Japan and the airfields on Iwo Jima that could be used by our bombers for land based flights. It took about a month to do that, the flag was raised on the fifth day.

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I read a history of the United States Marine Corps from it’s formation during the American Revolution. Over the course of its history it was interesting to learn that the Marines many times were threatened with extinction, to be folded into either the army or navy right up to and including World War I.

Right after World War I a very farsighted man named John A. Lejeune became the Marine Corps Commandant and he saw that we would be in a war in the Pacific with the Japanese as our foes. He also saw that the survival of the Marines as an entity involved them training for a very specialized kind of mission, amphibious warfare. He started training them for that and come World War II they were certainly ready.

John Wayne as Sergeant Striker got one of his most memorable parts of his career in Sands of Iwo Jima. Striker is a tough as nails Marine Corps lifer whose got a job to whip a lot of recruits into shape for the later Pacific landings after Guadalcanal. He’s also got one lousy personal life as his wife’s left him and taken their son.

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Wayne got his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor in this part. There’s a couple of other films he should have gotten a nomination for, but that’s another story. Among his competition in 1949 was Kirk Douglas for Champion, Richard Todd for The Hasty Heart, and Gregory Peck for Twelve O’Clock High. Note three of the nominees were for World War II related films. But the winner that year was Broderick Crawford for All the King’s Men. At least Peck and Wayne both got Oscars later in their careers.

John Agar who was trying to carve out a reputation as being more than Mr. Shirley Temple back then plays the son of a former commander of Wayne’s who has a problem with his Dad and takes it out on Wayne attitude wise as a surrogate father. Julie Bishop and Adele Mara play women drawn to both Wayne and Agar respectively.

Of the supporting cast who play members of Wayne’s platoon, my favorite is Wally Cassell, the wisecracking city kid who finds a tank to help his platoon out during a sticky situation.

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Flags of Our Fathers teaches us about how the flag raising symbolism became part of the Marine Corps heritage. Sands of Iwo Jima exploits that symbol in the best sense of the word. After almost sixty years, it’s still a fine film with a grand performance by the Duke.

William Manchester notwithstanding

Author: inspectors71 from Fly-Over Country
13 March 2005
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I remember seeing this film as a child and wondering if combat looked as antiseptic as it does in Sands of Iwo Jima, then the Japanese soldiers dropped into a foxhole of Marines and started bayoneting them. The scene still frightens me, regardless of how many times I’ve seen Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers.

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The great William Manchester wrote about being a Marine in the Pacific in his memoir Goodbye, Darkness. He talked about how phony the movie was, how John Wayne-ish and Hollywoodized it portrayed the sort of in-your-face combat he experienced. He and a friend were thrown out of a theater for laughing so hard at the histrionics and the clichés.

Yet, the average viewer would be hard-pressed not to feel for John Wayne’s broken, alcoholic Marine non-com, and the squad he commands. The best moment of the film isn’t the tragic, inevitable ending, but Wayne’s discovery that his love interest is just as damaged and as hurt as he is.

With that in mind–and William Manchester notwithstanding–this is more than just a war movie, and that’s why it’s so good.

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Classic war film with a magnificent John Wayne as tough sergeant fighting Japanese

7/10
Author: ma-cortes
22 November 2007

This is a flag-waging and patriotic tribute to US marines .Very decent war scenes along with documentary footage that convey us the assault troops establish on the Pacific islands, but like the navy, the US army fought its way from island to island in the Pacific. Striker(Wayne) and his squad(Forrest Tucker, John Agar,James Brown,Richard Jaeckel,James Brown,Richard Webb, among others) are responsible for the capture of the Pacific islands. And, of course, the picture brings to life one of the most famous images of the Second World war- Joe Rosenthal’s photograph of US marines raising the flag at Iwo Jima, on the morning of February 23, 1945 and with special appearance of the three living survivors of the historic flag raising of Mount Suribachi. John Wayne is top-notch as valiant but deranged sergeant Striker training rebellious recruits and soldiers in this believable war film . Wayne won his only Oscar nomination, before his obtaining in ¨True grit¨. Supporting cast is frankly magnificent. The motion picture is well directed by Allan Dawn.

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The film is based correctly on Iwo Jima battle in a hard-fought US operation, one of the most difficult campaigns of the Pacific theater . US capture of Japanese-held island in the Bonin group , about 1450 km south of Tokyo after intense fighting Feb-March 1945. Fortified by the Japanese, it held two airfields, with a third under construction, and was a valuable strategic target for US forces as it would provide a base for land-based bombers to raid the mainland of Japan. It was assaulted by US Marines 19 Feb 1945 after a prolonged air and naval bombardment. The 22000 Japanese troops put up a fanatical resistance but the island was finally secured 16 March. US casualties came to 6891 killed and 18700 wounded, while only 212 of the Japanese garrison survived.The film is dedicated to the United States Marine Corps whose exploits and valor have left a lasting impression on the world and in the hearts of their countrymen . Appreciation is gratefully acknowledged for their assistance and participation which made this picture possible.

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A Great Classic triumphs over age and minor flaws.

Author: Cleon from United States
18 August 2003

Yes, today some of it seems campy and jingoistic, but Sands of Iwo Jima, is such a classic that it can’t help being a worthy way to spend 100 minutes.

First of all, there is John Wayne as Sergeant Stryker. Stryker was the model on which virtually every screen portrayal of a tough sergeant is based. The character’s angst and intensity also give us a rare glimpse of John Wayne’s true acting ability. In most movies he just portrayed himself, but there is no swagger in Stryker, just loneliness, fear, and hope. He is by far the most convincing character in this movie, and one of the top from any war movie, period.

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Next: the history. Ok, the actual characters have no basis in fact, but the battles certainly do. The battles for Tarawa and Iwo Jima were very important to the war and tragically costly in lives. They deserve to be remembered. The production mixed a lot of actual footage taken at the actual battles and mixed it in with the regular film. The two look fairly similar since both are black and white, but you can tell what is real and what was shot for the movie. One’s first reaction to this might be that the production went cheapskate, but, in a way, the use of real stock battle footage was more moving than an epic legion of extras like in The Longest Day. You just can’t beat reality for realism, and seeing the real islands and the real marines is an eerie reminder of how many men died in those horrific battles.

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Finally: the supporting cast. Ok, I can’t rave about them all, but most were entertaining, especially Wally Cassell. Also, Forrest Tucker puts in a fine performance, the only one remotely close to Wayne’s in its depth.

Some of the anachronisms are a bit funny, but my only real complaint in the whole movie was John Agar’s character Peter Conway. I don’t know who was at fault for it, Agar or the writers, but his character is hard to take. I think we are meant to like him, but for about the first 90 minutes that is pretty much impossible.

Otherwise, it’s a great movie. See it!

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