Midway (1976)

Directed by Jack Smight
Cinematography Harry Stradling Jr.

Midway, released in the United Kingdom as Battle of Midway and in the US on video as The Battle of Midway, is a 1976 American Technicolor war film directed by Jack Smight and produced by Walter Mirisch from a screenplay by Donald S. Sanford.  The film features an international cast of stars including Charlton Heston, Henry Fonda, James Coburn, Glenn Ford, Hal Holbrook, Toshiro Mifune, Robert Mitchum, Cliff Robertson, Robert Wagner, James Shigeta, Pat Morita, Robert Ito and Christina Kokubo, among others.

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Henry Fonda       Glenn Ford     Robert Mitchum

The film was the second of only four films released with a Sensurround sound mix which required special speakers to be installed in movie theatres. The other Sensurround films were Earthquake (1974), Rollercoaster (1977), and Battlestar Galactica (1978). The regular soundtrack (dialog, background and music) was monaural; a second optical track was devoted to low frequency rumble added to battle scenes and when characters were near unmuffled military engines.

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Midway proved extremely popular with movie audiences, earning over $43 million at the box office, becoming the tenth most popular movie of 1976. Robert Niemi, author of History in the Media: Film and Television, stated that Midway’s “clichéd dialogue” and an overuse of stock footage led the film to have a “shopworn quality that signalled the end of the heroic era of American-made World War II epics.” He described the film as a “final, anachronistic attempt to recapture World War II glories in a radically altered geopolitical era, when the old good-versus-evil dichotomies no longer made sense.”

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Later studies by Japanese and American military historians call into question key scenes, like the dive-bombing attack that crippled the first Japanese carrier, the Akagi. In the movie, American pilots report, “They’ve got bombs all over their flight deck! We caught ’em flat-footed! No fighters and a deck full of bombs!” As Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully write in “Shattered Sword” (2005) that aerial photography shows nearly empty decks. In addition, Japanese carriers loaded armament onto planes below the flight deck, unlike American carriers. The fact that a closed hangar full of armaments was hit by bombs made damage to Akagi more devastating than if planes, torpedoes and bombs were on an open deck.

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It’s overall what counts

5 December 2003 | by riskytakr (Chicago, IL) – See all my reviews

This was one of my favorite movies when I was growing up and building models of land, sea, and air craft of the WWII period. Of course we all could have done without the romantic interest, but what counts is the overall telling of the story accurately (even if that includes sideline dramatizations etc.). In a nutshell Midway was a gamble and even though we knew where they’d be, we still took it on the chin with the loss of most of the aircraft and the Yorktown (which left only 2 effective carriers in the pacific and 1 in drydock). In the end we were lucky enough to be able to inflict sufficiently more damage on them than they did on us. This is the story that is told so well.

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It doesn’t matter that the special effects were less than stellar (e.g., view of the fleet from the sealevel – obvious miniatures) or that they showed Essex class carriers which did not yet exist getting hit by kamikaze. The film is true in its depictions of gambles, gaffs, and good fortune which in the end allowed us to be victorious and end Japanese expansion. So quit knocking it and enjoy it for what it is!

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Flawed But Still Satisfying

Author: Eric-62-2 from Morristown, NJ
20 September 2003

Of course “Midway” is a flawed movie. The subplot about Japanese-Americans is ridiculous and seems like a forced attempt to be PC during the post-Vietnam 1970s when it wasn’t in fashion to be completely celebratory of America. Of course it’s unsatisfying that the Japanese actors don’t speak Japanese and we have to hear Paul Frees dubbing Toshiro Mifune. Of course the stock footage isn’t going to please aviation and naval buffs who know these details like the back of their hands, but to me this is a trivial complaint that fails to take into account the limits of 1970s technology or budgeting. “Pearl Harbor” ultimately got those details right through CGI and the end result was a far worse film in the final analysis.

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Because ultimately, for all the flaws that are in “Midway” it succeeds because it does stick to the essential truths when telling the story of the battle, and I know this because when I first saw this movie on the CBS Late Movie around 1979, I got so hooked that I went out and read every book on the battle I could find including Walter Lord’s “Incredible Victory.” The movie had given me a starting reference point and while I was sorry that some key aspects of the latter stages of the battle were not depicted (such as the torpedoing and eventual sinking of the Yorktown), I couldn’t have asked for anything better in terms of getting me to learn more about this great turning point of World War II. As far as I’m concerned, it’s good that Hollywood did tackle this subject in an era when the influence of “Tora! Tora! Tora!”, “The Longest Day” etc. still hung over the proceedings because if it hadn’t been made back then, we would today be forced to see it given the “Pearl Harbor” and “Titanic” treatment that is pure garbage.

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John Williams contributes one of his finer pre-Star Wars scores with two great themes, the “Midway March” (which is only heard in the end credits of the theatrical version and became more popular in an expanded concert arrangement by the Boston Pops) and the “Men Of The Yorktown March” which dominates much of the score and offers great foreshadowings of the Throne Room sequence in “Star Wars” and the Smallville music in “Superman.”

Blast from the past

Author: Philby-3 from Sydney, Australia
5 June 1999

Saturday night TV is a bit of a dead zone down here so I suppose one should be grateful for the odd watchable movie, even if its 20 years old. This one looks older than it actually is, due to the liberal use of stock footage and a cast that’s a retirement counsellor’s dream.

A relatively youthful Charlton Heston is in the lead, but there’s Henry Fonda, Glenn Ford, Robert Mitchum, Robert Webber and even the great Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune. A curious aspect is that every military character with a speaking part is an officer; the grunts just get to grunt. It’s very much the view from the bridge (and the pilot’s seat). Despite this aspect and the attempt at historical realism it’s not made clear quite how it was that the Japanese made the error that cost them the battle, getting caught with their flightdecks full just as the American torpedo bombers arrived. The contribution of the American land-based aircraft is also given scant recognition.

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Still you do get a bit of a story, though the less said about the silly sub-plot involving the Heston character’s son and a Japanese-American girl the better. The director, Jack Smight had extensive T V experience, as did many of the younger actors, and this shows up in the rather static dialogue scenes you get when you aren’t allowed to move the cameras much. The Japanese voices are dubbed, so that Paul Free, the voice of Boris Badenov in “Bullwinkle,” (and countless other cartoon characters) is Admiral Yamamoto. The music was written by John Williams who a year or so later did the music for “Star Wars” and you can sense the similarities.

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In the film the military operations side of things abounds with anacronisms, partly due to the liberal use of stock footage as mentioned. I don’t think you can be too hard on the producers (the low profile but financially successful Mirisch Brothers) for not using a real Japanese World War 2 aircraft carrier since they are all at the bottom of the sea, but the crashed jet on the Yorktown’s flightdeck was a bit sloppy. “Tora Tora Tora,” which cost more money, was a better film. Not because it cost more money but because it was more carefully made, more balanced (both side’s story told well) and more honest, perhaps also because it dealt with defeat rather than victory from the American viewpoint. “Midway” has some suspense, plenty of action, and the the patriotism drum is not banged to the point of pain.

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On The Turn Of a Dime

7/10
Author: bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York
23 July 2007

The film Midway shows in graphic documentary style, the battle that did nothing less than save America and ultimately allow us to win World War II. If the Japanese had prevailed at Midway, they might very well have taken Hawaii and been blockading our continental Pacific coast. We might have had to declare a truce and hope that public opinion would allow us to continue the European and North African war. Remember the USA was brought in to the war because of the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, not Hitler’s attack.

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There is a plot of sorts with Charlton Heston as the fictional pilot group commander who’s involved in helping his son Edward Albert help a Nisei family who’ve been interred for the duration of the war because Albert is engaged to the daughter. That’s the one weakness of Midway, the story really wasn’t necessary and detracted with the very precise telling of the Midway tale. Had they left it out, Midway had the potential to be a classic like The Longest Day.

Without Charlton Heston and his family problems, the story of Midway is told with remarkable historic accuracy. Henry Fonda who played Admiral Chester W. Nimitz in all but name in In Harm’s Way, gets to play Nimitz again in Midway. Robert Mitchum and Glenn Ford play Admirals William Halsey and Raymond Spruance who between the two of them won America’s Pacific war. A whole lot of fine character actors like James Coburn, Robert Wagner, Robert Webber, Hal Holbrook and many more fill their naval roles to precision.

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The story of the Battle of Midway should be told and told again in America’s public schools for future generations. Not just because of the sailors and airmen of America’s greatest generation who fought and prevailed at Midway, but because of just how close a run thing the Battle of Midway was. One very fateful decision by Admirals Yamamoto and Nagumo turned the tide of battle on a dime. By the way the oriental players in Midway like Toshiro Mifune as Yamamoto and James Shigeta as Nagumo and others also play very well. The American cinema certainly came a long way from when they previously cast the Japanese as bucktooth primates.

When the viewer sees just how much pure luck played a part in winning at Midway, they will come away with one of two impressions. The first might be that a divine providence is guiding and protecting America. If so, who’s to say that will always be the case. And if not, the second lesson might be that we as a country might not always be so lucky.

If they could edit out the Heston family story, Midway is a great film for history classes studying World War 2

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