- Directed by Edward Ludwig
- January 27, 1944 (LA) / March 10, 1944 (US)
A fictionalized account of the issues that caused the forming of the U.S. Navy’s “Seabees” during World War II.
Not only was John Wayne ‘King of the Western’ but he made some of the better war actioners of his day. Most did not delve deep into much of anything but rather they leaned into excitement and action. The Fighting Seabees is no different. It aims for drama and romance leaving reality as an almost secondary consideration. Not that it avoids it completely, but this film sells war more as a serious adventure and how things can get accomplished via the American spirit.
As action movies of the era go this is not too bad. Battle scenes are expertly filmed. The story itself is more melodrama than hard hitting war story. It was meant to boost the spirits of the nation during WWII. Remember that because this has some language used about the Japanese that you could not get away with today. They needed to keep the nation focused on them as the enemy.
John Wayne for his part is civilian contractor “Wedge” Donovan. Mercifully they call him mostly ‘Donovan’ throughout the narrative and is angry that the US military will not allow his men to carry weapons to defend themselves. It’s not as if the military are being jerks. If those civilians are armed and join in the fighting, then they can be legally considered enemy combatants and shot at.
We get a young Susan Hayward as spunky reporter Constance Chesley. Constance is the token love interest for Donovan and his romantic rival in the story but Hayward managed to make her material a little something more than that. However she couldn’t save the scene when Constance was seriously injured. It may have worked at the time, but when Constance begins saying “It’s getting dark” I just started laughing because I had seen such dialogue used in parodies of death scenes numerous times before this. It is always hilariously cheesy.
The meet cute in the story for Constance and Donovan would not work in real life. I can’t imagine getting popped in the face accidentally TWICE in the same day by the same person and still having a positive attitude towards them. But then again that’s just me and I am a real person and not a work of fiction. They just need to connect the two before the introduction of Lt. Commander Robert Yarrow (Dennis O’Keefe) and his connection to Constance.
Yarrow is as much Donovan’s friend as he is the romantic rival of the story. They compete both for her and as they proceed in their war duties but never really become enemies. As a character he’s a bit of a blank slate. He represents the rules and regulations that need to be followed in order to establish what eventually becomes the Seabees. He is the reality of the world which Donovan’s will comes up against.
If you’re a fan of classic film or classic television it’s more than likely you will recognize William Frawley as Eddie Powers in this. I am well aware he had a movie career before I Love Lucy, but to see him in anything other than I Love Lucy is a little strange as well as a real treat. He plays one of many individuals that has been won over and brought into the employ of the rugged Donovan.
The romance between Donovan and Constance is done well enough but I think it moved a little too swiftly. It should’ve been stretched out a little further than it was. I’m left with the feeling that Constance would’ve preferred Donovan over Yarrow but took Yarrow as a consolation prize. At least that’s how the dialogue came off. “I loved Donovan, but I love you too so I’m going to hook up with you since you’re the only one left alive.” But Hayward managed to sell it just enough that it wasn’t something that stopped you dead in your tracks. That’s talent.
Donovan’s coming around to the reality of things with Seabees was better crafted. There are consequences to allowing his people to fight. What he was trying to prevent by arming them is exactly what happened with arming them. Unfortunately, there are no good answers and he would simply rather give them a fighting chance than no chance at all.
There was just something very enjoyable about this from start to finish. Edward Ludwig and Wayne also made Wake of the Red Witch together, but this is a much more enjoyable film. There is an intangible entertainment quality that sells this much better than that film.
The Fighting Seabees is a good action film of its era. The action scenes are well done, and the story is just rousing and entertaining. I definitely recommend this one.