The Fighting Seabees
Drama / Romance / War
Directed by Edward Ludwig
Written by Borden Chase, Aeneas Mackenzie
Produced by Albert J. Cohen
Cinematography by William Bradford
Distributed by Republic Pictures
John Wayne as Lt. Cmdr. Wedge Donovan
Susan Hayward as Constance Chesley
Dennis O'Keefe as Lt. Cmdr. Robert Yarrow
William Frawley as Eddie Powers
Leonid Kinskey as Johnny Novasky
J.M. Kerrigan as Sawyer Collins
Grant Withers as Whanger Spreckles
Paul Fix as Ding Jacobs
Ben Welden as Yump Lumkin
William Forrest as Lt. Tom Kerrick
Addison Richards as Capt. Joyce
Jay Norris as Joe Brick
Duncan Renaldo as Construction worker at party
Wally Wales as Lt. Cmdr. Hood
Wedge Donovan is a hardnosed, hard working man who runs a reputable construction company that is working to build airstrips for the U.S. Navy during World War II. Wedge is on hand to greet a crew of his workers returning from a job on an island in the South Pacific Theater and he is shocked and angered when he hears that the Japanese are actively targeting the technicians because they are harder to replace than soldiers. As civilians, the workers are not armed, and were defenseless and they lost quite a few men. Wedge immediately goes to see Lt. Cmdr. Bob Yarrow, who was in charge of the Navy forces, to read him the riot act so to speak, but much of the steam is taken out of his sails when Bob agrees with everything that Wedge has to say. Bob invites Wedge to travel to Washington D.C with him to present his case, and press for forming a construction battalion. Wedge agrees and goes to Washington, where he is eager to get started; however his excitement fades when he discovers that his men will need many weeks of training before they are ready to handle weapons. Infuriated with all the bureaucratic mess that he finds himself in, he declares that his men will fend for themselves and storms out of the meeting.
When Wedge’s men go back to the South Pacific on another assignment, Wedge escorts them so he can see firsthand what is going on. Also accompanying them is a group of war correspondents, lead by Constance Chesley, who feels a strong attraction to Wedge despite being already involved with Bob. Wedge has similar feelings, but resists them.
A short time later the work on the airfield is halted by a Japanese fighter attack and the planes gun down several of Wedge’s men as they run for shelter. Wedge doesn’t see the Navy forces engaging the enemy and assumes that they have thrown his men to the wolves. He orders his men to grab guns and his men go out to fight. Unbeknownst to Wedge, he has led his men into a trap that the Navy was setting for the Japanese, and as a result many of his men are killed. Although the Navy is victorious in the battle, a wounded Japanese soldier gets off a last shot, hitting Connie. Wedge has her in his arms and they profess their love for one another, unfortunately within earshot of Bob. Bob questions Wedge about this later, and Wedge states he was only saying it to soothe Connie in her time of need.
Wedge attends to his wounded men, overcome with guilt and has no defense when Bob places the blame for the debacle squarely on Wedge’s shoulders. However, in spite of things, Bob still wants Wedge to help him push for the armed construction battalion. Wedge agrees and they make plans to leave. The night before they depart however, Connie is also departing for Washington, and during saying goodbyes, Wedge tells her that she should stay with Bob. Connie is heartbroken by the turn of events, but Bob tells her he still loves her.
The next assignment for the Seabee’s is a much needed strategic oil depot, again located in the South Pacific. In spite of Japanese snipers, work progresses quickly and the project doesn’t take long to complete. However, as Eddie Powers, Wedge’s foreman, opens the first oil valve he is shot and killed by a sniper. Enraged, Wedge orders his men into the jungle to search for snipers. Unbeknownst to Wedge, a fog is rolling in that brings with it the threat of Japanese ships slipping in. Bob gets a report of the fog, and goes to inform Wedge and discovers that Wedge has abandoned his post and gone into the jungle. Meanwhile, a battle is erupting elsewhere on the island and as American fighters come in to refuel, the Japanese attack to sabotage the oil depot. Japanese troops land on the island and Bob is wounded in an encounter with them. Wedge finally returns to his post to find Bob, and realizes the situation is grim. Although Bob realizes that he might face court martial later, he tells Wedge to arm his men and defend the oil depot at all costs. This is the opportunity Wedge and his men have been waiting for and they quickly move into action. Wedge uses his technical expertise instead of military might, and while his men engage the Japanese soldiers, Wedge opens a valve of an oil tank to spill out around the enemy troops and then engulfs them using a booby trapped bulldozer. The enemy is successfully routed, although Wedge was killed as he was completing his mission.
Back in the states, Connie watches Bob announce that the Seabee’s are to receive a Presidential commendation for their courage under fire.
Originally Superman star George Reeves was set to work with John Wayne, but he was drafted into the Army Air Corps and he could not appear.
This is one of the rare times we get to see John Wayne dance. He does the Jitterbug in a nightclub scene.
This is the film debut of Joe Brooks.
Republic pictures used stock footage from the film Flying Tigers (1942) for portions of the film.
Paramount loaned Republic Pictures’ Susan Hayward to star in this film.
The movie’s title comes from a nickname of Command Battalion, CB, or Seabees.
Originally the movie was to star the real life commander of the Seabees, Captain Henry P. Needham. Needham spent two days filming in Port Hueneme, HI for the film, but did not appear in the final edit.
The film made use of footage of the real Navy Seabees marching in review before the Secretary of the Navy.
This is one of seven films in which John Wayne’s character dies at the end of the film.
The Film was nominated for an Academy award for best music.