They Were Expendable
Drama / Romance / War
Directed by John Ford
Written by William L. White and Frank Wead
Produced by John Ford
Cinematography by Joseph H. August
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
They Were Expendable trailer
Robert Montgomery as Lieutenant John Brickley
John Wayne as Lieutenant (junior grade) 'Rusty' Ryan
Donna Reed as 2nd Lieutenant Sandy Davys
Jack Holt as General Martin
Ward Bond as BMC 'Boats' Mulcahey
Marshall Thompson as Ensign 'Snake' Gardner
Paul Langton as Ensign 'Andy' Andrews
Leon Ames as Major James Morton
Arthur Walsh as Seaman Jones
Donald Curtis as Lieutenant (J.G.) 'Shorty' Long
Cameron Mitchell as Ensign George Cross
Jeff York as Ensign Tony Aiken
Murray Alper as TM1 'Slug' Mahan
Harry Tenbrook as 'Squarehead' Larsen SC 2c
Jack Pennick as 'Doc'
At the beginning of the U.S. involvement in World War II, PT boat commander Lieutenant Rusty Ryan is frustrated at the Navy’s inability to see the combat value of the PT boat. He is so frustrated that he is about to request a transfer when he hears word of the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor.
Teamed up with fellow Lieutenant John Brickley, Rusty is finally able to show the Navy what the PT boats can do during numerous combat operations. As the boats are whittled down in number one by one, the crews of the destroyed boats become useful as infantry. However, Rusty and John have shown the Navy the value of the boats and are flown home to train the next group of PT boat crews.
They Were Expendable was nominated for two Academy Awards, for Best Effects, and Best Sound.
This was John Ford’s first war movie.
Robert Montgomery served as a PT boat Commander during WWII. His experience, along with Ford’s disappointment in John Wayne for his lack of service, led John Ford to put Montgomery in charge of several scenes while Ford was recovering from a fractured leg, an injury he received on the set.
During filming, Ford was relentless in his insulting of John Wayne, putting him down every chance he got, and elevating Robert Montgomery, who had served in the war. Ford was always disappointed in Wayne for not serving his country, a weight Wayne would continue to bear throughout his life. During this movie, right after the war, the wounds were at their freshest. At one point during filming, Robert Montgomery went to Ford and told him that if he were insulting Wayne for Montgomery’s benefit, he needed to stop immediately. This ended the bulk of Wayne’s torment at the director’s hands.
They Were Expendable is a fictionalized account of the exploits of John Bulkeley, who received the Medal of Honor for his service in WWII. They Were Expendable is based on the book by William L. White detailing the stories of John Bulkeley, Robert Kelly and U.S. Army Nurse Peggy Smith. Unhappy with the way the movie portrayed them, Robert and Peggy sued MGM, John Wayne and Donna Reed for the portrayal. They eventually settled out of court for a nominal sum.
The film was originally to be produced by Sidney Franklin, but he turned it over to John Ford.
When MGM bought the story, they had intended it as a vehicle for Spencer Tracy.
Ford donated his salary for the film to a fund to help Navy Veterans recover from their injuries.
During filming, Ward Bond was involved in a serious car accident. As such Ford had to shoot around his injuries. Notice that Bond delivers most of his lines while remaining still, with him being shown walking only once.