Directed by Nicholas Ray
Drama / War / Action
John Wayne as Dan Kirby
Robert Ryan as Capt. Carl 'Griff' Griffin
Don Taylor as Cowboy
Janis Carter as Joan Kirby
Jay C. Flippen as Line Chief Clancy
William Harrigan as Dr. Joe Curan
James Bell as Colonel
Barry Kelley as General
Maurice Jara as Shorty Vegay
Adam Williams as Lt. 'Big Joe' Malotke
James Dobson as Pudge McCabe
Major Dan Kirby is selected to lead Marine fighter squadron VMF247 instead of the current executive officer, Captain Carl Griffin, a decision that the men of the squad resent. To make matters worse, Kirby is a strict by-the-book officer and proves this when he orders Lt. Simmons to stand court marshal for breaking formation to go after an enemy fighter. Griffin tries to intervene on the young Lieutenant’s behalf, to no avail. After an outbreak of jungle fever Kirby is forced to reinstate Simmons. More missions need to be flown, and Kirby and Griffin continue to struggle over the morale of the troops to continue to be an effective fighting force. It appears that Griffin might just win command of the squad when Kirby is rotated out of the squad, but that changes quickly when Kirby is promoted to Colonel and reassigned back to the operation on Guadalcanal. Griffin’s brother-in-law, Cowboy, is assigned to the squad to replace lost pilots, and Griffin is given his biggest test when Cowboy’s plane is shot down. The squad wants to break formation to help him, but Griffin realizes that doing so could cost more lives and jeopardize the larger mission and orders his squad to stay on course. His personal sacrifice and willingness to put the lives of others above his own family finally convinces Kirby that Griffin is ready to lead the squad.
Notes: Robert Ryan served in the Marines and was both a drill instructor and a boxer with a 5-0 record with 3 knockouts. It is partially due to this that led him to be cast opposite John Wayne by director Nicholas Ray. Ray reportedly stated that Ryan was the only actor he could think of that could “kick Wayne’s ass.” Ryan didn’t get along well with Wayne at all on the set, due primarily to a difference of political views. Ryan was a liberal democrat who campaigned for civil liberties and could not understand John Wayne’s support for blacklisting in Hollywood.
The character of Major Kirby was based on Major John L. Smith who shot down 19 Japanese planes in the Solomon Islands campaign. Under his command Marine Fighter Squadron 223 destroyed 83 enemy aircraft. He was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Roosevelt.