So Proudly We Hail – 1943

Claudette Colbert, Veronica Lake and Paulette Goddard

American films from the war years of 1942-1945 usually contain a bubbling amount of patriotic fervor and So Proudly We Hail isn't different in that regard, but it is tempered quite a bit with a grimmer and grittier appreciation of the slaughter inherent to warfare. When the film was released, the final reckoning of which side was to win the world war, whether it was to be the Axis or Allies, was far from clear, and So Proudly We Hail actually chronicles the American and Filipino defeats at Bataan and then Corregidor, so the setting of the tale isn't a platform for confident resolve, anyway, despite plenty of plucky defiance and risk-taking.

On the other hand we do get a Hollywood wrapping of something like a happy ending which begins with a comatose Claudette Colbert aboard a ship that is evacuating a team of nurses from the Philippines to Australia, and then we get an explanation of how she got that way. What follows is a flashback of a tumultuous series of disasters as the nurses are shifted from place to place while supporting the fighting in various battlefronts. We see an increasingly overwhelming force of Japanese making it clear what's going to happen as support from outside disappears and a hoped for convoy of supply is simply dismissed with "it was sunk" as the end gets closer. Finally, what's left of the American and Filipino defense is crammed onto the little island of Corregidor to face the end.

In between is the story of the relationships of the nurses, with each other and with various secondary characters, and despite all of the fighting and bloodshed going on around them, a few develop boy friends (Claudette Colbert with George Reeves, and Paulette Goddard with Sonny Tufts). Veronica Lake appears as a sullen and bitter nurse who has seen more action than the others, and she's got a boyfriend, too, but he's dead, but his memory motivates Lake's character in ways that are far darker than the "angels of mercy" spirit of the team.

The scope of the film is huge at times, director Mark Sandrich lending an epic quality to the sight of masses of soldiers, civilians and the nurses fleeing in a mad panic to escape falling bombs and the frightening lethality of being strafed by low flying, unopposed Japanese warplanes. The slow-motion collapse of the combined American-Filipino force gives So Proudly We Hail an anguished and often angry quality that supercedes the basic melodrama of the love-stories and the trauma of so many in the cast dying. The escape of the nurses to Australia is a welcome relief, the audience getting paid off for sticking with what is a rather brutal tale of loss on multiple levels. And the happy ending? Well, many of the nurses are still alive, and there's a chance the boyfriends might be, too.

Kino Lorber has a Blu Ray of So Proudly We Hail, page about it online here.

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Original Page January 25, 2024