Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Girl Week 2018: Cry 'Havoc,' a guest review by Joel

It's Day 2 of Girl Week 2018. Personally, I think this is one of the great traditions on this blog. Another tradition goes hand-in-hand with it - Joel taking over the place. I'm honored to once again let him do so. With that, I'm stepping out of the way and letting him do his thing. All yours, Joel.

Directed by Richard Thorpe.
1943. Not Rated, 97 minutes.
Margaret Sullivan
Ann Sothern
Joan Blondell
Fely Franquelli
Fay Bainter
Marsha Hunt
Frances Gifford
Diana Lewis

During WWII nine young female volunteers, a mixture of Americans, English and a young Filipina (Manila born actress Fely Franquelli), arrive from the port town of Mariveles at a war torn jungle hospital unit on the small Philippine peninsula of Bataan looking to do their bit. Desperately shorthanded two army nurses, Captain Marsh (Fay Bainter) and Lt. “Smitty” Smith (Margaret Sullavan) along with four other female volunteers including the pragmatic Flo Norris (Marsha Hunt-a victim of the blacklist but still with us at 101!) try to ease their way and help them face the reality of their situation. A bit starry eyed-flighty southern belle Nydia wonders when the first mixer will be at the canteen. They are quickly disabused of their zeal when within a few hours of their arrival the hospital is strafed by Japanese aerial fire and one of their number goes missing.

As the days then weeks go by and the flood of wounded never lets up, the switchboard delivers ever more dire news and the enemy moves relentlessly closer to cutting off all access to help or ultimately escape the women work, argue, joke, despair and band together as they struggle to keep going and not let their hope be extinguished.

With its almost totally female cast, there are a few short appearances by men-including a very young just starting out Robert Mitchum who is in and out of the picture in about a minute, the focus is totally on both the camaraderie and competition of these women as they attempt to coexist in their tiny underground bunker.

Fortunately, the picture is loaded with actresses who are equal to the task of making their characters both vivid and relatable. Each actress gets some type of spotlight moment and all are terrific, but a few stand out.

The great but tormented Margaret Sullivan in her second to last feature as the outwardly tough Smitty, a woman who is hiding many secrets provides the film with a strong center. She understands how untenable the situation is and that it will only worsen but her job is to lead these women, so she adopts a rigid by the book attitude risking the ire of the others but at the same time keeping their fighting spirit alive.

Ann Sothern as the street-smart Pat Conlin, all sharp edges and tough talk develops an immediate enmity with Smitty and becomes her unwitting rival for the unseen Lt. Holt, secretly married to Smitty (a violation of army regulations). While she never exactly softens, she does provide glimpses into Pat’s humanity particularly in a rending scene where she and one of the other girls, Helen (Frances Gifford) are cataloging the fatalities possessions before placing them on a tellingly large pile of others.

It’s not all doom and gloom with the aforementioned somewhat dizzy and naïve Nydia (Diana Lewis-a delightful actress who retired directly after this film to be a full time wife to actor William Powell) and Joan Blondell as Grace a former burlesque queen providing flashes of humor (during an air raid Grace nervously says "I feel like a bubble dancer with a slow leak.")

While the primary underground bunker setting belies its stage origins, the picture is based on the play “Proof Through the Night”, and actual field hospitals are no doubt rougher than the one shown here the film still doesn't scrimp and try to make this seem glamorous in any way. When one of the girls gripes about the food the hospital cook Sadie (Connie Gilchrist) shoots back “Horse meat, mule meat, monkey meat. That’s quite a variety.” Which turns out to be true when they eventually have to subsist only on rice. These women are going through hell and the ending leaves little doubt that their struggles are far from over but that their courage helped win the war.

A fantastic opportunity to see an amazing group of actresses, perhaps not the most famous but some of the best working during the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Day 1's Girl Week Post

Click below for more movies from the 1940s


  1. Wow, I've never heard about this movie before. I need to check it out. Great review, Joel!

    1. Thanks Brittani! I love the film even though it's subject is grim. Hope you enjoy it when you catch up with it. Would love to hear your thoughts.

  2. This looks great Dell! Love the pictures you illustrated it with, especially the header which I've never seen before. As always thanks for letting me participate!!

    1. Thanks! The great review from you was my guide. It was tough, though. Most of the pics out there for this were really blurry.

    2. Well double kudos then, that picture of Ann Sothern in particular is so crisp. Also thanks for the kind words about the review, hope it inspires you to watch the film.

  3. This is another of the great films I so want to see and isn’t it great Marsha Hunt is still alive and well...I hope she is well. I love all these actresses and what a shame that Margaret Sullivan is not as well known now.

    1. From what I've read Marsha Hunt is still going strong, alert and active which is tremendous. She was a wonderful actress.

      I know what you mean about loving all these actresses, the first time I happened upon the film and one after another they appeared on screen I thought I had fallen into some kind of special movie lovers heaven where only people I was a fan of were cast!

      It is a pity Maggie Sullavan isn't better known today, most people if they know her at all it's from The Shop Around the Corner. That's a great film and there are far worse things to be remembered for but she was such a talented and unique performer her other work should be seen. She didn't do a great deal of film preferring the stage and hating the Hollywood scene but most of her movies are worth seeing. She was a troubled, difficult complex woman with a complicated off-screen life, if you can find it I recommend her daughter Brooke Hayward's book about their life "Haywire".

      This runs off and on on TCM so is at least somewhat accessible.

    2. I meant to include a list of recommended films for Margaret Sullavan beside this one of course. She only made 16, she makes any of them worth watching and none are outright dreadful but as is always the case some are better than others.

      The Shop Around the Corner really is her best as well as her most well-known. It gets shown often around Christmas so this is a good time to catch it, it's one of the best examples of the Lubitsch touch. She and Jimmy Stewart made several pictures together-this is their best. They had started out together off Broadway along with Henry Fonda-who became her first husband-and Stewart (as well as Fonda even though their marriage didn't last) loved her madly, in his case unrequitedly, and both were devastated when she committed suicide at 50. She was discovered first and was instrumental in bringing Jimmy Stewart to Hollywood.

      The Moon's Our Home-Cute romantic comedy was her only costarring film with Henry Fonda which they made after their divorce. They had a complicated bond, even though they couldn't make their marriage work they remained close all her life and if she was ever in trouble he came running. Their children were extremely close as well to the point that Peter Fonda fell in love with her youngest daughter Bridget Hayward. Sadly Bridget committed suicide at 21 (Sullavan's son William also committed suicide a few years ago-only oldest daughter Brooke is left). Bridget Fonda is named after her.

      The Mortal Storm-Again with Stewart but this is a heavy drama about the rise of Nazism.

      Back Street-There are several versions of this but this one is the best. She costars with Charles Boyer.

      The Shopworn Angel-Also a Stewart co-starrer. She's a worldly jaded woman who is changed by the sweet simple Jimmy before he goes off to fight in WWI.

      The Good Fairy-She's a naive young girl who tries to be a "good fairy" to others less fortunate but finds it rough going. Directed by William Wyler who briefly became husband #2.

      The Shining Hour-It's a wildly florid Joan Crawford drama but she's very good in it.

    3. I know all the films except for The Good Fairy which really makes me want to see it. I have read haywire and own the book which is a good book to read. Jimmy Stewart was very much in love with her and his wife looks a bit like Margaret Sullivan. Obviously the gene for depression runs deep in her family and how sad her kids took their own lives except for Brooke who must shoulder this grief. When she was so difficult it seems the only one who could calm her was Jimmy Stewart and i always felt bad for him to have such a strong love for someone who never felt the same. To her credit she never abused his love the way many women often do. It's a shame she was going deaf which precipitated her suicide...if it was today, she may have been able to save her hearing and get proper help.