~Women In World War II - Film Review~
I had no idea what to expect when I popped this DVD into my little, black, spinning machine. But, I was delightfully surprised by what I had discovered within.
I’m a huge fan of old, classic films - especially from the 1940’s and into the 1950’s. Those years are, without a doubt, my favorite era of filmography. And having knowledge of, and already having viewed, countless movies from that time period, I was shocked that I had never run across this one.
I believe this film was recommended to me by Big Tech. You know - the guys who know more about you than you do about yourself.
One of the big sites told me I should check this out. And, either they really do know me better than I do, or a little birdie told them how completely and utterly patriotic I really am. A quick glimpse of the movie poster, imagery, and really, the title alone, and I immediately clicked. A simple skim of the plot, and I went straight over to the Jacksonville Public Library mobile app and requested to rent.
What a joy!
And what sorrow…
For anyone who is even a remote fan of World War II films, this one is a must-see. The title says it all, and the title does do it justice.
Based upon a true story, So Proudly We Hail tackles a plot involving a ‘small’ and somewhat forgotten and overlooked bullet point of WWII subject matter - WOMEN.
The Women of War… The Women of World Wars... The Women who also risked it all - for freedom.
While, of course, men did most of the fighting, and dying in WWII, women were also heavily involved, at home, and abroad. And contrary to popular belief, women were allowed on the front lines. It just wasn’t discussed, acknowledged, and brought to our attention as it should have been.
Yes - It should have been - so that we could honor the might and bravery and history of American women - in the world's biggest and mightiest war.
No - it wasn’t just Rosie the Riveter back on the homefront, representing the women of American wartime, in bomber plants and machine shops across the U.S. for the Defense industry.
While we remember and know Rosie pretty well - we cannot overlook Nancy the Nurse.
She was nursing on the warfront, and she tackled the death and destruction straight in evil’s path.
So, while Rosie riveted away on airplanes and war ships and other munitions, Nancy was also seaming and mending pieces together, with stitches and staples of a different sort, and working on a different sort of product.
Rosie handled the steel - and Nancy handled the blood and guts.
But they all gave it their all... and that’s all that really mattered at the time.
Starring Claudette Colbert and Paulette Goddard, two of the silver screen’s most extraordinary stars at the time, So Proudly We Hail, accurately, and with great detail, captures the role females in the Army had during some of the war's most challenging times.
And before going any further with this review, I want to highlight an aspect of the film which I deem one of the most important - its context - Time.
So Proudly We Hail was released in 1943 - during the height and depth of WWII. The context is imperative. This film was produced during the war - and not AFTER the war.
This context is of extreme importance, and is what makes this film quite different from WWII films released AFTER WWII was complete. When the war was literally over, extinguished, not of this Earth any longer.
Context is something that - we - society today - have all but forgotten. And context is essential to our understanding of the time period.
And why context is so crucial should be so very obvious, but increasingly isn’t. The war was RAGING while this film was viewed in theaters all over the United States. The war was being fought, the people were sacrificing, people were dying, and the people were afraid of their unknown futures.
American’s had no idea who was going to win the war while watching this film upon its release. Yet, American’s still sacrificed, and they still gave up so very much. All for a belief... a simple, true and noble belief - in hope.
For a better future.
For a free world.
For an end to slavery and tyranny, concentration camps, hate, imperialism - and against the destruction of faith - and for value of personal freedom.
So, while I do love watching these old classic films in the context of the world of today - seemingly and literally a million miles away from the values and context of a world that was alive less than a hundred years ago. I also equally enjoyed viewing So Proudly We Hail with the remembrance of the fact that all of this was made and written and said and sweated over while we were still fighting against the Third Reich and the Imperial Japanese.
No one at the time knew how this horrific world war would end, especially in 1942 and 1943. Only really in 1944 could some see a light at the end of the tunnel. Again, calling all of context into play here.
It all could have gone either way at that point in 1943. The world could have gone the way of the thousand year reign of a fascist dictator, or it could, and did, go in the direction of freedom. And that fact of their lack of knowledge of the future is what I enjoy the very most when I view these films of that time period.
Additionally, and of quite importance regarding the axis power of Japan during the time, no one knew we would someday become allies, and what I have always viewed as a special kinship and friendship between the United States and Japan - after the war.
I believe with all my heart that our relationship with Japan is of solid hope for the world to see - that enemies can become friends. That horrific atrocities on both sides can truly be forgiven. And pave the way toward a better future - for both nations, and others. And this is worth noting due to the scenes in the film where hatred toward the Japanese is discussed from the American point of view at the time.
A time - after - Pearl Harbor had been bombed.
A time - before - Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been bombed.
Of particular note is a scene where Veronica Lake’s character says she is going to ‘kill some Japs.’ She then has a realization - what good would that do? That is not her role. She is sent to the front lines as a nurse - to heal any and all - at a hospital, in the jungle. She does fulfill her role and duty, and does not kill her enemy instead at the time.
Ultimately, however, it is her character that ends up ironically sacrificing herself to save her fellow female soldiers from their enemy at the time - the Japanese. And in her final act, she ends up killing herself - to kill the enemy - to save her American comrades. This scene, showing that no matter how her personal beliefs evolved over the course of their wartime struggles, people still made the ultimate sacrifice. And some still were forced to kill, even if they truly did not want to, in the course of war and evil.
Throughout the entirety of this wonderful piece of film, we are treated to the display of American Army Nurses on patrol, on shift, and their struggles off shift as well. Love, duty, honor, and sacrifice abound the entire film. This movie sheds light on the role of nurses in war, and what tools they had - or did not have - to work with while caring for their patients.
Seemingly forgotten in the jungles, these brave nurses triaged patients under a canopy of palm trees. Their operating rooms were made of tin roofs and cloth sheets for walls. They ran out of what we call today - PPE - personal protective equipment. And they performed surgery without masks. Simply because they just didn’t have any around to use.
Gloves were in extremely short supply. And where today’s hospitals have entire sterile processing programs for surgical instruments, this film portrays how nurses had to wash and sanitize tools in basic garbage bins and barrels - in a futile struggle to remain germ-free for each and every, and endless, patient.
Medicine running out, and at times completely out of supply, patients had to be treated without pain killers, and no anesthesia. A basic - grit your teeth and bear it - sort of agony, for stitching and mending.
And post op - forget any special flower bouquets and treats and books and magazines to keep occupied. Patients by the hundreds and thousands, lay on makeshift stretchers, to suffer through their terrible recoveries in the hot, humid, and wet open air weather of the so-called hospital. All these patients - laying in that shared, open air, watching as our heroic nurses continued treatment on countless other patients seemingly all around them.
And in case one was starting to forget - the film does a solid job of not ever letting us forget that all their hospital work was under constant threat of destruction and actually bombing. Army staff and patients were constantly fleeing enemy soldiers, snipers, airplane attacks from the sky above, and there were constant forced evacuations onto safer land - that was, conspicuously, never found.
As the situation seemed to get worse, for allies in the vicinity, sadly, the war did eventually take a very bad turn for the allies. Bataan, and the Battle of the Philippines, being what many consider one of the American militaries worst failures in our history. In that, the United States, amidst the U.S. and Filipono forces’ inability to hold the line, they ultimately fell - to the Japanese. As the overwhelming and brutal forces of their imperial enemy in this area were too much for both nations to endure. And sadly, after the fall, there was further atrocity - when the Bataan Death March was played out on enemy territory.
Roughly 80,000 American and Filipino troops were contained as prisoners of war, and horrific treatment of these prisoners led to countless further wartime deaths. Post War, Japanese commanders were tried and convicted of war crimes for their knowledge and failure of oversight of subordinates and for allowing these war crimes to take place on their watch.
So, knowing all this, many tears were shed while watching this film. As pain, and suffering, and sacrifice, and hate, and love, were all on full display.
And yes, there was Love.
There was Love - that surrounded the entire film. Love, that gave many hope, I might think, at the time. Love was still happening. Love of all kinds. And this film - in the greatest of great horrors of war time - showed that people were not afraid to actually live while they were alive. Something - as I have said many times - many today have now conclusively forgotten.
We are an afraid people right now. And we are scared to live while we are alive. These people were not. And I am not afraid to live either. The love and life portrayed in this film is indeed something we all can take lessons from today.
During struggle and and sacrifice and the horrors of war, one still must live.
After all, when else is there to live, than when you are alive?
Amidst bombs exploding, one must still live as they watch the bombs fall. In the middle of a raging fire, one must search for water and various types of flame retardants. Surrounded by hate, one must spread good will. And with smoke attempting suffocation, one must still breathe. Life.
If we are not living - we are dying.
If we are not moving - we are receding.
If we are not learning - we are submitting.
If we are not struggling - we are not human.
If we are not risking it all - we are doomed to never know what could truly become.
If we do not know sacrifice - we do not know God’s ultimate glory for us.
If we are not loving - we are doubting God’s creation.
If we do not have Faith - what is our future?
Faith - this brings me to my favorite scene of the entire film.
Walter Abel, playing the role of Army Chaplain, gives a superb performance, and is my favorite actor in the film. He remains, to this day, one of my favorite character actors of the time. His on-screen presence is a joy to me, and a light to my heart. If I had been alive during his lifetime, I would have strived to have met him in real life. And I know I would have written letters to him, thanking him for the joy his characters brought to my heart.
The scene - was of course - Christmas. My favorite holiday. My favorite time of year. Our beloved characters were all onboard ship, and the Chaplain said a prayer. The script is poetic. And many ears today could benefit from hearing his special words. It’s as if God spoke onboard the mighty vessel. And God was there - glowing amidst the light of their special little makeshift Christmas tree.
And this remains my favorite scene - because…
What is war - without Christmas?
“You must forgive me for being sentimental...” Abel states, as personnel gathered around the silly, impromptu Christmas tree.
And he continues: “We’re a sentimental people…”
“Our enemies deride us for it…”
But - “It’s what makes us stronger.”
He asks the people standing around him to have Faith. To continue forward. Even as that very night the ship steered straight into the hellfire of the coming battle. And even as he knows - and they know - what is waiting for them when they reach shore.
But still - they prayed.
And they still - had Faith.~
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