In Harm's Way

In Harm's Way

4.5 6
Director: Otto Preminger

Cast: John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Patricia Neal


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In Harm's Way, based on James Bassett's novel Harm's Way, has enough plot in it for four movies or a good miniseries (when it was shown on network television in prime time, it was broken into two very full nights). On the morning of December 7, 1941, a heavy cruiser, commanded by Captain Rockwell Torrey (John Wayne), and the destroyer Cassidy, under…  See more details below


In Harm's Way, based on James Bassett's novel Harm's Way, has enough plot in it for four movies or a good miniseries (when it was shown on network television in prime time, it was broken into two very full nights). On the morning of December 7, 1941, a heavy cruiser, commanded by Captain Rockwell Torrey (John Wayne), and the destroyer Cassidy, under acting commander Lieutenant (jg) William McConnell (Thomas Tryon), are two of a handful of ships that escape the destruction of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Under Torrey's command, the tiny fleet of a dozen ships carries out its orders to seek out and engage the enemy fleet. But lack of fuel and a daring maneuver (but tragic miscalculation) by Torrey causes his ship to be seriously damaged. He's relieved of command and assigned to a desk job routing convoys in the shakeup following the attack, and his exec and oldest friend, Commander Paul Eddington (Kirk Douglas), is reassigned after a brawl, the result of his anger after identifying the body of his wife (Barbara Bouchet) who was killed during the attack while cavorting with an Marine Corps officer. Torrey's shore assignment leads him to reestablish contact on a very hostile level with his estranged son, Ensign Jere Torrey (Brandon de Wilde), from his long-ended marriage; he establishes a romantic relationship with Lt. Maggie Haynes (Patricia Neal), a navy nurse; and he also befriends Commander Egan Powell (Burgess Meredith), a special-intelligence officer. Partly as a result of his contact with Powell, Torrey is chosen by the commander of the Pacific Fleet (Henry Fonda) to salvage an essential operation called Sky Hook, which has become bogged down through the indecisiveness of its area commander, Vice Admiral Broderick (Dana Andrews). Promoted to rear admiral, with Eddington -- who'd been rotting away on a shore assignment, drunk most of the time -- assigned as his chief of staff, Torrey gets Sky Hook rolling and finally finds his purpose in this war, gaining the belated admiration of his son in the process. Eddington is similarly motivated but is still haunted by the violent, ultimately self-destructive demons that blighted his marriage and his life -- he is particularly attracted to a young nurse, Annalee Dohrn (Jill Haworth), not knowing that she is already involved romantically with Jere Torrey. Meanwhile, McConnell survives the sinking of his ship and is ordered to join Torrey's staff. Matters all come to a head when the Japanese begin a counter-offensive to Torrey's planned troop landing. And just at the time Torrey needs his men at their best, Eddington's violence and rage boil to the surface in a way that will destroy him and blight both men's lives. In a final attempt at redemption, Eddington provides Torrey with the information he needs to set up a battle that he has at least a chance of winning, pitting his small task group of destroyers and cruisers against the Japanese task force led by the Yamato, the largest battleship ever built.

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Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Bruce Eder
In Harm's Way has endured extraordinarily well for an epic war movie made in the 1960s, owing to a multitude of virtues. For starters, it was the last big-budget, all-star Hollywood movie to be shot in black-and-white, and that gives the film a harder, sharper, more defined edge than it ever could have had if it had been photographed in color. It was also shot in Panavision (and it should be seen letterboxed), and cinematographer Loyal Griggs (who was nominated for an Oscar), production designer Lyle Wheeler, and director Otto Preminger use every inch of that widescreen image to tell their story. Additionally, Preminger's decision to shoot the movie on actual locations, and to use actual naval personnel throughout the film as extras and in small speaking roles, also gave the movie an immediacy and a verisimilitude that is striking, as well as unique among films dealing with this subject on this scale. From the first moments aboard Captain Torrey's cruiser, Old Swayback, the willing suspension of disbelief kicks in effortlessly as actual sailors go about their business, including rushing to battle stations, and appear more realistic than any group of actors ever could. Indeed, one gets the sense of watching a near-documentary, not far removed from the same kind of illusion achieved on a different scale in Richard Lester's A Hard Day's Night. Preminger and screenwriter Wendell Mayes also capture important little details that some modern filmmakers (including the makers of the 2001 feature Pearl Harbor) overlook entirely, such as the civilian chaos ensuing after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In one compelling scene, while Kirk Douglas' Paul Eddington is seen in the foreground on the right side of the screen, claiming the effects of his wife (who died while cavorting with a Marine Corps officer the morning of the attack), a Japanese-American woman is seen on the left-hand side of the screen, in medium shot, frantically trying to find out what has happened to her son. Perhaps the most amazing element of the movie, however, is Preminger's success in getting his actors to melt into their roles. He had a deep, and totally interwoven understanding of his characters, story, and setting, and it comes out in the little nuances. Some of this can be attributed to James Bassett's original book and Mayes' surprisingly faithful (albeit simplified) screenplay, but ultimately it has to be on the screen. A perfect example: When the Old Swayback is hit by torpedoes, and Kirk Douglas' Eddington, just back from damage control, remarks, "We've got us a gut-bustin', mother-lovin' navy war," the glints in his and Torrey's eyes capture perfectly how many career navy officers felt at that point. The United States Navy had found little to do during World War I, and by 1941, it had been four decades since its ships or men had seen any combat action; a lot of career navy men saw this as the chance of a lifetime. Even small parts, such as Bruce Cabot's portrayal of a quartermaster on McConnel's destroyer, and James Mitchum's one scene as an ensign on the cruiser, are memorable. Most of the characters are very well developed, and there's another surprise there; John Wayne plays a deeply flawed yet heroic figure, his personal life a shambles and his career not much different. He seems, very subtly, almost close to tears at times, without sacrificing his toughness; the part of Torrey was one of the most tragedy-laden of Wayne's career, his character's personal life and naval career both in shambles for most of the movie, losing one real son and one surrogate son (in Douglas' Eddington) in the course of the action, and then getting rescued by another surrogate son (Tom Tryon's McConnel). Similarly, Kirk Douglas' portrayal of Eddington crawls with near-psychopathic anger just below the surface, only visible once or twice onscreen but always lurking nearby. Each character has important motivating flaws that fit neatly and quietly into the action and affect the story in quiet but critical ways, and all are engrossing on their own terms. Additionally, this is one of the few fictionalized war movies of its kind that holds up to the scrutiny of historians, since Bassett's book and Mayes' screenplay both based their action on real-life strategies and planning, and the final battle is essentially a retelling of the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Add to those virtues the unexpectedly lively pacing and stunning special effects (the naval combat scenes were shot aboard seven different ships and augmented by generally excellent model work, and the final battle is a bone-rattling affair), and In Harm's Way seems like a very fast-moving two and a half hours.

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Product Details

Release Date:
Original Release:
Paramount Catalog
Region Code:

Special Features

cc The Making Of Harm's Way 3 Theatrical Trailers (Narrated By Otto Preminger)

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
John Wayne Capt. Rockwell Torrey
Kirk Douglas Cmdr. Paul Eddington
Patricia Neal Lt. Maggie Haynes
Tom Tryon Lt. William McConnel
Dana Andrews Adm. Broderick
Paula Prentiss Bev McConnel
Brandon DeWilde Ens. Jeremiah Torrey
Henry Fonda CINCPAC Admiral
Jill Haworth Ens. Annalee Dorne
Stanley Holloway Clayton Canfil
Burgess Meredith Commander Powell
Franchot Tone CINCPAC I Admiral
Patrick O'Neal Cmdr. Neal O'Wynn
Carroll O'Connor Lieutenant Commander Burke
Slim Pickens CPO Culpepper
Barbara Bouchet Liz Eddington
Hugh O'Brian Marine Corps Major
James Mitchum Ens. Griggs
George Kennedy Col. Gregory
Bruce Cabot Quartermaster Quoddy
Tod Andrews Capt. Tuthill
Stewart Moss Ens. Balch
Richard Lepore Lt. Tom Agar
Chet Stratton Ship's doctor
Dort Clark Boston
Jerry Goldsmith Piano Player
Larry Hagman Lieutenant Cline
Soo Yong Tearful Woman

Technical Credits
Otto Preminger Director,Producer
Hope Bryce Costumes/Costume Designer
Lawrence W. Butler Special Effects
Hugh S. Fowler Editor
Jerry Goldsmith Score Composer
Loyal Griggs Cinematographer
Morrie Hoffman Set Decoration/Design
Richard Mansfield Set Decoration/Design
Wendell Mayes Screenwriter
Eva Monley Production Manager
Al Y. Roelofs Art Director
George Tomasini Editor
Lyle Wheeler Production Designer

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Scene Index

Disc #1 -- In Harm's Way
1. Chapter 1 [5:38]
2. Chapter 2 [:32]
3. Chapter 3 [3:28]
4. Chapter 4 [2:54]
5. Chapter 5 [5:10]
6. Chapter 6 [1:02]
7. Chapter 7 [6:25]
8. Chapter 8 [4:00]
9. Chapter 9 [2:35]
10. Chapter 10 [5:42]
11. Chapter 11 [5:58]
12. Chapter 12 [2:03]
13. Chapter 13 [4:24]
14. Chapter 14 [6:14]
15. Chapter 15 [7:15]
16. Chapter 16 [:41]
17. Chapter 17 [4:31]
18. Chapter 18 [:55]
19. Chapter 19 [2:12]
20. Chapter 20 [3:58]
21. Chapter 21 [:50]
22. Chapter 22 [8:41]
23. Chapter 23 [7:37]
24. Chapter 24 [1:25]
25. Chapter 25 [5:31]
26. Chapter 26 [5:30]
27. Chapter 27 [:57]
28. Chapter 28 [2:07]
29. Chapter 29 [3:24]
30. Chapter 30 [2:13]
31. Chapter 31 [3:29]
32. Chapter 32 [2:57]
33. Chapter 33 [1:59]
34. Chapter 34 [2:50]
35. Chapter 35 [1:05]
36. Chapter 36 [7:19]
37. Chapter 37 [7:57]
38. Chapter 38 [6:42]
39. Chapter 39 [3:25]
40. Chapter 40 [2:32]
41. Chapter 41 [4:59]
42. Chapter 42 [1:41]
43. Chapter 43 [2:58]
44. Chapter 44 [2:48]

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