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In Harm's Way

In Harm's Way

4.5 6
Director: Otto Preminger, John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Patricia Neal

Cast: Otto Preminger, 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


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.

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.

Product Details

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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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In Harm's Way 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This movie has John Wayne, Kirk Dougls, Henry Fonda, Robert Mitchum, Carol O'Connor, Burgess Meredith, Patrick Oneal, Dana Andrews, and Patricia Neal. If it only had a decent cast it might have been a great movie (just kidding). Too many plots to mention. Otto Preminger (sp?) Does a great job weaving a tapestry about life and human conflict which just happens to be going on in the middle of the biggest war in the history of man. The only detraction is the special effects budget was not strained during the making of this film, but it's a film about relationships, loyalty and reconciliation before it is a film about world war two. It's about the reality that there may be a UCMJ and a navy regulations book, but there is also the real way you get things done. Damn the torpedoes boys....full speed ahead! This should be your first J.W. DVD purchase.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This movie is perhaps one of the best naval and modern war movies ever made, with its realistic composite characters and graphic surreality of war, leadership and combat command, trauma, personal loss, and rediscovery. This film should had gone on to follow-up works on the often belittled and ignored early years of the Pacific war where the Army and Navy had to fight with too few assets against an overwhelming foe! Modern medias and academics exploit the great military achievements of America's carrier forces in the Central Pacific after 1943, but too often fail to mention that MacArthur and Halsey,with their nontraditional mix of allied fighting forces unused to working with foreign compatriots, opened the way for the great Central Pacific drives by forcing Japan to divert expend men, ships and planes from all around her new empire to try and stop the Allies in the south Pacific and the Solomons! I hope that, one day, someone in Hollywood will create a qualitative miniseries that will do justice to those early difficult days and months of WW2 in the Pacific!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Great movie, the characters are human, so there flawed, real and believable, ordinary men and women fighting two wars, World War 2 and the war between themselves, their true selves,good and bad, ugly and beautiful,right and wrong.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is an excellent movie. Not only are the characters believable but the flavor of the movie depicts a very real sense of the difficult days of WW2. The only weakness has to be in the combat scenes and model use. I am sure they were the best of the time but I wish there was some mechanism that would allow these to be removed and replaced with some using the most up to date techniques (computers and models).
Guest More than 1 year ago
Great story and lots of action! One of my favorite war films. Lots of stars in this film. The Duke and Kirk Douglas should have made more movies together. Special effects are good but the ships in the final battle look very cheesy even for that era. The sub plot between Bev (Paula Prentiss) and her husband, Lieutenant William McConnel (Tom Tryon) doesn't work in the movie and should have been left on the cutting room floor. I might also add that Paula Prentiss comes across as a poor actress in this movie. All in all this movie is a winner!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have seen this motion picture numerous times and still enjoy it. It is one of those that you pick up things you may have missed before that make it even more meaningful. John Wayne is a natural in his role as Captain (Later Admiral) Rockwell Torrey and Kirk Douglas performs his role in an excellent manner as well. Patricia Neal adds the needed feminine touch in a war movie, but also gives a an excellent performance in her role as a naval nurse. I have always enjoyed seeing Wayne, Douglas, and Neal perform. The supporting cast in this memorable film do a very credible job as well. It is tragic that Brandon DeWilde died at an early age as I think he would have become an even better actor. He did well as Torrey's son, Jere. Of course, Dana Andrews, Carroll O'Connor, Tom Tryon, and Henry Fonda provided excellent performances as well. Preminger put together an excellent cast for this film. I do not have any one favorite film, but this one ranks along with my favorites which include The Fountainhead, The Razor's Edge, Casablanca, Patton, and others. In Harm's Way is a spendid film dealing with World War II in the Pacific Theatre. I would recommend this film to anyone who values substance, a worthy plot, decency, beliveable action, and honor in human endeavors. While I realize it does not carry an R rating, frankly I think it ranks far and above much of the cinema trash making its way to movie houses today.