Star Gregory Peck went into MacArthur disliking the title character that he was slated to play, but emerged from the experience with a deeper understanding and respect for this complex historical figure. The film is framed in flashback, with an octogenarian General
Douglas MacArthur (Peck) making his final address before his alma mater of West Point. We flash back to the fall of Corregidor in 1942, with MacArthur promising "I shall return" to the beleaguered (and eventually imprisoned) American and Filipino troops. The story follows MacArthur's subsequent victories in the South Pacific, occasionally pausing to show us the General's omnipresent sense of "showmanship" (e.g. his wading ashore on the beaches of the Philippines for the benefit of the newsreel cameras). The greater part of the film involves MacArthur's attempts to restore dignity to the defeated postwar Japan, and to keep the Russian Communists from overtaking the orient as they had Eastern Europe. MacArthur is eventually fired from his post by President Truman after the general defies orders during the Korean conflict. MacArthur was intended as Universal's "answer" to 20th Century-Fox's enormously successful Patton (1970), but box-office returns were disappointing.