Drama · War

Why John Wayne has to do Everything Around Here

John Wayne and Ward Bond fight the Japanese and a lacklustre script. Image: Opera Rex
John Wayne (L) and Ward Bond fight the Japanese and a lackluster script. Image: Opera Rex

There’s a delicious meta moment in the 1951 drama, Operation Pacific, a film that mostly takes place on a submarine during WWII.

In the film, the submarine crew is watching a Cary Grant movie that is also set in a submarine. One of the crew members quips, “It’s amazing what Hollywood can do with submarines.”

It’s amazing what Hollywood can do with a lot of things – and we mean that in two different ways. Operation Pacific, itself, is a study in Hollywood both underperforming and excelling at the same time.

Our opinion: This film has an unspectacular script, likely the result of Studio Meddling. (Oh yeah, we’re looking at you, Warner Bros.) It’s a shame because this film is based on actual events, namely: How to Make Better Military Equipment During A War. This subject isn’t given the treatment it deserves because a ridiculous romantic triangle is wedged into the middle of things, and it doesn’t work, despite the presence of the fabulous Patricia Neal.

Operation Pacific has everything going for it: Bert Glennon‘s cinematography, Max Steiner‘s score, a top-notch cast…but for that blasted script.

This is why you need a John Wayne, someone with a personality so big it spills over the screen and onto the floor. This is a person who knows how to make a movie.

Wayne woos nurse Patricia Neal. Image: War Movies
Wayne woos nurse Patricia Neal. Image: War Movies

Now, perhaps you’re thinking we’re overselling John Wayne’s contribution to the motion picture industry, and you may be right. However, there’s a reason why John Wayne is, well, John Wayne.

Let’s start with this. Early in the film, Wayne & Co. transport a group of nuns and children via submarine from an enemy-occupied island in the South Pacific to Hawaii. Once everyone is settled in the submarine, the captain (Ward Bond) and Wayne compare notes:

Bond: “Those nuns. Wonderful. Just wonderful. Never a whimper out of them.”
Wayne: “Some of them walked 40 miles, clear across the island… Nothing to protect them but a string of beads.”

This is John Wayne talking, the hero of the story, the one who’s gonna bring down the entire Japanese navy. Yet, he expresses awe for these women and makes you believe he’s never seen anything so courageous in his life.

Then we have this:

john-wayne-operation-pacific

Wayne’s crew has just sunk a Japanese submarine. The ensign (Martin Milner) is overjoyed he finally gets to See Something Like This, but Wayne’s steely-eyed look reminds him (and us) that the death of those men is not to be celebrated. Wayne says nothing, yet we know exactly what he’s thinking. In this way, he becomes the Conscience of the movie.

One last thing: We’ve always thought Wayne to be a good Movie Listener. He seems to absorb what the other actors are saying; he’s not just waiting for his turn to talk.

In one scene, Neal gives Wayne a terrific Please-Get-Lost speech, and we’re anxious to see Wayne’s stoic but heartbroken reaction. But it’s his Listening that lends gravity to Neal’s position. This is important because, earlier in the film, Neal’s superior officer suggested she give up nursing to be a Wife.

In the final analysis, we can’t fully recommend Operation Pacific. However, we urge you to see it if you’ve always wondered why people consider John Wayne a Big Deal.

Operation Pacific: starring John Wayne, Patricia Neal, Ward Bond. Written & directed by George Waggner. Warner Bros., 1951, B&W, 111 mins.

This post of part of The John Wayne Blogathon hosted by The Midnite Drive-In and Hamlette’s Soliloquy. Click HERE to see more fab entries!

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23 thoughts on “Why John Wayne has to do Everything Around Here

    1. I never thought about it that way before, but I’ve always taken John Wayne’s greatness for granted. It wasn’t until I started analyzing the “why” of his screen presence that I began to appreciate it, too.

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  1. I have this sitting on my shelf in a John Wayne collection, but have never seen it. I want to now…to watch for that listening you talked about. That is something I never thought of before. It’s taken me some years to warm up to John Wayne, but the more I see him, the better he seems. I used to discount his acting and think of him as an action guy, but the idea of him listening brings a new dimension.

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  2. This is actually one of my favorite John Wayne movies, not because it’s a great movie, but because Wayne himself is great in it. He gets to do more than be Tough in this one — there’s quite a bit of emotional complexity for him to work with, what with an ex-wife he still loves, a baby that reminds him of the son he lost, and then losing his best friend — there’s some really great stuff here.

    Thanks for joining the blogathon!

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  3. I’ve always had trouble with the Duke in a romantic lead “The Quiet Man” is an exception. John Wayne was always best when he was slinging guns for slinging fists. The war movies suffered mainly because there was a lot of criticism against him for not serving in the actual fighting, but i still like the war movies. Good review.

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  4. Wayne was very good with his female leads. He had a gentle side and tenderness that came out in his scenes with strong women characters. You see that here with Neal in a relationship that foreshadows his relationship with Neal in IN HARM’S WAY (1965) 14 years later, also a WWII movie set in the Pacific. They’re both a bit older and been around the block a bit. It’s an adult relationship in the best sense of the word. It would be interesting to see the films back to back and compare the relationships. He and Neal had great chemistry. Too bad they didn’t make a western together. Contrast Wayne with Kirk Douglas who often had abusive relationships with women onscreen. He’s also in IN HARM’S WAY, but plays a dissipated officer who rapes a young nurse who later kills herself. I can cite other examples from Douglas movies, but I’ll leave it at that.

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    1. Yes, I love the John-Wayne-Patricia Neal pairing in “In Harm’s Way”. You’re right when you say it’s a grown-up relationship. As for Kirk Douglas in that film, I intensely dislike his character, which means he did a good job.

      Yes, making a double header of “Operation Pacific” and “In Harm’s Way” would be a terrific idea! 🙂

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  5. I love your comments about how John Wayne listens in his movies. It’s something I’ve loved about him, but never put into words before. This was a great write up, and I really need to see this one, particularly as I love submarines. I’m sure I saw it when I was a kid, but I have no memories of it anymore.

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  6. Thanks for the recommendation! John Wayne is always fun to watch, and now I’ll be finally able to see how good as an actor in a submarine he can get 😉
    Thanks for the kind comment!
    Kisses!
    Le

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I remember being introduced to John Wayne movies as a teen while spending time at a friend’s house after school. Her dad was a big fan of his films and so I started to watch them with her family. I found his presence so captivating 🙂

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  8. I dunno, Ruth. John Wayne was big in my house and I’m sure I must have seen this movie at least once. My problem is that his politics got in the way for me. Though that’s true, I really have no excuse for not taking a 2nd look at his movies now that I’m just a little bit older and, hopefully, a little wiser. Then again, maybe I haven’t grown all that much. For instance, I’ll never look at Chiachi in the same way again. 😀

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    1. Ah yes, a lot of people are turned off by his politics. But it would be interesting to hear your thoughts if you did decide to watch this, or another one of his films.

      Am afraid I don’t know about the Chiachi situation, but maybe that’s a good thing…?

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