A New Book on “They Were Expendable,” My Favorite Ford film

Many admirers of John Ford consider his greatest films were made in the late 1930s and early 1940s; these include Stagecoach, Young Mr. Lincoln, The Grapes of Wrath, and How Green Was My Valley. Other Ford devotees favor his post-World War II motion pictures such as They Were Expendable and My Darling Clementine. Others admire such later works as The Searchers and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. I stand with director-Fordian scholar Lindsay Anderson and am most touched by John Ford’s They Were Expendable. Anderson believed that John Ford was the “poet of faith in an age of unbelief” and declared this movie about the American defeats in the Philippines at the beginning of World War II at the time of Pearl Harbor is Ford’s masterpiece, his heroic poem.
Film scholar Lou Sabini and photographer Nicholas Scutti’s “Behind the Scenes of They Were Expendable: A Pictorial History” (McFarland, 2015) utilizes Scutti’s stunning photographs and astonishing recollections of the month he spent in 1945 on location in Florida while the movie was being filmed. The result is a must-read for anyone interested in John Ford, John Wayne, World War II films, and one of the great movies about men and women in war.
This book is an extremely well-organized and sincere and inspired tribute to the movie. It includes a fascinating, detailed overview of the background to the production of the film and also features bios of the actual heroes (John Bulkeley and Robert Kelly) who led the PT squadron which rescued General MacArthur and brought him to safety. There are also bios of the Hollywood stars of the film, Robert Montgomery (who actually commanded a PT boat during the war), John Wayne, Jack Holt, Donna Reed, and Ward Bond. But the core of the book are the photographs and Sabini’s adroit, probing questions of Scutti who was an eighteen-year-old U.S. Navy photographer in 1945. These questions and Scutti’s memories of his experiences interacting with the cast and crew gives the reader an excellent behind-the-scenes view of the filming of this classic motion picture.
The movie, They Were Expendable, features numerous “Fordian moments,” touching scenes that capture and expose a significant moment in time, a perfectly phrased quip, or a revelation of a character’s private and often painful thoughts, sentiments, and memories. Hopefully, this book will propel new audiences to experience this exceptional movie and its special moments. If so, Sabini and Scutti have more than done their duty.

200 pg.    $39.95      McFarland      www.mcfarlandpub.com      800-253-2187

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