“Report all changes as they occur,” says the Colonel in charge of the mission into Burma to destroy a Japanese radar station. The first twenty minutes of this movie always give me the giggles, as the expeditionary force in the middle of fookin nowhere painstakingly plans their upcoming operation in ridiculous, obsessive, exacting detail. They pore over maps, create huge 3-D models of the operation area, peer at recon photos through magnifying glasses, spout off long litanies of exactly which supplies each soldier is to take, and on and on and on. You start to wonder: if a 24-hour, 20-man mission takes this much planning, shouldn’t D-Day planning have taken a decade? Walsh is filming this near the end of the war in the Pacific, and I wonder if he could sense that a weary public would be consoled to see a version of the conflict that made it seem like a complex technical problem to be solved, rather than a massive mess of slog and blood. The characters on the mission must synchronize their watches a dozen times over the course of the film, and every time they do, they’re always already synchronized.
After the planning sequence, things go pretty much as you’d expect: the mission is accomplished, with complications, and all ends well, as it had to. There are deaths, but — this is crucial — they’re always the result of accidents or deviations from SOP. They’re never inexplicable, and so, perhaps, they’re never quite terrifying.
Note that the Brits and Australians were the real boots on the ground in Burma, not the Americans, an inconvenient fact Hollywood chooses to ignore.