Ford and Montgomery were both under Navy orders when returning from active service to MGM to make this tribute to World War II hero John Bulkeley (Brickley in the film) and his squadron of motor torpedo boats which had covered the Pacific retreat of US forces in the wake of Pearl Harbor. The tugs of docudrama, emotionalism and sheer timing produced a major work of surprisingly downbeat romanticism. Commitments to cause and career are raised as genuine conflicts as Wayne's second-in-command questions notions of teamwork and sacrifice; and even at the end, when Ford has ennobled his warriors in a succession of classic images, the narrative has to acknowledge that the ranking pair's heroism consists in knowingly leaving their men to a near-certain doom. A curious movie, whose premises Ford would obsessively rework in his subsequent cavalry pictures, with the luxury of historical distance.
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