American Guerrilla in the Philippines (1950)
Director: Fritz Lang.
Starring: Tyrone Power (Ensign Chuck Palmer), Micheline Prelle (Jeanne Martinez), Tom Ewell (Jim Mitchell), Bob Patten (Lovejoy), Tommy Cook (Miguel), Juan Torena (Juan Martinez), Jack Elam (The Speaker), Robert Barrat (Gen. Douglas MacArthur).
Based on a novel by Ira Wolfert.
The Japanese invade the Philippines and an American Naval officer finds himself stranded and the leader of a band of natives carrying out daring raids on the enemy.
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
Spring 1942. Japanese planes hit a U.S.N. boat. The Americans jump off and swim to shore. One of the men is badly hurt. This was the last of motor torpedo squadron 3 which had taken MacArthur from his escape from Corregidor one month earlier. For three days the men hide out in a light house. Jim Mitchell gets the radio working. Bataan has fallen. The American-Philippine forces had to surrender.
The top officer says it would be best if the men split up and try to make it to the Del Monte airfield on Mindanao, some 200 miles away. Ensign Chuck Palmer is told to head out first. Jim decides to go with him. The others will follow in half hour intervals. Palmer and Mitchell mix in with the refugees. Two weeks and two days they have been on the move. They come to a town Tacloban on the northeastern shore of the Island of Leyte. Col. Benson is in charge.
A woman named Jeanne Martinez is trying to get through to see Col. Benson. Her cousin is having a baby and she is very weak and Jeanne needs the signature of the Colonel on a form. The captain won't let her pass because he has orders to keep everyone away from the Colonel. She tries to bust through, but the sergeant physically stops her. Palmer goes up and shows the sergeant his pass from Gen. MacArthur. The sergeant lets Palmer pass to see the Colonel. In the office of the Colonel, Palmer explains that he just walked in from Sabu. He says he wants to get to Del Monte airfield, but the Colonel tells him that the Japanese took that field ten days ago. And the Colonel has orders to surrender all his forces this evening to the Japanese.
Palmer is crushed. He says he wants to try to get a boat to make the 1,300 mile journey to Australia. The Colonel gives Palmer 2,000 pesos to help him try to buy a boat. He also tells Palmer to get himself a new uniform. (The one he is wearing is all worn out.) Palmer is ready to go, but he asks if the Colonel will see a young woman whose cousin is having a baby by caesarian section. All she needs is for the Colonel to sign her form. The Colonel wants to know if she's pretty, because he needs some cheering up before what happens this evening. She is rather pretty, so the Colonel agrees to see her.
Palmer tells the Captain to let the woman go up to see the Colonel. She goes up to see the Colonel.
Mitchell wants Palmer to meet some fellows who were the ground crew on Del Monte airfield. Palmer tells them they can go with him by sailboat to Australia or stay here and starve in a Japanese concentration camp. The men chose to go with Palmer. They will meet on the dock at 1800 hours sharp.
Jeanne comes out to thank Palmer. He says it was nothing. Her cousin had a boy. She mentions that she has sailed this area many times and the winds at this time are not favorable. So Palmer asks her is she will go along with them. She says she has to stay here and fight for her country. If Palmer really wants to fight, he can stay right here and go into the hills with the guerrillas. She says she is French, but these are her people. She says goodbye to Palmer.
The sail goes up and the boat almost turns over. Then as they move out, they almost crash into the dock. But now they are on their way. They last only 72 hours. Palmer, Mitchell and another guy decides to swim the eight miles to shore from their overturned boat. The other men stay with the boat. As they near the shore, Mitchell's muscles bunch up and he can't swim anymore. A boat comes along and the men are picked up by Filipinos.
Palmer wakes up in a fishing village on Leyte. He speaks with a man named Miguel who teaches in the school. Another American arrives, but dies soon after being brought in by the Filipinos. They bury the man. A Japanese boat comes along. The around nine Americans have to run for it. The people of the village come to see the Japanese commander. Miguel uses a lot of flattery to calm the commander, who warns the people that any Filipino harboring an American will be shot.
A fellow known as Juan tries to take a boat to the Japanese, but the people catch him. He tries to escape, but it does no good. They make him sit down on the beach and eat a chicken. Miguel says they are going to kill him. Juan runs to the ocean, but Miguel shoots him in the back.
Summer and fall, 1942. Through this period, the Americans were constantly moving. They were too busy just trying to stay alive to think about killing Japanese soldiers. Palmer is getting very restless and tells the men that he is thinking of heading back up north to where they started from. Word comes that a Japanese patrol is headed their way. The men scamper to hide. A Japanese soldier finds a still lit American cigarette and the Japanese start spraying the jungle around them. One of the Japanese is about to throw a grenade into the jungle, when Palmer shoots him. The fellow drops the grenade to the ground, it goes off and kills the small group of Japanese. Palmer comments that this was the first moment of real satisfaction the men have experienced for the seven and a half months they have been on the lam.
The guys arrive in a village and hear an American hustling for donations in the name of fighting the Japanese. Palmer decides to have a talk with the man. He tells the conman that they are navy and army men and they want to join his group to fight the Japanese. The fellow says that he's not taking any enlistments at this time. He scampers away to get all his men together so they can get out of town. As they ride away on the burros, Palmer comments to his men: "Phonies. Somebody always tries to make a buck out of every war." He brings up the idea of getting another boat and trying for Australia. A wealthy man overhears their talk and offers his assistance. He gives Palmer his business card and tells him and the men to come to his place in an hour.
Palmer and Mitchell go to the Martinez house. In the house Mitchell recognizes a photo of Jeanne Martinez. Just then she walks into the room. She and Palmer are very happy to see each other. Palmer says he was wondering how he could get in touch with her and now here she is. They meet Jeanne's aunt and cousin Lu, who Palmer helped by getting Jeanne in to see the Colonel. Juan Martinez comes into the room. He says that Jeanne is his wife. This is a shocker for Palmer. Juan tells the guys to come with him.
Juan introduces the men to Col. Dimalanta. The Colonel says that trying to get to Australia is extremely dangerous. The Japanese regularly patrol the waters around the Philippines. Palmer says he would rather try his chances on the water than be chased around by the Japanese on land. The Colonel says he will help him get a boat, but he wants Palmer to do him a favor. There is an American, Col. Phillips, who has organized guerrillas in Mindanao and is now trying to unify all the guerrilla efforts. It is said that Phillips has contact with Gen. MacArthur. If Palmer accepts the assignment he will have to start at the Leyte shore, cross by boat over the Gulf of Leyte, go down through the Strait of Surigao and reach Mindanao to the south. They will then go overland over the mountains and then into the jungle where Phillips is located around Tacloban. Palmer and Mitchell agree to take on the assignment. And they start tonight.
Palmer and Mitchell pull a Japanese guard off the dock into the water and drown him. They get onto the Japanese motor boat and off they go. They travel only by night. They reach Mindanao and travel into the heart of the island. With them is Miguel, who they met earlier. They run into a farmer and start talking to him. He blows a horn and out of the jungle comes Filipino guerrillas. They take the guys to headquarters. Palmer goes in to talk with Phillips, who immediately wants to know where Palmer came from. Palmer has a letter from Col. de la Manta.
Col. Phillips says he doesn't care if the guys on Leyte don't kill any Japs. What MacArthur wants is a network of spies, intelligence. a civil government and a people's army which is ready to act when MacArthur returns. Phillips now informs Palmer that he is going to be in charge of radio operations on Leyte. Palmer is taken aback by his new assignment, but he will follow orders.
The provincial government of Free Leyte is established. They start printing their own money. Later they publish their own newspaper. They string up 150 kilometers of wire around Leyte to improve communications. With the help of the natives they start making weapons. The also have the locals practice spear throwing, just in case bullets run out. They also throw parties to raise money for the guerrilla army. Mitchell dances with one of the pretty local women. Palmer sees none other than Jeanne Martinez at the party. He asks her to dance with him and she accepts. Afterwards they sit and talk, until the husband arrives with a message from Dimalanta: the game is on.
An American submarine drops off supplies to the locals. Now they have modern rifles with which to fight. The sub sent four radios, but they fell overboard when being transported from the sub to land. It takes Palmer a month to set up a single radio station. When they start transmitting the Japanese pick up the signal. The transmission goes all the way to San Francisco. The Japanese start searching for the radio station. The guys in San Francisco tell the Philippine station to get back on the air with them at 1600 hours for traffic.
A lookout runs to Palmer to tell him the Japanese are coming. The men start grabbing everything they can and run away into the jungle. Mitchell forgot his boots and runs back for them. He just misses the arrival of the Japanese. The soldiers set the buildings afire. Mitchell makes some noise and the Japanese start investigating. A Japanese soldier almost steps right on Mitchell, who is being bitten up by ants in his hiding place on the ground.
A Japanese officer demands that the villagers tell them where the Americans are. He finds one of the villagers, an old man, with a pack of American cigarettes with MacArthur's "I shall return" remark printed on it. The officer kicks the man in the shins and he goes down. He then pulls out his pistol and kills the man. The Japanese have an informer woman who wears a bag over her head so she want be recognized when she identifies which villagers are cooperating with the Americans.
The Japanese now investigate the Martinez house. Jeanne is in the house and she talks to the officer in charge. He tells her to come with him. The officer then asks her about this man named Palmer. She says she knows many Americans. He tells her he knows she was dancing with Palmer at a party in the village of Tacloban. Juan is brought out. The officer accuses him of opening his house up to the guerrillas. Juan only says that he is a plantation owner, not a guerrilla. So the Japanese knock him down and starting hitting him with their rifle butts.
A funeral is held for Juan Martinez.
Palmer says they had to keep on the run because the Japanese were relentless in their search for them and the radio set up. Jeanne is now a fugitive with a price on her head. Palmer occasionally sees her, but only for brief talks. But one evening she walks over to his hide-out to spend Christmas Eve with him. They hug each other and he thanks her for coming. Now they kiss passionately. Jeanne later says it's not been much of a Christmas Eve, but Palmer say it's actually better. This will be his best Christmas ever. They hold each other and kiss again.
Someone yells: "Chuck! Chuck!" Palmer rushes out to see what's going on. Miguel has been bayoneted. He crawled up here with his intestines hanging out (not shown). Mitchell tells him that he, Chuck, must play the role of the doctor. Jeanne says she will help him. A small group of Filipino guerrillas stay outside waiting for the news. Miguel dies and this makes Palmer very frustrated and upset.
After the death of Miguel things started getting better. The American subs delivered supplies regularly to them. The guerrilla armies were on the offensive everywhere and the men sense something big is going to happen, but don't know when.
Mitchell receives a message that he then gives to Chuck. He goes to Jeanne's hiding place. He tells her that he has to say goodbye. He and his group are going to be sent behind Japanese lines to set up a radio station and send information on the movement of Japanese vessels and soldiers. Jeanne says she loves him. He gives her a ring for down payment on next Christmas.
Palmer and his men start sending the information in, but again the Japanese pick up the signal. Two Japanese ships are in the area. Message received and a message is sent back sayingt well done, sir, but now beat it out of there immediately. One of the ships open fire on Palmer's position. The guys start running away from the area.
Jeanne is washing clothes in the river with the local women. She hears Palmer's whistle and comes running. Palmer asks her if there are any Japanese in the village? No, they have gone. She tells the men to come on and they will be fed chicken and home-made bread. In the village the men are welcomed home as conquering heroes. Just then a man runs into the village shouting that the Japanese are coming. Jeanne takes the men to a hiding place in the old church.
The Japs stop at the old church. They want to rape a pretty woman getting water from the well. She escapes their grasp and runs into the church. All soldiers are called to formation. The officer in charge talks with a young Filipino boy. He takes what the boy has in his hand. It's a chocolate candy bar made in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. The Americans now close the doors and lock them in place with the barriers. A real shoot-out starts between the men inside and the Japs outside. Mitchell gets wounded in the hand. A grenade comes through a window killing a Filipino guerrilla. Another grenade blows the front doors open. The Japanese start rushing in, but Palmer with his automatic weapon kills most of them. He buys time for the others to go out a side door of the church.
They get out and Palmer joins them. Now they try to keep the Japanese in the church. Just then they hear the sounds of big explosions one after the other. They wonder if it could be MacArthur's forces. Just then a lot of American planes fly over the church. The Japanese decide to run for it. The retreating Japanese are stopped in the village by a home mad bomb. A machine gunner waits for the smoke from the bomb clears away to start opening up on the remaining Japanese.
Chuck and Jeanne are reunited. The Americans start coming though the village en masse. The people get to see MacArthur. Everyone waves to MacArthur and he waves back.
Not a great movie, but I enjoyed it. Tyrone Powell usually does a good acting job, so I was pretty sure I was going to like the film. Micheline Prelle has a pretty face and figure and does a pretty good job in her role as the heroine. They really didn't make Charles Palmer out to be a hero. He didn't really want to stay and fight in the Philippines. He had this very dangerous idea of sailing 1,300 miles to Australia to rejoin his outfit. He stubbornly refuses to be give up on the fool-hardy adventure and he and a group of men sail out. They don't last even 72 hours, before there boat is capsized by a terrible storm. Despite this, Palmer still wants to try the escape route again. But there are Americans on the island and they are working hard to defeat the Japanese. Palmer is put in charge of intelligence gathering on Leyte, but he is very reluctant to take it. He still dreams of Australia.
Despite himself, Palmer does act heroically in finding and transmitting intelligence information to the Americans. And the hero does get the girl in this film. No unhappy ending her with the hero and/or the heroine being killed.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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