Darby's Rangers (1958)

 

 

 

Director:   William A. Wellman

Starring:   James Garner (Maj./Col. William Orlando Darby), Etchika Choureau (Angelina De Lotta/Dittmann), Jack Warden (MSgt. Saul Rosen/Narrator), Edward Byrnes (Lt. Arnold Dittman), Venetia Stevenson (Peggy McTavish), Torin Thatcher (Sgt. McTavish), Peter Brown (Pvt./Cpl. Rollo Burns), Corey Allen, (Pvt. Pittsburgh Tony Sutherland), Stuart Whitman (Sgt./SSgt./Sfc. Hank Bishop), Murray Hamilton (Pvt./Sgt. Sims Delancey).

An army assault group with action in North Africa and Italy.

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

Major William Orlando Darby comes into his office saying hello to Master Sergeant Saul Rosen.  Rosen shows the major a letter approving the establishment of an army ranger group.  The master sergeant warns Darby that Brigadier General W. A. Wise has a lot of interviews coming up with good officers who might become the leader of the new battalion of rangers.  Darby tells Rosen to call up all the potential interviewees and cancel their appointments. 

The general comes into his office.  He is followed in by the major.  Darby tells the general right out that he canceled the interviews with the other officers because he knows a man much more highly quality than they:  himself.  The general says that Darby is a great planner and the army needs men who can plan things.  Besides, Gen. Truscott wants a leader with combat experience.  Darby tells the general that he would like to go over his head and speak directly to Truscott about the matter.  So the general sets it up with Truscott. 

Darby goes into Truscott's office and demonstrates to the general that he has made a thorough study of army raiders in American history and in other countries.  He suggests that the new unit be called the rangers.  Truscott likes the name.  Darby goes on to say that he has breathed, lived and dreamed of commanding just such a unityto be the vanguard of army amphibious assaults. He says:  "Gen. Truscott, give me the chance to make our dream live." 

Darby gets the job and he heads for the British Commando depot near Dundee, Scotland.  The call gpes out to all the American armed forces in the United Kingdom for volunteers to become rangers.  One of the volunteers is Irishman Sims Delancey who loves to fight.  He fights three Scotsmen outside a tavern.  The military police have to break it up.  Pvt. Tony Sutherland has the problem of not being able to keep his hands off the women.  His commanding officer wants to get rid of him and tells him to try out for this ranger program in Scotland.  Then there's Pvt. Hank Bishop.  As soon as he hits London he hits on a woman bus ticket taker and it turns out that she likes him.  Her name is Wendy Hollister.  Before he leaves her, he gets to kiss her.  He tells Wendy he will see her on his very first leave.  She throws him a kiss as the bus pulls out. 

Waiting at the station in Dundee are the training officer Lt. Manson and Sgt. McTavish.  They meet Darby and Rosen at the station.  Darby then talks to his men.  The first thing he tells his men is to get along with the British.  They will be attached to the first commando brigade.  The British will be teaching them how to become good rangers.  He then tells his men to get on the trucks. 

At the base Lt. Manson tells the Americans that the training is going to be very tough on them, that the Americans will soon be cursing his name, but the name of the game is to train the men into becoming hard hitting commandos.  Now Darby speaks to the men and says that most of them, because of a housing shortage, will be living with British civilians in their private houses.  The soldiers are thrilled by the idea. 

Pvt. Rollo Burns shows up late.  He is very young.  Darby calls the man in to speak with him.   He doesn't want to listen to Rollo's excuses. He just asks him why he wants to be a ranger?  Rollo says he wants to be the best soldier he can be. 

Burns comes out of Darby's office and runs into Sgt. McTavish.  He asks the sergeant if he can direct him to the house address listed on a piece of paper he was given.   The sergeant rolls off the answer lickity-split.  He also tells him that a pretty girl of 19 will answer the door. 

Rollo learns that the sergeant was right.  A pretty blonde of 19 named Peggy answers the door.  And she's enthusiastic that a young soldier is going to be staying with her and her father.  She shows Rollo his room and she and he test it out the bed by sitting down and and bouncing on it.  Just at this time Sgt. McTavish comes walking up to the second floor and hears the bed squeaking and the two young people laughing and he barges into the room.  Sarge really gives the young man a stern look. 

Pvt. Sutherland goes to stay with Mr. and Mrs. Andrews.  Our Romeo likes the looks of Mrs. Andrews.  Mr. Andrews is considerably older than his wife.  And he is a member of the home guard, so he has night duty.  He leaves the house.  Sutherland tells the lady that he just wants to fit in and be like one of the family. 

As narrator Rosen says that of the 3,000 volunteers, first battalion only kept 450 of them.  The men are put through really vigorous training. 

Major Darby is promoted to the rank of Colonel.  The boys are now beginning Phase II of their training.  What the men don't like is sleeping in their tents in the field when it is pouring rain.  They miss their civilian homes.  Sutherland thinks about Mrs. Andrews and what she is doing.  His tent mate tells him to leave that woman alone.  Sutherland goes A.W.O.L. to see Mrs. Andrews.  She tells him he shouldn't be here, but Sutherland just won't take no for an answer. 

Sutherland returns back to his tent before day light.  His tent mate snarls at him that if he goes near that Mrs. Andrews again, he is going to kill Sutherland. 

Everybody gets a three-day pass and they go wild.  In London Bishop heads straight to the home of Wendy.  He and Wendy meet Pvt. Delancey and a fellow nicknamed Heavy Haul at a fancy restaurant.  They were supposed to bring dates with them, but they struck out.  Bishop asks Wendy to call some of the women mechanics and get two of them for the boys.  The soldiers say no because they don't like the idea of having a date with a woman mechanic.  Bishop tells Wendy to make the calls.  She leaves the table. 

Two women mechanics arrive and they are gorgeous women.  Delancey and Heavy Haul are extremely pleased by what they see.  After dinner Bishop and Wendy take a taxi to her place.  The bombs from the German planes start landing around Wendy's building and Bishop gets a bit worried.  Wendy takes the bombing off of  Bishop's mind by making out with him.   

In the morning Wendy makes breakfast for Delancey and tells him that she has their day completely planned out.  They take the train, get off at a station and go for a walk to her parent's estate. Her mother doesn't seem to like Bishop's informality, but her father likes him.  When Wendy sends Bishop out of  the room, she tells her parents that she is going to marry Bishop.  Dad says he likes that bloom on his daughter's cheeks.  Wendy goes to tell Hank that she loves him.  Hank says he thinks she's blown a gasket. 

Hank is a professional gambler, a dealer in Reno, Nevada, and he does quite a few tricks with the card deck for Wendy and her parents.  Mrs. Hollister asks Hank about his background and he gives it to her straight and hard.  She is a bit offended by his tale and the way he tells it and walks away from the card table.  Later Hank scolds Wendy for not telling him that she planned to marry him, nor did she say as a bus ticket taker, her parents live in a castle. Hank leaves saying he won't be back as long as wedding bells keep clanging in her head. 

The soldiers learn how to scale a cliff.  A machine fires the grappling hooks and attached ropes up onto the top of a tall cliff.  The men pull on the ropes slowing until the hooks grab onto something and stay put.  Sutherland is one of the men climbing up to the top of the cliff. 

Mr. Andrews asks his wife if she loves this Sutherland fellow.  She says yes she does.  Meanwhile, Sutherland falls while scaling the tall cliffs and is killed.  In the morning, Mrs. Andrews reads a letter from her husband.  He says he is giving her the freedom she desires.  He will go to London and try to get a position with a university there.  Mrs. Andrews has a big smile on her face.  She rushes over to talk with Sgt. McTavish about speaking to Pvt. Sutherland and McTavish tells her straight out that he is dead.  She faints. 

Col. Darby talks to Rosen about his boyhood days in Arizona.  Rosen asks when do they go to war?  Darby answers they leave within 48 hours. 

Rollo asks Sgt. McTavish for permission to marry Peggy when he gets back from soldiering.  He is expecting the sarge to fight him, but sarge surprises him by being happy about the future match. 

The men get ready to get on the train.  Wendy is there to say goodbye to Hank Bishop.  She tells him that he will come back to her, because he will never find a better woman for him than her.  They kiss and Hank has to get on his train.  Peggy says goodbye to Rollo.  Her father tells Rollo to keep his backside down. 

The guys are headed to North Africa.  November 8, 1942.  They make a landing on the shore and catch the enemy napping.  They take out the bunkers along the shore without much opposition at all.  They clear the way and now the ships can use the harbor.  In the North African campaign the Allies captured 130,000 German troops. 

Now the rangers head for Sicily.  Once again they spear head the attack.  The rangers get involved in some house-to-house fighting.  They are able to take out a German tank with their explosives.  An Italian sniper is holding them up.  Rollo finally shoots the man and he falls from his bell tower position to the ground.  The man says something to Rollo in Italian before he dies.  This killing upsets Rollo, his first. 

A Lt. Dittmann comes in and gets off to a bad start by yelling at Rosen for not immediately standing when the lieutenant approached him.   Darby tells him that they don't follow the book all that much.  They are kind of a maverick group. And he insists that each ranger has to be treated with respect. 

Dittmann is officer of the day.  He asks a soldier where is the sergeant of the guard?  The soldier says Rollo was sick because he just killed his first man.  Dittmann goes to find Rollo and tells him that it is an honor to kill an enemy in battle.  Rollo should be proud.  Delancey doesn't like the sound of that and takes an immediate dislike to Lt. Dittmann. 

Darby now comes to speak with Rollo.  He asks Rollo what it was like when he killed the Italian?  He said the man looked at him and he obviously didn't want to die.  Rollo tells Darby that he will get over it.  Darby says he knows he will.  He adds that the Italian soldier represented the evil associated with fascism.  Rollo thanks the colonel for talking to him about the matter.  Darby says he was talking to himself also. 

It took 38 days to take Sicily.  Three weeks later they establish a beachhead on the Sorrento peninsula and hold it for 22 days.  Then they attack up the boot of Italy.  On October 2, 1943 they reach Naples. The men are exited about seeing Naples. 

Two soldiers are very rough on the Italians as they spray them with delousing dust.  A pretty blonde woman objects to the treatment.  This starts an argument and Lt. Dittmann steps in.  He takes the woman over to the side to convince her to be deloused.   The woman likes Dittmann and agrees to be deloused, but only if the lieutenant does it.  She says the way the men do the delousing is too immodest.  So Dittmann delouses her.  Her name is Angelina and she takes Dittmann up to her apartment.  Dittmann figures she is a prostitute and agrees to go with her. 

Angelina is very pretty and Dittmann keeps offering her more and more money for the "happy ending" to the dinner.  Angelina feels insulted by Dittmann who offers her 1,750 lira, all the money he has on him.  He then grabs her and starts kissing her.  She explains that she just wanted to get a job with the American army as a translator.  Dittmann apologizes to her, but she says he is not sorry.  She tells him he is a baby who can't tell the difference between a prostitute and a real working girl.  She also tells him that he can't buy everything with money.  Dittmann agrees that he is stupid and apologizes again.  Angelina gets impatient with the lieutenant and tells him to leave her home.  Dittmann leaves.   

Dittmann goes to Darby and asks him if he knows anyone who can help his Angelina get a job as a translator.  The colonel pulls some strings and Angelina gets her job. 

Rosen says that Germans just kept going from mountain to mountain "and all the time those 88s were down our throat."  Dittmann shoots a German and this stirs up a hornet's nest of enemy soldiers.  In addition, a relief force arrives putting the rangers in a dangerous situation.  Dittmann saves the day when he grabs a mortar and points it at the Germans while Delancey keeps loading rounds down the throat of the mortar. 

Spring comes, then summer and into fall and "we were still on our behinds" says Rosen.  The weather turns rainy and the men are miserable sitting around in the mud.  Darby speaks to a higher officer and asks why are the rangers being used just to hold ground when any unit can do that?  The rangers should be used to spearhead attacks, not sit on their butts.  The officer says there just are no relief forces at this time.  Darby says he's going to talk with General Mark Clark himself to get his elite troops out of this mess. 

Darby succeeds and the men are back in Naples for now.  Dittmann knocks on Angelina's door, but she won't open for him.  He breaks through the door and finds a very sick Angelina.  Dittmann tells her he is in love with her, but Angelina tells him not to say that.  She tells him to go away.  She gets up and shows him that she is pregnant.  That upsets Dittmann and he leaves.  He gets drunk and soon Darby is confronted with the antics of a drunken lieutenant.  Darby brings the lieutenant into his tent and lets the lieutenant sleep it off.  When next he sees Dittmann, the lieutenant is clear-headed enough to talk to.  Darby tells him that he just came back from having a talk with Angelina.  The father of her child is dead -- executed by the Germans.  She was in love with the man and they were to be married.  Darby goes on to tell Dittmann that the girl is pretty sick and is going to need his help. 

Dittmann goes back to see Angelina.  The doctor is with her.  He tells Dittmann that the woman is very sick.  Dittmann tries to get the needed penicillin for Angelina but is told that the medicine is only for army personnel and perhaps dependents.  So Dittmann returns to the doctor with a priest in hand.  He is going to marry Angelina.  Angelina gets her medicine. 

Dittmann and some of the men wait to hear the news from the doctor about Angie.  The doctor comes out and says that Angelina is okay, but the premature baby died.  Tomorrow the guys will be on the march again, so Dittmann is allowed in to see his wife.  He tells Angie that they will have more babies and that he loves her.  She thanks her husband and then falls back to sleep. 

The rangers go in first at Anzio.  The landing takes the Germans by surprise, but they quickly rally and pour in "everything" on the Allied troops.  The rangers find themselves sitting and waiting again.  Darby arrives with orders to take the village of Cisterna on Highway 7.  Intelligence says that the enemy in front of Cisterna is a thin line of scattered outposts.  The rangers will filter through this thin line.  After the men leave, Darby confides to Rosen that he has a bad feeling about this assignment.  Last night he had a certain nightmare and believes that something bad always follows.

The rangers under Dittmann reach a road, but German tank after German tank comes up to the top of the hill with some serious effort and then down the hill.  The men pass in twos and threes in front of the tanks when their barrels are pointed upwards.  A lone German kills one of the rangers.  The men reach a low area covered by thick fog.  The men start crawling through the fog.  After awhile, they come across a foxhole filled with Germans and hand to hand combat takes place until all the enemy are dead. 

Then German artillery opens up in the area.  The men are 300 yards south of Cisterna.  Dittmann calls it in and says that they have run smack into a large-scale German offensive.  Darby tells Dittmann to dig in and hold the ground as the 4th Battalion is coming their way.  Instead of digging in, the men move forward through the fog.  German machine guns open up on the men and a lot of the men are shot.  On the ground the fog hides the rangers from sight.  They can't get through because there is a solid line of German fire between them and Cisterna.  Delancey dies of his wounds.  And now a German tank comes into the fog and starts firing its machine gun at the men still hiding in that fog.  Darby radios Dittmann that they can't get through to them and he tells Dittmann to have the men filter back.  The men start getting the hell out of there, but they take more casualties as they do so. 

Very few of the men get back to Darby.  Rosen says:  "Darby's nightmare came true.  It was the end of his world."  Rollo makes it back to Darby and Rosen, but he soon dies. So many rangers were killed or wounded that what was left of Darby's Rangers is disbanded and the survivors shipped back to England.  Rollo makes it back to Darby and Rosen, but he soon dies.    

Bishop makes it back to Wendy and Dittmann makes it back to his wife.  Darby heads back to the pentagon for re-assignment.  Rosen drives Darby down to the beachhead to be picked up.  The colonel feels down, but the newly arrived soldiers take notice of Darby and his ranger patch and Darby cheers right up as he walks to the water with his head held high and gets onto the landing boat. 

 

The movie follows Darby's Ranger from it's inception, through ranger training and action against the Germans and Italian troops in North Africa, Sicily, Italy's Sorrento Peninsula and the amphibious landing at Anzio.  Along the way there are lots of love stories, some with happy endings.  There is some fighting in the film, but it seems secondary to human interests stories about individual rangers.  The ranger unit does follow the main flow of the war campaigns waged against the Axis forces by the Allies.  At Anzio the rangers meet their biggest challenge.  James Garner was great as Darby and so was Jack Warden as Master Sergeant Rosen.   The actors playing the love interests were Stuart Whitman, Murray Hamilton and Edward Byrnes.  The movie was enjoyable enough, but war does seem to take second place to love. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 


Historical Background:

 

William Orlando Darby

1911 (Feb 9)  --   born in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

1933  -- he graduates from the U.S. Military Academy. 

he was assigned to Ft. Bliss in the 1st Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery of the 1st Cavalry Division, the only horse mounted artillery unit remaining in the Army.

1940 (October 1)  --  promoted to captain.

1941 (early)  --  Darby participated in amphibious training in Puerto Rico.

1941 (sometime after November)  -- he was supposed to go to Pearl Harbor, but the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7. 

Darby was assigned as aide to Maj. General Russell P. Hartle. 

1942 (November)  --   Hartle and his unit shipped out with the 34th Infantry Division to Northern Ireland.

1942 (June 19)  --  Col. Lucian K. Truscott Jr. was forming an American commando-type unit and thought Darby might make a good leader.  The unit was modeled after the British commando units and became known as "Rangers" and then as "Darby's Rangers".  Darby received an immediate promotion to major.  Within 10 weeks he was made lieutenant colonel.

The unit would be making many daring night raids, using hit-and-run tactics.

1942 (August 19)  --  a small group of the rangers went along on the abortive Dieppe raid with the loss of 10 men (6 killed). 

He led his men into North Africa, Sicily and Anzio.  Darby returned to the US following the destruction of the 1st and 3rd battalions at Cisterna.

1942 (Nov 8)  --  Darby's men spearheaded the North African landings at Arzew, Algeria.

1943 (July 9)  --  the rangers landed at Licata, opening the invasion of Sicily.

1943 (September 9)  --  the rangers led the Allies onto the Italian mainland at Salerno.

1943 (December 11)  --  Darby promoted to full colonel.

1944 (Jan 22)  --  Darby led his Rangers into Anzio and captured several gun batteries and seized the city. 

Lt. Gen. George S. Patton Jr., commanding Seventh Army, offered Darby command of a regiment in the 45th Division.

1944 (January 30-31)  --  at Cisterna, just a few miles inland from the Anzio beachhead, the rangers ran into a much larger and more heavily armed German paratroop division supported by tanks. The rangers were slaughtered with 761 casualties or captured/missing out of  767 men.

Darby was assigned to lead the 179th Infantry Regiment, 45th Division, then in the midst of a difficult battle.

1945 (April 26)  --  in the general effort to cut off the retreat of the German forces remaining north of the Po River, task force Darby captured Lasize, a small village on the southeast shore of Lake Garda.

1945 (April 30)  --  Darby killed near Torbole, Italy by an 88mm artillery fragment, while attached to the US 10th Mountain Division.

Among his awards were two Distinguished Service Crosses and three Purple Hearts.  Darby was posthumously awarded the rank of brigadier general.

 

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