The Gallant Hours (1960)





Director:     Robert Montgomery. 

Starring:     James Cagney (Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey Jr.),  Dennis Weaver (Lt. Commander Andy Lowe),  Ward Costello (Captain Harry Black),  Vaughn Taylor (Commander Mike Pulaski),  Richard Jaeckel (Lieutenant Commander Roy Webb),  Les Tremayne (Captain Frank Enright),  Walter Sande (Captain Horace Keys),  Karl Swenson (Captain Bill Bailey),  Leon Lontoc (Manuel),  Robert Burton (Major General Roy Geiger),  Carleton Young (Colonel Evans Carlson),  Raymond Bailey (Major General Archie Vandergrift),  Harry Landers (Captain Joseph Foss),  Richard Carlyle (Father),  James Yagi (Rear Admiral Jiro Kobe),  James T. Goto (Admiral Isoroku  Yamamoto),  Carl Benton Reid (Vice-Admiral Robert Ghormley). 

Admiral Halsey during the Battle of Guadalcanal  


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

22 November 1945.  At 62 years of age William Frederick Halsey (born 1882 in Elizabeth, New Jersey) is retiring from the United States Navy.   He graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1904, 43rd of 62 men in his class.  He speaks with his aide Manuel Maravilla from Luzon, the Philippines, who is also retiring and going back to Luzon.  Halsey asks Maravilla what he remembers best and the Filipino says Guadalcanal.   


16 October 1942.  Halsey is flying out to make an inspection tour of Gaudalcanal.  With him is his staff from his previous flagship, the aircraft carrier Enterprise.  His staff includes:  Capt. Frank Enright, plans officer, Capt. Bill Bailey, operations officer, Cpt. Horace Keys, senior flight surgeon,  and Lt. Commander Andrew Lowe, aide and pilot.  Lowe tells the guys that 6,000 more Japanese troops have landed on Guadalcanal and the Tokyo Express has been shelling the island all night.  Halsey is asleep in his bunk. 

Men on a Japanese submarine see the lone plane and report it to headquarters on the island of Truk.  The intelligence officer Kobe does not think the message an important one, so he just slips it into his papers.   Kobe goes into a meeting with Yamamoto, the commander-in-chief of the combined Japanese fleet.  He informs the commander that most of the American airplanes are out of commission and the Japanese army has Henderson airfield surrounded.  He estimates that Guadalcanal will be completely within Japanese hands within four days.  When Kobe picks up his materials to leave, the message falls out and Yamamoto insists that he see the paper.  He thinks this message could be important.  Perhaps one of the key American naval commanders is aboard the plane.  He has 20 Japanese Zeros sent out to intercept and destroy the plane on its arrival on Guadalcanal.

Halsey in his pajamas gets up and speaks with his staff.  One of his aides tells him that they should replace commander Ghormley with someone else.  This displeases Halsey because Ghormley and he both played football for the naval academy and is a friend of some 40 years.  He goes to see if there are any new messages from him.  There is one that says there has been a great increase in radio traffic between Truk and Guadalcanal.  This worries Halsey and he has the course of the plane changed to the island of Numia. 

In Washington, D.C., the supreme naval commander E J. King checks with the President of the United States first and then puts in a call to Pearl Harbor to Admiral Chester W. Nimitz.  Halsey is to replace Ghormley as commander of the South Pacific forces.  When Halsey lands at Numia he receives the message.  He is transported by boat over to Ghormley's flagship.  Halsey and Ghormley talk in Ghormley's office.  Halsey can't seem to believe that the Navy has made this decision, nor does Ghormley.  (Actually, the Navy thought Ghormley was too pessimistic and myopic for the tough fighting ahead.)  Halsey asks why the US is losing on Guadalcanal?  Ghormley says that the spotter aircraft failed to find the Japanese navy, they re-supplied their troops on Guadalcanal and the Japanese use their torpedoes more effectively and are better night fighters. 

Kobe informs Yamamoto that Halsey has replaced Ghormley.  They both think this leadership change will not affect the actual situation on the ground on Guadalcanal.  But Yamamoto remembers that Halsey led the raids on the Marshalls, Wake Island  and the Marquesas Islands.   And it was Halsey who launched the Doolittle Raid where the bombers were able to bomb Tokyo and other targets. 

Halsey talks to his officer staff.  He tells them he is mostly hindered by his lack of knowledge about Guadalcanal and the surrounding area. So he wants the men to keep doing what they have been doing until he gets up to speed.  After the meeting he talks with Captain Harry Black, formerly of Ghormley's staff.  Halsey feels that Black has a grudge against him for replacing Ghormley.  Nevertheless, he tells Black that he is going to keep him on his staff because of the considerable knowledge Black has obtained since being in the area.  And the first job Halsey has for Black is to get all the commanders in the area together on the ship, so Halsey can speak to them.   

Halsey listens to the needs of the various commanders:  Major General Roy Geiger (commander of all the air forces on Guadalcanal), Colonel Evans Carlson (of Carlson's Raiders fame), Major General Archie Vandergrift (commander of all the Marines on Guadalcanal), Rear Admiral Kelly Turner and Maj. Gen. Millard F. Harmon.  Everyone seems to be asking where's the navy?  They want the navy to step up its activities, to get more men and supplies on Guadalcanal, and get more ships to prevent the Japanese ships from re-supplying their troops and bringing more troops to Guadalcanal.  Halsey says he will try to do his best to step up the efforts of the navy.  (But as for now, Halsey doesn't know where he's going to get the resources to keep his promises to the commanders.)

There are 25,000 soldiers and marines on Guadalcanal and Halsey wants to abandon an airfield construction project on another island to free up more army men for duty on Guadalcanal.  And Halsey is going to divert the troops without the permission of the higher ups.  He says they will sort that out later.  He is opposed by Captain Black, who is a strictly by the book officer, but will still grab those troops anyways. 

Halsey now calls in Commander Mike Pulaski who can speak Japanese and has met most of their naval higher-ups, including Yamamoto.  Mike says that Yamamoto loves to play poker and consistently overplays his hand.  And he lets Halsey know that it was Yamamoto who planned the whole Pearl Harbor attack.  The doctor comes in next.  He insists that Halsey must get more rest.  Halsey is not cooperative, so the doctor says he will give Halsey his shots.  The admiral is very fearful of needles and he makes a deal with the doc that he will go to bed early if the doc will give him the shots later. 

Halsey pays a visit to Guadalcanal.  He gets a jeep and a driver, as well as a marine guard.  Halsey talks to a 19 year old machine gunner who recently killed 38 Japanese soldiers trying to get across the Tenaru River.  He talks with Joe Foss, first ace to destroy as many enemy as Eddie Rickenbacker did in World War I..  Halsey has dinner with Vandergrift and then hits the sack.  A Japanese air raid forces Vandergrift into the air shelter.  Halsey says he won't go underground, but as the bombs come closer and closer to him, he seeks underground shelter. 

Before Halsey leaves, Vandergrift has him say a few words to the men.  He praises the men for having stopped the most important over water offensive in history. 

Yamamoto plans to take Henderson Field beginning on October 22,; he will land troops under heavy air cover on October 23; his planes will commence operations from Henderson Field on October 24; and on October 25 his ships will engage the US navy and obliterate them.  The surrender of Guadalcanal will then naturally follow. 

The Japanese navy is moving from around Truk and Rabaul toward Guadalcanal.  Halsey figures that Yamamoto thinks by the time he gets to Guadalcanal, the airfield will already be in the hand of the Japanese.  The admiral plans to surprise Yamamoto by going after him.  The Hornet and the Enterprise will hit the Japanese first and the American cruisers will give close support to the troops around Henderson field. 

Andy Lowe wants to see actual combat and he approached Captain Bailey of the Enterprise to ask Halsey to let him go over to Enterprise.   Halsey doesn't want to loose Andy, but Andy is so anxious to go that Halsey agrees to his transfer. 

Yamamoto is worried because his search planes have not uncovered the American carriers.  He figures there will be a great sea battle somewhere northeast of the Solomon Islands. 

As the Japanese navy approaches, Halsey gives the command to attack. 

Yamamoto and his staff drink to the sinking of the Hornet.  This is a personal victory for Yamamoto because the ship was Halsey's previous flagship and from its decks the Doolittle Raid was launched.  Yamamoto was blamed for this deep penetration into Japan's defenses.

In the naval battle, the Americans lost 283 men.  The Hornet was sunk and the Enterprise badly damaged.  Also lost were 74 aircraft.  The Japanese lost more than 100 planes.  Halsey's staff is worried about the Japanese navy, because if they pursue the American fleet, they can cause crippling damages.  Halsey himself is not worried, because he figures that Yamamoto won't be coming after them for now.  He figures that the air crews of the carriers have all been shot up pretty badly and the Japanese ships won't want to face American land-based aircraft from Henderson Field.  Halsey has the ships pool  their repairmen and get to work on the damaged ships, especially the Enterprise.   A little while later, a message is received saying that the Japanese navy is retiring toward Truk. 

Andy Lowe talks to some of the injured pilots.  He finds that he has a new room partner, Roy Webb.  Andy knows that the fellow is a squadron commander.  Roy says he lost half of his squadron, 9 men, and he just doesn't want to command anymore.  He will fly in combat, but he won't command others..  Andy runs into Halsey, who asks Andy for an assessment of this pilot Roy Webb. Andy explains the situation.  Halsey sends for Webb.  He asks Webb what happened?  Webb says he still wants combat, but just not command.  Halsey states that Webb thinks that one has to be a great man to be a squadron commander.  He says:  "Well,  I have news for you.  There aren't any great men.  There are just great challenges that ordinary men like you and me are forced by circumstances to meet."    And squadron commander is a challenge he will have to continue to face. 

The staff go with Halsey on one of his swims.  It's a beautiful day.  Halsey asks Pulaski when the Japanese will be back.  Pulaski estimates two weeks, around November 11.  And November 11 turns out to be the date Yamamoto agrees on for another assault on Guadalcanal.  Yamamoto wants to change the secret codes, but Kobe says there's not enough time for the new code books to de distributed.   

Nov. 9.  More American reinforcements and supplies rushed to Guadalcanal.  They are preparing for November 11.  Scott and Callahan have three cruisers and a handful of destroyers.  The Japanese will have four battleships, five heavy cruisers, two carriers and 30 destroyers.  Halsey's staff suggests that they detach the battleships from the Enterprise and send them to support Scott and Callahan, but Halsey says the battleships must protect the Enterprise.  At this time Scott and Callahan show up.  The two commanders are very willing to fight the more powerful Japanese force.

Captain Black tells Halsey that his son is on a float plane that is overdue.  He says he will send out a special search, but Halsey says they will conduct just a thorough, but regular search. 

Yamamoto moves his headquarters from Truk to Rabaul to be closer to the action.   He has decided to visit the most forward combat units and will leave for Bougainville in the morning.  A Japanese officer makes a bad decision and uses Japanese naval code to alert the local commanders.   The message is intercepted and sent to decoding units. 

Alone Halsey is very restless and thinks about his son and a multitude of other things.  All of a sudden there is the cry of:  "Contact!"  Halsey hears the naval guns being fired. 

Captain Black goes in to see Halsey.  He gives the admiral his personal condolences for the loss of Scott and Callahan.  On a happier note, the float plane with Halsey's son on it has been spotted by coast watchers and everyone aboard is well.  And more good news.  They have given Halsey another star, so now he will wear four stars. 

Confirmation comes in that Yamamoto is heading down the slot between one set of islands and another, headed toward Guadalcanal.  Halsey decides to throw the book out and send the battleships into the shallow waters of the slot to greet the Japanese navy.  Pulaski brings great news to Halsey.  They have broken the Japanese code.  And they have decoded the news of Yamamoto's flight to Bougainville.  They have a chance to get Yamamoto in the air.  They decide to send the army's P-38s out to intercept Yamamoto's flight.  In the meantime, Halsey visits Guadalcanal to speak to the aviators.  Andy Lowe says they should attack Yamamoto when he is on the water after arriving, but Capt. Thomas G. 'Tom' Lamphier Jr., the man who will be running the actual show, says army pilots are no good at recognizing naval vessels and may make a mistake.  The decision is to try to get Yamamoto in the air.   

Halsey gets the news that the Japanese navy has reversed course.  The admiral calls for a full out attack on the Japanese navy.  Planes go out, drop their bombs, return for refueling and re-armament and go out again.  Andy Lowe has made three trips already and is going back out again.  He tells Halsey that they are running up a "big score".  Just then the men in the tent start whooping and hollering.  Llamphier got Yamamoto!  Halsey does not react, but becomes very contemplative.  He only asks what were the American losses?  Four airplanes. 

Back to the present.  Halsey has changed into civilian clothes.  He goes up on deck and shakes the hands of the officers followed by hand salutes.  Just before the former admiral descends to his boat, he salutes his former ship.  He is now taken ashore. 


Good movie about Halsey and his role in the American victory at the campaign at Guadalcanal.  James Cagney was very good as Halsey.   Dennis Weaver as Lt. Commander Andy Lowe provided the comic relief.  It really helps to review some of the basic facts of the Battle of Guadalcanal because it was a long series of battles.  My own father was at Guadalcanal with the U.S. Marine Corps.  He caught malaria after surviving aerial and ship bombardments and was out of commission for awhile.  (He promised God if He would save him from the bombardments, he would go to church every Sunday, a pledge that he didn't keep. ) 

There is no real battle footage, either real or acted.  But the movie is not like a theater production to film.  The excitement created by the planning of and the reactions to the results of the various battles keeps one's interest.  My wife, who is not crazy about war films, even liked it, so that's saying something.  And it was at the battles of Guadalcanal that the famous Japanese naval commander Yamamoto was shot out of the sky after the Americans broke the Japanese naval secret code.  (The pilot who shot his plane down said in an interview that, as he got close to the battle area, he was preparing for battle by making sure his machine guns were working.  He fired his guns and to his absolute surprise he suddenly realized that he had hit and shot down a Japanese plane, the one carrying Yamamoto).    

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 


Historical Background:


August 7  --  First U.S. Marine Division lands unopposed east of the Japanese airfield at Lugna Point (on the north central coast of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands).  The Japanese garrison retreats Matanikau.

August 12  –  the airfield named Henderson Field after Marine aviator Lofton R. Henderson, who was killed during the Battle of Midway.

August 18  --   the 5th Marines attack Matanikau.  They take the airfield and prepare for Japanese counter attacks. 

August 21  --  the Japanese Ichiki Detachment approaches the air field from the east at Taivu Point and attacks at the Ilu River.  There is a second attack along the beach as the Japanese try to flank the American forces.  The Americans attack the Japanese and destroy the rest of the Ichiki Detachment.  800 Japanese killed.  The surviving Japanese infantry continues on to the west of the airfield.

August 24-25  --  naval Battle of the Eastern Solomons.  After damage being inflicted on both sides, both fleets retreat from the area. The Americans, however, prevent the Japanese from landing more reinforcements on Guadalcanal.

September (early)  --  The Battle of Edson's Ridge.  The Japanese 35th Infantry Brigade land at Taivu Point.  Part of the 35th land west of the airfield at Cape Esperance (on the northwest coast of Guadalcanal).  The 35th (east and west) move on the airfield.  Meanwhile the US sends out a raiding party and destroys the supply base at Taivu Point.  The Japanese attack at Edson's Ridge south of the airfield.  The US Marines are rushed up to the top of the ridge. 

September 12-13  --  Japanese night attack almost breaks through the right flank of the Americans.  With continued night attacks, the US Marines have to fall back.  The Japanese push the Americans back even farther.  The American line folds in on itself and the Japanese try to break the American left flank.  Heavy artillery fire breaks the Japanese attack. A few Japanese reach the airfield.  American airplanes inflict heavy damages on the Japanese forces.  They are forced to retreat west of the airfield. 

September 18 – an Allied naval convoy delivers 4,157 men from the 3rd Provisional Marine Brigade.  Aircraft carrier USS Wasp sunk by a Japanese submarine.

September 23-27 – U.S. Marines attempt to attack Japanese forces west of the Matanikau, but are thrown back.

October 6-9  --  Marines cross the Matanikau River and inflict heavy losses on the Japanese and force them to retreat from their positions east of the Matanikau. The victories also hindered Japanese preparations for their planned major offensive on U.S. Lunga defenses.

October 11-12  --  naval Battle of Esperance.  Ghormley's ships damage the Japanese fleet trying to reinforce Guadalcanal with troops. 

October 18   – Halsey takes command in the South Pacific Area from his friend Ghormley, at a critical stage of the Guadalcanal Campaign.

October 26  --  Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands.  The USA loses the Hornet aircraft carrier and the carrier Enterprise is badly damaged.  But the Japanese lost many pilots and aircraft which made them more vulnerable to American air power. 

November 1-3 – the American attack and destroy the Japanese forces defending the Point Cruz area.

November 8-12  --  the Americans attack the Japanese near Koli Point.  The Japanese escape to join a larger force of Japanese troops, but the Americans kill from 450-475 Japanese.

November 11 and 12  --  the Japanese are planning to take Henderson Field.  The navy sets out to deliver new troops and supplies to Guadalcanal.  Rear Admirals Daniel J. Callaghan and Norman Scott lead the two task groups.  The ships are attacked by Japanese airplanes, but most of the men and supplies are landed successfully.   

November 13 – Callaghan's force intercepts Abe's bombardment group between Guadalcanal and Savo Island. Abe's warships sink or severely damage all but one cruiser and one destroyer in Callaghan's force. Both Callaghan and Scott are killed. But Abe’s damages caused him to order his warships to retire without bombarding Henderson Field.

November 14  --  US naval ships prevent the bombing of Henderson Field by Japanese ships. 

November 26 – Japanese Lieutenant General Hitoshi Imamura takes command of the newly formed Eighth Area Army at Rabaul. He plans to bomb Henderson Field, but because of Allied moves he has to stay put to defend Rabaul.

November 30  --  Battle of Tassafaronga.  American ships again prevent the Japanese from re-supplying their troops. 

by Dec. 7  --  Hyakutake's forces losing about 50 men every day from malnutrition, disease, and Allied ground or air attacks. More attempts to re-supply the troops are stopped by the Americans.

Dec 12  --  the Japanese navy proposes that Guadalcanal be abandoned. 

December 18-January 10 – U.S. Army forces attack Japanese positions on Mount Austen. Japanese force the Americans to temporarily halt the offensive.

December 28 – General Hajime Sugiyama and Admiral Osami Nagano personally inform Emperor Hirohito of the decision to abandon Guadalcanal.

December 31 – the Emperor formally endorses the abandonment of Guadalcanal.



January 10 – Americans re-attack the Japanese on Mount Austen.

By Jan. 23 – Americans capture Mount Austen and two nearby ridges called the Seahorse and the Galloping Horse.

January 29 – Halsey sends a re-supply convoy to Guadalcanal. The Japanese naval torpedo bombers attack Halsey’s task force. They heavily damage the U.S. cruiser Chicago.

January 30 – more torpedo aircraft sink Chicago. Halsey orders the task force to return to base. He then sends his forces to the Coral Sea, south of Guadalcanal.

February 9  – the Japanese have abandoned Guadalcanal. 


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