MacArthur (1977)





Director:  Joseph Sargent.

Starring: Gregory Peck (Gen. Douglas MacArthur), Ivan Bonar (Lt. Gen. Richard K. Sutherland), Ward Costello (Gen. George C. Marshall), Nicolas Coster (Maj. Sidney Huff, MacArthur's aide), Marj Dusay (Mrs. Jean MacArthur), Ed Flanders (President Harry S. Truman), Art Fleming (The Secretary), Russell Johnson (Adm. Ernest J. King), Sandy Kenyon (Maj. Gen./Lt. Gen. Jonathan M. Wainwright), Robert Mandan (Rep. Martin), Allan Miller (Col. Legrande A. Diller, MacArthur's aide), Dan O'Herlihy (President Franklin D. Roosevelt), Dick O'Neill (Col. Courtney Whitney, Intelligence Officer), Addison Powell (Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz), Tom Rosqui (Gen. Sampson).

The life of Gen. Douglas MacArthur from the invasion of the Philippines in World War II to his being fired by President Truman and retirement.


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

"When Japan attacked, he led us back to victory.  When Korea exploded, we turned to him again.  To this day there are those who think he was a dangerous demagogue and others who say he was one of the greatest men who ever lived.  There is little doubt, however, that he affected the lives of millions all over the world, many of who do not even know his name."

MacArthur is at his favorite place, West Point, New York at the parade grounds and watches the cadets march by.  He talks to the cadets later stressing duty, honor, country. 

Flashback.  Corregidor, the Philippines, 1942.  Three months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  MacArthur sees many people, men, women and children, who have been badly wounded by the Japanese.  He sits in his jeep going through the underground corridors.  He stops at the hospital section and walks among the very badly wounded.  MacArthur tells a Philippine major that help is on its way.  Washington has promised him that. 

Washington, D. C.  President Franklin Delano Roosevelt wants to hear what's the situation for Corregidor.  He is told that no supply ships have been able to get to the Philippines.  They have lost 80,000 tons in the attempt to supply  MacArthur.  The only supplies that have come in have been brought in by submarine.  The president says that MacArthur is going to take this lack of supplies very personally and will believe that the president is trying to rob him deliberately of glory.  MacArthur will not leave the Philippines unless the president sends him a direct order to evacuate to Australia.  FDR tells his staff to cut an order and he will sign it. 

Corregidor.  MacArthur comments to Lt. Gen. Richard K. Sutherland that for the first time in his life he feels like disobeying a direct order.  Sutherland tells him that he can't do that, but MacArthur childishly says then he will resign his commission and fight on here as a private.  Sutherland keeps telling MacArthur that he just can't do that. 

The war continues with the Japanese hitting more targets on the ground in the Philippines.  Major Sidney Huff, MacArthur's aide, goes into see the general.  Huff says that President Manuel Luis Quezón y Molina of the Philippines wants MacArthur and his family to come with him on a ship headed for Australia.  MacArthur says no, because the soldiers cannot see their commanding officer sneaking off to safety far from the Philippines.  Huff tells the general to at least send his wife and his child out in a submarine.  Jean MacArthur, however, says that she will stay at her husband's side.  MacArthur goes over to her and says that she is his bravest soldier.  The end result is that the MacArthur family will take that boat ride. 

Gen. Wainwright will now be in charge of the troops on the Philippines.  He is on the dock waiting to say goodbye to MacArthur and his family.  A Philippine soldier named Castro says goodbye to Gen. MacArthur.  The general tells him to take his rifle and ammunition and go into the hills of Bataan for there are some good men who will be fighting there.  Now MacArthur says goodbye to Wainwright.  He says he will be back with as much as can be carried.  He then gives Wainwright a box of cigarettes and two packs of cigarettes.  And off he goes. 

The boat ride is extremely rocky and MacArthur gets a bit sea-sick.  He goes up on deck where they are going very slowly because there are mines laid in the sea.  It takes a while to get through this patch.  As they get away from the mines, the boat starts up at regular speed.  Sid asks MacArthur how's he doing and the general answers:  "Not exactly a navy man, Sid."  Sid tells him that when he gets to Australia he will have his own private train car to take him to Melbourne.  Mac says he can't sleep for thinking of what's happening to the men at Corregidor.  And he knows that people are saying nasty things about him behind his back. 

The MacArthurs ride the train to Melbourne.  Mrs. MacArthur says to Sid that the train was the right choice for her husband.  She adds that this is the first real sleep her husband has had since Pearl Harbor.  The train pulls into Melbourne station.  MacArthur's son asks where are all the kangaroos?  There is a big crowd at the station to welcome the general.  Macarthur learns that no one knows anything about a Philippine rescue operation.  And there is no American infantry or navy here.  And they may have their hands full even trying to defend Australia. 

President Roosevelt has awarded MacArthur with the Congressional Medal of Honor.  He says his father got his medal of honor when he was only 19 years of age.  Mac adds that he would trade the medal for just one trained division.  Now he goes out to say something to the large crowd.  He tells them that the president sent him from Corregidor to Australia to organize the American offensive against Japan, a primary goal of which is to retake the Philippines. 

Wainwright surrenders his forces to the Japanese.  There is a ceremony for the surrender complete with photographers.  MacArthur says that it's a Japanese trick.  He doesn't believe it.  Gen. Sutherland tells him that everyone else believes it.  It's got to be true.  MacArthur tells Sutherland that Wainwright's orders were to defend his position until help arrived.  Sutherland says that Wainwright had no supplies and they were running out of food.  He had not choice but to surrender.  Sutherland now brings up the suggestion that the Congress give Wainwright the medal of honor.  MacArthur refuses to write a letter in support of Wainwright.  He says giving the man a medal would dishonor those brave men who have already received the medal.  Instead, he tells Sutherland to write to Gen. Marshall and tell him that:  "I believe that Wainwright has become temporarily imbalanced, and his condition renders him susceptible to enemy use."

MacArthur puts pressure on Harding to speed up the training of the new recruits, while Harding begs him for just three more weeks.  A B-17 bomber arrives to the delight of MacArthur.  They are building up several squadrons in Brisbane and they hope soon to be bombing the Japanese. 

The men are coming along well and they now look like real soldiers. 

At a conference it is said that they figure the next move for the Japanese would be onto the continent of Australia.  The general says that the Australians can't hold Darwin so they will draw back leaving only scorched earth behind for the Japanese.  They will head to the coast.  If necessary, they will head south to what is called the Brisbane line.  Here they will defeat the enemy in the farms and cities of southeast Australia, the heart of Australia.  Now MacArthur gets up to speak.  He says he is going to take the fight for Australia to the Japanese.  He will strike at the Japanese first in New Guinea. 

The Americans are taking a shellacking from the Japanese.  MacArthur has reached a stalemate.  MacArthur tells one of his commanders to start firing any commander who won't fight and replace him with someone who will.  The Americans and Australians have lost a lot of men in battle with the Japanese.  MacArthur comes to the area.  He takes a look at the destruction and the dead.  He says:  "Not my idea of how to win a war."  He says they are going to leap-frog over the Japanese strong points, cut their supply lines and starve the Japs out. 

A general comes in saying that he just came from Washington with orders to build up a network of Philippine guerrilla activity.  He also says that MacArthur is now a big hero in the states. But they want Mac to change his statement from "I shall return" to "We shall return".  Mac doesn't like it and refuses to do it. 

MacArthur flies out to Pearl Harbor to talk with the President of the United States.  He wants to know why Roosevelt wants to meet with him?  And he claims that Roosevelt has been deliberately keeping him in the dark as to future plans.  MacArthur arrives at the ship where Roosevelt is waiting for him.  He has been waiting for him for a half-hour.  The reason for calling MacArthur to Pearl Harbor is that they want to go over the plans for the future moves against Japan.  Admirals Nimitz and King have formulated a strategy that concentrates on capturing the island of Formosa.  MacArthur gives his argument that they should take the Philippines, not Formosa. He wants to land at Leyte Beach on Luzon and then carry the fight to Manila. 

The president argues against MacArthur's plan.  MacArthur argues that if Roosevelt leaves behind the millions of people on Luzon and the thousands of  American prisoners there, the people will punish the Democrats at the next election.  FDR asks why Mac has stayed so long outside of the United States?  He says he has his hands full in the Philippines.  He says home is West Point, New York and Manila, the Philippines.  

MacArthur goes back to his island hopping.  He gets the news that the next big move in the Pacific area is Leyte Beach.  This news is going to please MacArthur very much.  He will return to the Philippines two months earlier than expected.  The bombardment of Leyte  from  the air and at sea starts in the early morning.  MacArthur decides to land on the beach. 

The military media are waiting for the arrival of MacArthur on the beach.  The landing craft stops and MacArthur walks through the water and onto the beach. He broadcasts:  "People of the Philippines.  I have returned." MacArthur gets in a jeep and goes up to the front line.  When he can proceed no farther he gets out of the jeep and lays his map on the hood of the jeep.  There the officers present MacArthur with his fifth star and the rank of General of the Army.

MacArthur heads to a Japanese internment camp.  The Filipinos there give him a very warm welcome.  He goes into see the survivors of the Philippines Death March.  In the hospital he meets again with the Philippine soldier Castro.  He puts his arms around the small fellow and hugs him. 

FDR has died in Warm Springs, Georgia.  Henry Truman, the vice president, now becomes the president.  MacArthur listens to the funeral procession for FDR. 

Truman is handed a file.  He reads the file and then says that Roosevelt never told him about this.  He is referring to the atomic bomb.  Now MacArthur learns about the atomic bomb.  He does not like this new "apparatus".  It spoils all his plans for the biggest mass invasion in history, the invasion of Japan.  Two atomic bombs are dropped on Japan. 

Tokyo Bay, 1945.  The Japanese are surrendering.  MacArthur will lead the ceremony.  Gen. Wainwright comes to see MacArthur, who is happy to see the man.  He says he wants the command of a corps and MacArthur tells him that he shall have it whenever he is ready.  The signing ceremony takes place on the battleship Missouri

MacArthur tours sections of Japan and sees the devastation caused by the war.  They drive by the Emperor's palace.  Mac says he will not challenge the authority of the Japanese emperor.  Hirohito will one day come to MacArthur of his own volition and that day will be the start of the beginning of the end of his power over the Japanese people.  MacArthur wants to establish a just order in Japan.  One of the generals says his plans are like the New Deal.  The general gives Japanese women the right to vote. 

MacArthur speaks with the leader of the Japanese, Mr. Shitahara.  He has come to get MacArthur's agreement that the new constitution must ban armed forces from Japan with any offensive capability.  And military forces will be simply for defense.  He says:  "Let us renounce war, sir.  Please." 

Truman is mad as hell at MacArthur.  He has been asking for 400,000 troops for Japan and now MacArthur says he can get along with half that number of troops.  And the man says that he is just too busy to come back to the United States now, even though Truman wants him to come home. 

The Russian delegate speaks with MacArthur.  He says that the Soviet Union wants to have a Russian sector set up on Hokkaido Island, Japan.  MacArthur tells the Russian general that if any attempt is made to set up such a sector in Japan, he will arrest and throw in prison any and all members of the Soviet delegation to Japan. 

1948.  Japan celebrates the first anniversary of its new constitution. 

At the Republican National Convention MacArthur only receives eight of the twenty-seven delegates.  His hopes for becoming president are dashed.

Truman wins the election against Democratic candidate Thomas Dewey, governor of New York. 

1949 Tokyo World Series of Baseball takes place.  Japanese young people dance western dances in the night clubs of Japan. 

MacArthur receives the news:   "The North Koreans have struck in great strength across the boundary at the 38th parallel."   Jean asks her husband what has happened and MacArthur says:  "One last gift to an old warrior."

Truman says he is committing ground troops to Korea.  He also says that the matter is a police action to counteract a bandit raid of North Koreans into South Korea.

MacArthur goes out to Korea to assess the situation. 

Truman is furious with MacArthur again.  They sent MacArthur to see Chiang Kai-shek to tell him that he was not going to put any of his forces onto mainland China.  Instead, MacArthur negotiates his own personal alliance with Chiang.  Truman says  "that sounds like we're concluding some kind of mutual defense treaty.  Mr. Secretary I want you to radio a message to His Majesty MacArthur."   

MacArthur gets the message and is angry.  He says what's wrong with those politicians back in Washington?  Have they lost their nerve?  They should use Chiang as the man is useful to them.  He says:  "It's my destiny to defeat communism . . . " 

MacArthur writes that the Democrats are applying "appeasement" and "defeatism"  to dealing with the communists in Asia.  Truman is livid. 

MacArthur goes up to one of his officers, Gen Walker, and tells him to hold the line right here because plans are being made by Gen. Shepard to launch an amphibious assault on Inchon in North Korea.  This will cut off the supply lines to the North Koreans in South Korea.  MacArthur tells him that Inchon will finish the North Koreans. 

Truman and his staff talk over the plan to land at Inchon. The plan is ". . . daring, brilliant and dangerous".  But it is delayed and then MacArthur is only given grudging permission to proceed at Inchon.  MacArthur is sending 70,000 troops onto the beaches at Inchon. 

Even MacArthur realizes that he has taken a huge risk and he wonders if the invasion will turn into a historic disaster of immense proportions.  But good news arrives about the progress of the troops and MacArthur is very pleased and congratulates his commanders. 

Truman gives MacArthur credit for a master stroke.  But the real worry is will the Chinese join the conflict on behalf of the North Koreans?  MacArthur is not worried, but they are.  So Truman decides to meet MacArthur on Wake Island.  Truman lands.  MacArthur comes out from the airport terminal to greet Truman.  The infamous general apologizes for the outcome of the Formosan negotiations.  Truman says he's heard that army men should not get involved in politics.  MacArthur assures the president if any general is going to be running against him, it's going to be General Eisenhower and not General MacArthur.  Truman scoffs at the idea saying:  "Eisenhower?  That man doesn't know as much about politics as a pig knows about Sunday."

MacArthur says the war will be over by Thanksgiving.  He says the boys will be home for Christmas.  But what about Chinese intervention?  MacArthur says he doubts that the Chinese could get more than 50,000 troops over the Yalu River because of their vulnerability  to the United Nation's air attacks.  He sums it up:  "The chances for red intervention are minimal."   Truman returns home saying that:  "Well, I've never had a more satisfactory conference since I've been president.  Gen. MacArthur is a member of the government of the United States and he is loyal to that government and to the United Nations.  And he's loyal to the president and his foreign policy and he's confident that the fighting in Korea will soon be over."

It's Christmas time and suddenly the Chinese swarm over the Yalu River and hit American positions.  American troops are caught by surprise and are easily killed. 

Truman says MacArthur says there are 260,000 Chinese out there and he has to go on the defensive.  MacArthur doesn't blame himself one bit for any of this.  He blames the politicians.  They just stymied him and wouldn't grant his requests to bomb the Chinese.  It's appeasement, says MacArthur.  Gen. Matthew Ridgeway now has command of the Eighth Army. 

News comes into Truman that Matt Ridgeway has retaken Seoul.  He's happy about that and a bit relieved. 

MacArthur is informed by Washington that he is to immediately stop all offensive actions in Korea.  The politicians now want a political solution to the war.  MacArthur says:  "This is total capitulation!"  He describes as a dangerous the concept that men of the armed force owe their primary allegiance to "temporary" occupants of the White House.   He sends a message to the Chinese that he will destroy their forces unless they negotiate a deal with MacArthur personally.  Truman is once again furious with the man.  He says:  "That man's trying to start World War III and I'm trying to prevent it."

At dinner with two male guests at home, Huff comes to speak to Jean.  He tells her that MacArthur has been fired by Truman.  Jean comes over and whispers the news into MacArthur's ear.  He comments:  "Oh, Jeanie, we're going home at last!"  He excuses himself from the dinner and leaves the dining room hand in hand with Jean. 

In New York City MacArthur is given a hero's welcome complete with a ticker tape parade. 

MacArthur speaks out against what he regards as appeasement in a speech to the Congress.  He says:  "In war, there can be no substitute for victory."  He says that he is like the old soldier in the old army song:  "Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.  Like the old soldier of that ballad, I now close my military career and just fade away. . . . Goodbye."  He gets a standing ovation. 

Truman thinks that MacArthur is running for president.  But it is Dwight David Eisenhower who becomes the nominee for the Republican party.  MacArthur comments to Jean that Eisenhower will make a good president. He says about Eisenhower:  "He was the best clerk who ever served under me."

Back to the present.   MacArthur continues to speak to the West Point cadets.  He tells the cadets:  "I want you to know when I cross the river my last conscious thoughts will be of the corps, and the corps and the corps.  I bid you farewell."  MacArthur gets another standing ovation. 



Good movie.  Corregidor, Philippines, 1942.  President Roosevelt remarks that MacArthur takes everything so personally.  No wonder they decided to keep it from him that the Philippines would not be reinforced. 

Roosevelt had to order MacArthur to leave the Philippines.  He and his family leave by PT boat, leaving Wainwright behind to face the enemy. 

When he arrives in Melbourne he finds out that there is no Philippines Relief Expedition.  Furthermore, there is no American infantry on the Australian continent.  There are 300,000 Australian troops available, but they are all green.  It seems odd timing, but FDR gives MacArthur the Congressional Medal of Honor.  In a speech MacArthur utters his famous words: "I shall return." 

MacArthur wants to get into the war very badly.  The Navy has won the battles of the Coral Sea and Midway Island.  He decides to go on the offensive, not to wait for a Japanese invasion of Australia, but to fight for Australia in New Guinea.  And, since he has limited resources, he decides to bypass the Japanese strong points in favor of cutting their supply lines: "Starvation is my ally." 

Somewhat paranoid, MacArthur wonders why FDR wants to meet with him in Pearl Harbor.  FDR quotes Eisenhower: "I spent nine long years with MacArthur, studying dramatics."  The real reason for the meeting was to get the views of the armed forces as to what should be the next offensive steps in the war in the Pacific.  Admiral Nimitz wants to concentrate on taking the island of Formosa.  MacArthur argues that they have to make the Philippines the priority.  He suggests hitting Luzon via Leyte Beach and driving on from there to Manila.  FDR and the Joint Chiefs of Staff approve his plan. 

MacArthur lands on Luzon.  He visits with the troops and the survivors of the Bataan Death March.  He is furious when he learns about the atomic bomb.  Why wasn't he told earlier, he wonders. 

He directs the signing of the peace treaty with Japan. 

North Korea attacks South Korea. He is excited by the challenge before him. 

What's good about this movie is that it clearly spells out the many offenses MacArthur committed against the policies of President Truman.  He goes against Truman's policy toward Chiang Kai-Shek in China. And he speaks of appeasement and defeatism, implying that these characterize Truman's policies toward the Communists.  It appears he wants to run his own foreign policy. 

MacArthur pulls off a master stroke with his landing at Inchon in Korea and driving the North Koreans north back across the 38th parallel and beyond.  (But he is furious with Truman for only giving him "grudging permission" for the Inchon landing.)

Truman is just as furious, but at MacArthur.  Truman goes to Wake Island to meet MacArthur wondering if Caesar will arrive after him and keep the president of the United State waiting.  Truman is worried about a possible Chinese intervention.  He puts a lot of restrictions on the use of force in Korea near the border with China, all of which MacArthur resents.  MacArthur has a confrontational approach to the war in Korea and again speaks about appeasement.  The Chinese do enter the war, catching the Americans by surprise. 

MacArthur is increasingly out-of-control.  He actually says that he is not answerable to the President of the United States but to the Congress and the American people.  He is way out of line and Truman finally fires him.  Of course, MacArthur becomes a hero of the American right-wing.  But, clearly, MacArthur had tread along the line between disrespect and open rebellion.     

As his swan song, MacArthur uses the lines of a popular Army tune, "old soldiers never die, they just fade away."

Gregory Peck was terrific as MacArthur, the American Caesar, that mixture of brilliance, paranoia and defiance.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 


Historical Background:


1941 -- Douglas MacArthur put in charge of the Philippines and US forces. Most of their manpower was drawn from the reserves and these were inadequately prepared.

early December, 1941 -- The 4th Marine regiment came over from China.

Dec 8, 1941 -- Japanese head south from Formosa airfields, and ships land on the Philippines.  The attack force was not challenged. Beachheads were established in six different places. On Luzon, the principal island, they drove toward Manila. The main assault set ashore 110 miles from Manila. By Christmas they had invaded at 9 points.

1941 (by early December)  --  Japanese planes bombed Manila. They also raided US air fields. At year's end the Japanese approached the capital. Bombing continued even though the capital had been declared an open city.

1942 (January 2) -- Manila in Japanese hands. They spread their doctrine of Asia for the Asians.

1942 (mid-March)  --   the enemy was in control of almost all of Luzon; MacArthur leaves to go to Australia to mount an offensive at the earliest opportunity. He was made commander of the southwest Pacific theater.

The Japanese commander Gen. Homa was particularly happy. This city would be, four years later, the setting for his execution for war crimes.

1942 (late April)  -- the last outposts were Corregidor and Manila Bay. For almost a month they bombarded the place.

1942 (May 5) -- assault units went in. After 24 hours of fighting they gave up. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, the American commander, met with Gen Homa on nearby Bataan peninsula to surrender.

Gen Homa, the beast of Bataan, visited the scene of the battle for the epic fortress. US 4th Marine regiment had fought valiantly for Corregidor.


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