Merrill's Marauders (1962)
Director: Samuel Fuller.
Starring: Jeff Chandler (Brig. Gen. Frank D. Merrill), Ty Hardin (2nd Lt. Lee Stockton), Peter Brown (Bullseye), Andrew Duggan (Capt. Abraham Lewis Kolodny, MD), Will Hutchins (Chowhound), Claude Akins (Sgt. Kolowicz), Luz Valdez (Burmese girl), John Hoyt (Gen. Joseph Stilwell), Charlie Briggs (Muley), Chuck Roberson (Officer), Chuck Hayward (Officer), Jack C. Williams (Doctor), Chuck Hicks (Cpl. Doskis), Vaughan Wilson (Bannister), Pancho Magalona (Taggy).
Brigadier General Frank Merrill leads his group of volunteers on a 500 mile march through swamps and forests to stem the Japanese onslaught in Burma and keep the supplies flowing over the Burma Road to China (then struggling against Japanese aggression).
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire movie.
January 1942, the high-water mark of Nazi conquest. Their Japanese allies poured across Asia driving to link up with the Germans to the west crushing the world between them. Sweeping into Burma they captured the vital air base at Myitkyina and cut the Burma Road. Our forces, pitifully weak retreated along elephant trails, through jungles across rivers and mountains to the temporary refuge of India. General Joseph Stilwell said the last word on the campaign. "I claim we got a hell of a beating. We got run out of Burma, and that's humiliating as hell. I think we ought to find out what caused it, go back and retake the place." From the United States came 3000 volunteers, seasoned jungle fighters, veterans of Guadalcanal, New Guinea, Bougainville. Men who responded to a call for one dangerous and hazardous operation somewhere. They became a part of the forces that sought to regain Burma.
3,000 men volunteer to serve under Gen. Frank Merrill for a surprise march deep into Burma.
January 4, 1944. The surprise invasion into Burma is launched. The objective for Merrill and his men is to surprise and destroy the main Japanese supply base in North Burma, Walawbum. They are to move southeast into Burma in three columns with a group of volunteers out on point. They have to travel 200 miles through Japanese territory. The Tange Ga River is the last barrier between the men and Walawbum. Private Driscoll stares at the Japanese plane overhead while everyone else takes cover. Merrill asks the man later what he thought he was doing. The guy just says that he is all washed out. He himself doesn't know at times what he's doing. The men have been advancing for 90 days and 90 nights.
All of a sudden, Japanese artillery opens up on Merrill's men. Lt. Stockton is in charge of the point. Merrill radios him to ask him to take out the artillery pieces. A soldier named Bullseye is given the task of killing the artillery officer. He does so and then the point group attacks. The Japanese start to run away, but the Americans manage to kill them all. Taggy, a Filipino, taps into the Japanese wire and finds out that the Japanese are talking about the Americans at their rear. They want to know exactly where and how many troops are involved. A Japanese battalion is on its way to Walawbum. Merrill knows that he has to beat that battalion to Walawbum.
The men reach Walawbum. Stockton is sent behind the defenses to create a diversion for the main attack. Walawbum lies in a valley. Stockton attacks and his men manage to blow the ammunition dump. The main force moves forward. Artillery opens up on them and quite a few Americans are killed. But the attack goes on and the troops take Walawbum. Stockton lost eight men. The soldiers want to send the wounded back in an ambulance plane, but they learn that it was shot down by Japanese Zeros from Myitkyina.
"The British are here!" is the shout of the Americans. It is the Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment. The British ask what unit are the Americans with. The men answer: the 5307th Composite Unit. The British are headed to Myitkyina some 500 miles away. And waiting for them will be the 18th Japanese Imperial Army.
General Stillwell arrives. He informs Merrill that they have to take Myitkyina. Merrill says the men only volunteered to take Walawbum. Stillwell stresses to Frank that they have to take Myitkyina. The Brits have been fighting in Burma alone for three years. His first task will be to take the railhead at Shaduzup. Then he will cross the mountains headed to Myitkyina. They have to keep the Japs out of India. They cannot let them link up with the troops of Nazi Germany. Stillwell also tells Merrill that the press has come up with a new name for his group of volunteers: marauders.
Merrill breaks the news to Stockton, but only tells him they will be going to Shaduzup. Stockton doesn't like it, but he marches over to tell his men. They will have to go through the Chengun Swamps. Stockton will be point again.
Stockton has his radio man call Merrill to inform him that point is taking a break, even if they are behind schedule. And the men are suffering from such ailments as typhus and malaria. Barney tells Frank that they are hurting. Merrill has chest pains. The doctor talks to him. Merrill previously had a coronary thrombosis and the doctor says that he is headed toward having another one. Merrill tells Doc to keep that under his cap.
The Japanese open up with machine gun fire on the men at the point, but the group quickly chases the enemy away. Merrill is worried that the Japanese might have made contact with headquarters to report their position. Soon the point finds the railroad tracks leading to Shaduzup. A call is made for a food drop by parachute. But Merrill changes his mind. They have to leave. A soldier known as Chowhound can't stand the idea of leaving all that food behind, but Merrill tells the men that they will have to fight for food: "We'll eat Japanese food."
The food drop is made. Chowhound staid behind deliberately so he could run out to the parachutes to get more food. As he reaches one big package he is shot dead by the Japanese hiding in the open field. The Americans reach the railway station at Shaduzup. They attack and defeat the Japanese force there.
Taking a break Stockton sees a wounded native woman. She is very scared of him, but Stockton manages to convince her to take some medicine orally while he bandages her shrapnel wound. He then carries her to the ad-hoc field hospital. The women of the village give the soldiers bowls of rice. North Combat Command calls in. Gen. Stillwell is sending them a message. The Doc says that the unit has collapsed. They are finished as a fighting unit. They are drained both physically and mentally.
The message is decoded and read. Stillwell reports that three Japanese divisions are invading India. It is imperative to take Myitkyina. Doc tells Merrill that he cannot send the men on to Myitkyina. So Merrill walks around checking on the condition of his men. Stockton tells his men to get ready to move out. Bullseye is given the job of getting more ammunition for the men. Bullseye is so upset that he tells Stockton that Merrill can just go pick up the ammunition himself. Stockton decks Bullseye, who a little later apologizes for blowing up the way he did.
Merrill makes the final decision. They will go on to Myitkyina. The weary Stockton nastily says to Merrill: men don't mean anything to you. He then asks Merrill to relieve him of his position. Merrill simply says: "Request denied." He needs Stockton too much.
The men start heading out southeast to Myitkyina and the airfield there. As they near their objective, Bannister asks Frank how long before they can attack the Japanese. They are just some 24 hours away. At this point Merrill divides his men into two groups. The men under Bannister will attack the airfield. Merrill and his men start heading down the mountain to their targets. Walking down the mountains, they are spotted by men at the Japanese outposts. Japanese airplanes drop bombs on them. The survivors take up defensive positions along a stone wall. Taggy crawls slowly forward to find out what will be the next step for the Japanese. He runs into a Japanese soldier crawling toward the American lines. Taggy kills the soldier. There are many other Japanese soldiers crawling toward the American positions. Taggy makes it back to the American line, but he is badly wounded. The news is that there will be an attack at dawn.
The Japanese attack. They break through the center of the defensive line, but do not exploit their advantage. They fall back. And Merrill wants to know why. He contacts Bannister, who has reached the airstrip and is facing heavy resistance. So Merrill decides that his men must strike now to help Bannister. The Doc insists that the men are all wiped out. They can't go on. But Merrill says that as long as they can put one foot in front of the other they can go the rest of the way. He speaks with the men to tell them to get up and get going. They do not move. As Merrill continues to tell them to move out, he collapses with chest pains. Stockton hesitates but finally gets up. He then tells his men to get up: "You heard the General! On your feet!" The men start slowly to get up. Doc is surprised and amazed.
The narrator says: "They did it!" They took Myitkyina. Out of the 3,000 volunteers, only 100 remained in action. The unit known as Merrill's Marauders was so badly damaged that the marauders were demobilized. The unit was given a special citation for their contribution to the war effort.
Pretty good, straightforward movie telling the story of the army unit that became known as Merrill's Marauders. There is not a lot of development of characters, but, after all, the real emphasis is on the men of the unit that persevered against such long odds and great physical adversity to accomplish a near impossible task. To prove that the task was near impossible, just look at the statistic: out of 3,000 men only 100 were left ready for action. Now that's quite the casualty rate. No wonder the unit was disbanded. I thought Jeff Chandler did a good job as Gen. Frank Merrill.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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