The Purple Heart (1944)



Director:     Lewis Milestone. 

Starring:     Dana Andrews (Capt. Harvey Ross),  Richard Conte (Lt. Angelo Canelli),  Farley Granger (Sgt. Howard Clinton),  Kevin O'Shea (Sgt. Jan Skvoznik),  Don 'Red' Barry (Lt. Peter Vincent),  Trudy Marshall (Mrs. Ross),  Sam Levene (Lt. Wayne Greenbaum),  Charles Russell ( (Lt. Kenneth Bayforth),  John Craven (Sgt. Martin Stoner),  Tala Birell (Johanna Hartwig),  Richard Loo (General Ito Mitsubi),  Peter Chong (Mitsuru Toyama).

US army air corps crew has to ditch their plane in China after the Doolittle raid on Tokyo and other Japanese cities and are put on trial for murder


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

The Japanese send around a notice to the foreign correspondents, as well as Japanese correspondents,saying:  "You are invited to represent your newspaper at the most important hearing in the Tokyo District Court."  Among the correspondents are:  Ludwig Kruger of the Munchener Abend Zeitung;  Boris Evenik, Bulgaria, Slovo, Sofia; Peter Voroshevski of the Red Star, Moscow; and another German Johanna Hartwig, D.N.B. News Agency, Berlin. 

The correspondents see General Mitsubi enter the courtroom.  He if followed by Admiral Yamagichi, commander of the imperial fleet.  The judges come in next.  Mitsuru Toyama, the greatest political power in the empire, is one of them.  He is the head of the Black Dragon Society.  Eight American service men, the defendants, are brought into the courtroom.  Their names are Captain Harvey Ross; Lt. Kenneth Bayforth; Lt. Angelo Canelli; Sgt. Martin Stoner; Lt. Peter Vincent;  Sgt. Jan Skwaznik; Lt. Wayne Greenbaum; Sgt. Howard Clinton. 

Captain Ross stands up to ask if they are on trial?  Yes.  What are the charges?  The men will be told in due course.  Will they have a defense counsel?  One will be provided to them. 

The court calls on Itsubi Sakai.  He will be their lawyer.  Greenbaum gets up to say that a civil court has no jurisdiction over prisoners of war.  Therefore, the charges should be dismissed.  The judges reject that idea.  Now the charges are read.  On April 18, 1942 the cities of Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya, Kobe and Osaka were bombed by enemy aircraft.  During the attacks the aircrew dropped their bombs upon nonmilitary installations.  The crime they are charged with is the crime of murder.

The first witness, Yuen Chiu Ling, is called up.  The man is Chinese and from Kunwong where he is governor of the Kunwong Province.  The American planes, after bombing their Japanese targets, continued to fly to China. 

Flashback.  The plane known as Mrs. Murphy flies over China at a low altitude. The order from the captain is to abandon ship.  The men put on their parachutes ready to jump out.  The captain says he will set the plane to travel in a circle so that when it goes down, they will all see it burning.  If they can see the plane burning, they are all to meet near it.  It is raining hard when the men jump out of the plane.  They land in an open area.  The plane crashes not far from them.  As the men find each other, they are really happy to see each other alive. 

A car comes along and stops by the men who are trying to conceal themselves.  An American pilot named Bayforth comes out of the car.  They ask him where he left his plane?  He crashed too and it sunk into the goo. Burke was killed.  Two Chinese men are in the front seats of the car.  The flyers get into the car.  The Chinese fellows are Yuen Chiu Ling and his son Moy.  Yuen says that everyone in China is grateful to the Americans for their attack on Tokyo.  Japanese radio has been talking about it constantly. 

Yuen says that their are Japanese patrols everywhere and the men must get out of their military clothes.  He tells the guys that they can come with him to his house where they can have something to eat. 

Back to the courtroom.  Yuen lies about how the Americans told him with glee how they machine-gunned children and destroyed many hospitals.  The captain gets up and tells the court that this man is a liar.  They told him only about the targets they did hit:  oil storage centers, airports and shipyards.  Lt. Greenbaum wants to cross-examine the witness, but their lawyers says this is not permitted unless the judges believe that the witness was committing perjury.  One of the guys tells Greenbaum not to sweat it so much, because this "trial" is really a lynching. 

The court calls General Ito Mitsubi to testify.  He is in command of military intelligence.  He shows films of the American bombing raid.  One of the correspondents says to a colleague that the pictures were made during an air raid drill even before Japan was at war.  The film is stopped as a man screams out in pain.  The lights are turned on and Yuen falls over dead.  His son stands up and speaks to the Americans saying that he is a soldier of China and his father "has answered to his ancestors for your betrayal."

Mitsubi says the American bombers are believed to have come off an aircraft carrier of the Hornet type.  Admiral Yamagichi gets up to disagree politely with the general.  Court is adjourned and the prisoners are removed.  The main judge discusses the matter with the general and the admiral.  To support his thesis of the aircraft carrier, the general brings in a sailor, the only survivor of his ship that was sunk, he believes, by the aircraft carrier.  The problem is that the sailor didn't actually see the enemy ship.  He was down in the boiler room.  The admiral says one of their own mines could have gotten lose and sunk the man's vessel. 

The admiral tells the judge that the bombers used by the Americans were B-25s.  With so many huge bombers on the deck of the Hornet type of  American aircraft carrier, two-thirds of the run way would have been occupied and the planes would not have enough room to take-off. 

The Americans are taken back to their cell.  In the cell next to them Moy Ling is being held.   The guys elect him as an honorary member of their squadron.  The Japanese come and take Moy Ling away.  Then they come to get the American captain.  Karl Keppel of the Swiss Red Cross has come to see the captain.  He just wanted the captain to know that he was doing all he can to get them out of their present situation. 

The general now speaks with the American captain.  What he really wants is for the captain to admit that their planes launched from an aircraft carrier.  The captain just keeps saying that he can't answer any of his questions.  Prisoner Skwaznik is brought in as the captain leaves.  The general says that the captain is not his only prisoner and a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.  Captain Ross is returned to his cell.  The guys say that Skwaznik is tough as nails and he will never talk.  Just then the men all hear someone screaming in pain. 

The general goes down to look at the American prisoners in their cell.  Keppel tries to get a message through to the United States, but the Japanese always prevent the message from being delivered.  

Court reconvenes.  The general asks permission to question prisoner Skwaznik.  When the prisoner comes in he has a bad head twitch and looks like he's in shock.  He would not make a credible witness as he seems out of it.  This infuriates the Americans.  Lt. Canelli jumps up and calls the general a dirty, crawling rat.  The general slaps him across the face.  The American pays no attention to that, but merely moves over to the foreign correspondents and he asks them how can they just sit there and let this travesty take place?  While he is speaking, a Japanese soldiers comes up behind him and knocks him out with a blow from a rifle butt to the back of the man's head.  Another American, Lt. Vincent, jumps up and hits a couple of Japanese soldiers in the face before he is overpowered.  Both Americans are forcibly removed from the courtroom. 

As the trial proceeds, the judges receive some happy news as they all laugh and have big smiles on their faces.  One of the judges tells everyone:  "Corregidor has fallen!  The Philippines belong to us! Banzai!  Banzai!  Banzai!"   The courtroom is ecstatic with joy, except for the Americans.  The German and Japanese correspondents are also delighted at the news.  The general has the prisoners removed. 

Mr. Keppel now speaks to some of the correspondents to see if they can help him get a message to Washington. 

The Japanese bring back the airman who tried to help Canelli.  He is barely alive.  Canelli is brought back with a broken arm.  Various fellows have flashbacks to or talk about the happier times in their lives. 

Clinton is taken out of his cell.  Clinton returns without a scratch.  The guys are very happy to see him, but Clinton seems disappointed in himself.  The men don't know if he talked or not.  They leave Clinton alone. They think the Japanese must have done something to him so that he can't physically talk.  Sgt. Stoner is very worried and starts crying.  Captain Ross says it's his birthday and gets Stoner to drink with him.  The Japanese come for Lt. Bayforth.  Clinton indicates to Greenbaum that if they do to Bayforth what they did to him, Bayforth will talk.  The captain says:  "If he feels he must talk, only God and his own conscience should stop him." 

The general and two of his colleagues have tea at a Geisha house.  While there, he receives a note that Lt. Bayforth will probably talk if tortured.  The general is delighted.  In the courtroom the general calls Lt. Bayforth as a witness.  It looks like the Japanese mangled his hands to get him to crack.  The general asks him if he is ready to give the information that they want?  Bayforth says no and the general excuses him from the witness stand.  Clinton is now called to the stand.  The general has him write his statement.  The general reads it, but immediately tears it up.  He says that Clinton has asked that another man speak for him, namely Greenbaum.  Greenbaum gives a moving denunciation of Japan and its methods of torture to get what it wants. 

For some unknown reason, the general moves that this trial be ended and the charges against the prisoners be dismissed.  The judge will only agree to this if the men tell them the name of their commanding officers, so they many be punished after Japan wins the war, and from where their bombers originated.  The captain asks what will happen to them if they don't cooperate?  The judge says they will be found guilty and be executed.  The captain wants to talk with his men as to what they should do.  The Americans are permitted to talk together in the judge's chambers. 

The Americans decide to have a secret ballot.  They vote by putting their wings into a vase.  If any on the the wings is broken, everyone agrees they will tell the Japanese what they want to know.  The judge comes to say their time is up and the captain says the men are ready.  The captain tells the judge that if he finds one pair of broken wings in the vase, they will tell the Japanese what they want to know.  There is not one pair of broken wings in the vase.  The captain thanks his men. 

The captain now makes an impassioned speech that brings cheers from the Americans:  "It's true we Americans don't know very much about you Japanese. And we never did. And now I realize you know even less about us. You can kill us. All of us, or part of us. But if you think that's going to put the fear of god into the United States of America, and stop them from sending other flyers to bomb you, you're wrong. Dead wrong. They'll come by night, they'll come by day. Thousands of them. They'll blacken your skies and burn your cities to the ground and make you get down on your knees and beg for mercy. This is your war. You wanted it. You asked for it. You started it. And now you're going to get it. And it won't be finished until your dirty little empire is wiped off the face of the earth."

The general commits suicide by shooting himself with his pistol.  

The judge says the prisoners will be handed over to the military and executed.  The men walk proudly out of the courtroom as the Army Air Corps hymn is sung. 


The film is a little slow as befits a movie mostly based on a trial.  Apparently, one of the motivations of the film was to reveal to the American public that the Japanese were using torture on prisoners of war.  Of course, today this is hardly news, but it was early during World War II. 

I got a kick out of something I read on  ". . . this movie is considered amongst others in film history as an anti-Japanese US war propaganda film."  This is pretty much nonsense.  The movie doesn't even touch the surface of the war crimes committed by the Japanese.  Read about the rape of Nanking, China by the Japanese.  Is it wrong for one to note that the Japanese were very evil for doing such a thing?  Is it anti-Japanese propaganda?  No it's merely stating the truth of what happened in Nanking.  The story of what actually happened is damaging enough to the Japanese.  It doesn't need to be embellished.  The word propaganda has a negative connotation to it.  It's implied in the word that the case is exaggerated or consists of down-right lies.   The evidence of Japanese war crimes is so vast and their crimes so inhumane, that it is not propaganda to point this out. 

If a film says Hitler was an evil bastard, do we brand this as propaganda.  And if we say it and believe it, does it mean we hate all Germans?  No, it's notpropoganda if the movie is actually more like a documentary as far as the facts are concerned.  It's like the charge of libel.  If one is telling the truth, one can't be convicted of libel.  One has to make a distinction between what the Americans did and what Germany and Japan did.  There's no comparison frankly. had some of the historical background though:

The film is based on the story of eight actual US crewmen of a US bomber plane that was shot down in China and captured by the Japanese.   The airmen were part of the Doolittle Raid of April 18, 1942 that bombed cities in Japan for revenge for Pearl Harbor.  The crewmen were:  Lt. Robert Hite, Lt. William G. Farrow, Lt. George Barr, Sgt. Harold A. Spatz, Cpl. Jacob De Shazer, Dean Hallmark, Robert Meder, and Chase Nielsen.

The crewmen were tried at Police Headquarters in Shanghai, China, October 14, 1942. The eight were condemned to death. Hallmark, Farrow, and Spatz were executed by an army  firing squad the next day. The other airmen had their sentences changed to life in prison. In 1943, Meder died of mistreatment and illness. The other four were freed after Japan's surrender in August, 1945.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.  .

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