Getting Ballsy in Bataan
With the American army having been forced to pull out of Bataan due to the advancing Japanese forces, Colonel Joseph Madden (John Wayne) stays behind in order to train and organize the guerrilla fighters who remain in the Philippines and use them to help rescue Prisoners of War. One of Madden's men is Captain Andrés Bonifácio (Anthony Quinn) who finds the situation hard to cope with as not only was his grandfather a hero but he is convinced a former flame, Dalisay Delgado (Fely Franquelli), is assisting the Japanese by being the voice of propaganda radio broadcasts.
"Back to Bataan" opens with a scene of prisoners of war being released from Cabanatuan, a flag waving scene of such volume that when watched now it is cringe worthy. I said when watched now as it is now almost 70 years since "Back to Bataan" was made and times are very different and the need for obvious propaganda movies have thankfully long gone. It makes it difficult to review "Back to Bataan" fairly as this was one of countless movies made to lift a nation's spirits and whilst based on real events was more focussed on the bravery and heroics of men in moments of triumph.
Now despite watching more war movies than I care to remember my knowledge of the events of WWII are not great and whilst "Back to Bataan" claims to be based on real events I wouldn't have any idea as to how accurate it is, I fear it is less accurate considering the obvious propaganda intentions of the movie. But it is entertaining especially when approached as a John Wayne war movie with the Duke delivering one of his typical bravado filled performances as are dogged hero dodging bullets and explosions to lead the fight against the evil enemy.
In fact whilst "Back to Bataan" often feels like it was being made on the fly with no clear idea how it will play out, just observe how little character development there is, it does have some decent action. Scenes of shells coming down and falling close to Madden and his men is surprisingly effective in their rawness. It also has the interesting set up as we learn alongside Madden that Dalisay Delgado is in truth a double agent, feeding info to the Americans whilst appearing to be spouting poisonous Japanese propaganda across the airwaves and in doing so putting Andrés Bonifácio in a difficult situation.
What this all boils down to is that "Back to Bataan" is many things; it feels rushed and at times unfocussed, it also feels like an over the top flag waver made for patriotic reasons rather than to tell the true story. But more importantly it is entertaining especially for those who watch because it is a John Wayne movie even though the lack of character depth makes it short of Wayne at his best.