Bataan's Baker's Dozen
With the Japanese army sweeping across the Philippines the army, the injured, nurses and civilians are being evacuated. A group of 13 American soldiers from different regiments are brought together with a specific task; to blow up a bridge and defend it to make sure the Japanese don't get across. It's a dangerous mission as the surrounding jungles are full of snipers and there is always the threat from the sky.
"Bataan" is one of those war movies which inhabit basically one place, a piece of jungle near the bridge where these 13 men are station. Now in fairness this actually shows that much of the movie was shot in a studio with a fake jungle, a trick used in quite a few movies. But the limited landscape of the movie with only the occasional venture out of the enclosure to the bridge creates this atmosphere, not quite claustrophobic but intense and foreboding.
This intensity is then increased by the interactions between varied characters who have been brought together none more so than that between the no nonsense Sergeant Bill Dane and Corp. Barney Todd whose attitude reminds him of a man who once cost him his promotion to Officer. There is a lot more going on as various moments leads to the atmosphere constantly increasing. But whilst this is building we also get a snapshot of what life was like as part of a "Last Stand" unit, the conversations, the camaraderie as well as the clashes.
But "Bataan" is not just a movie of character interactions because we also get the cloud of death hanging over them and as the movie plays out some of them get picked off, sometimes in quite a grizzly manner. And this action element eventually builds to a last hoorah as their numbers decrease and the force of the Japanese army increases. Now for a movie which is over 70 years old the pyrotechnic work when it comes to the bridge being blown up and grenades being thrown is actually quite impressive.
As for the acting well to be honest at times "Bataan" feels like a star vehicle for Robert Taylor who as Sergeant Bill Dane is central to the majority of scenes and Taylor does a good job of playing this Sergeant who finds himself in charge of a misfit bunch of men. But Taylor has good support with the likes of Lloyd Nolan, Thomas Mitchell and George Murphy all infuse their parts with character which makes for the interactions to be as interesting as the action.
What this all boils down to is that "Bataan" is not a spectacular war movie with impressive action or cinematography but it is a war movie with a wonderful atmosphere and just enough action to make it more than just the tension within a "Last Stand" camp.