A Marine's Story
Watching old war movies such as "Guadalcanal Diary" now many years after they were made it is easy to spot various issues with them especially when it comes to their purposefully rousing nature. But some movies manage to rise above these problems and still manage to remain both entertaining and interesting which is how I found "Guadalcanal Diary". Here is a movie which is three things; it tells of the campaign on Guadalcanal during WWII, it does so in a typical entertaining and rousing 1940s manner, but it also gets across the emotions of the men who found themselves there. And it is that final thing, the look at how the men changed which makes "Guadalcanal Diary" more than anything worth watching.
So as already mentioned the first thing which "Guadalcanal Diary" is is a diary of events surrounding the campaign on Guadalcanal delivered via a narration by a war correspondent. Whilst the wordiness of the narration often feels wrong it does a good job of taking us through the events, giving us dates and the significance of certain battles. Now my lack of history knowledge means I have no idea how close this stays to the fact but what is delivered feels believable.
The thing is and this leads me to the second thing and that the diary of events, the characters we meet and so on is very typical. We have one marine from The Bronx who is always wise cracking, there is singing whilst men dig ditches and a lot of other things which now feels false, but at the time derived to make those at home who watched the movie worry a little less whilst also motivating them. Having said that this typical side with its moments of action does have a surprising sense of brutality especially scenes where we see dead bodies littering a beach. And whilst it wouldn't have seemed it at the time "Guadalcanal Diary" is full of racism which for some may be too much to handle when it comes to references to the Japanese.
Now for me those two things make "Guadalcanal Diary" a normal war movie with some familiar faces such as Richard Conte and William Bendix delivering familiar characters. But what for me helps to make "Guadalcanal Diary" a more interesting movie is the transformation we witness in the men as we follow them in the campaign. We see things such as how for some getting a letter for home lifts them whilst others makes them sadder. We see how young men find the fear of dying overwhelming whilst older soldiers feel a stronger sense of hatred and just doing business when it comes to killing. But most significantly it is the contrast of attitude during the final scenes as we see the naivety and enthusiasm of fresh replacements against the beaten down attitude of the men who have spent months fighting.
What this all boils down to is that there is much which is typical about "Guadalcanal Diary" and it is very much a typical patriotic war movie which was made to motivate the audience. But at the same time it does a fantastic job of getting across how war changes men and the contrasting scenes at the end are what makes this movie still worth a watch, that and some surprisingly brutal and impressive action scenes.