The Duke Gives us Duke
I'll be honest, you shouldn't watch "Operation Pacific" if you desire an authentic war drama despite being another one of those movies which takes us deep beneath the waves aboard a submarine. The reason why, well not only are there better submarine movies but this is first and foremost a John Wayne movie, it is about his character be it aboard the submarine or on dry land back at Pearl Harbour. As such "Operation Pacific" ends up a movie for fans of John Wayne, who enjoy his trademark macho character which he played in a variety of movies whilst waving a patriotic flag. And to be honest it is an entertaining John Wayne vehicle even if it does struggle as a WWII movie.
For the first half you do wonder where "Operation Pacific" is going as there is very little submarine action, and considering that there is a foreword to the movie paying tribute to the silent service it does feel like it has immediately gone off on a tangent. What we get during this first hour is some opening heroism as Duke helps rescue some Nuns and young children, including a baby which he carries from an island. We do get a little drama aboard the submarine as we discover there are issues with faulty torpedoes and then we are back at Pearl Harbour. And at Pearl Harbour we not only get the submarine crew typically getting into drunken trouble but we also get a romance as Duke tries to persuade his ex wife to try again. As I said it feels like for almost an hour we are getting a movie less about life aboard a submarine and a wartime romantic comedy instead.
But it has to be said that during this first half we do learn certain things, that Duke is close to his superior, he lost a son he never even saw due to active service and still loves his ex wife. These are all critical things and they help to give meaning to some of the stuff which happens in the second half. But then this first half is very jokey, you could say typical John Wayne jokey as we have amusement of the men sterilizing a rubber glove in order to create a makeshift feeding bottle for the baby. And the whole series of scenes at Pearl Harbour also have a jokey manner especially when it comes to the men being arrested for drunken behaviour.
Now the second half of the movie is a little closer to being a war movie as we get various drama aboard the submarine, there are close encounters, death, feelings of guilt and moments of action. But to be honest these various elements are no different than what you see in so many other submarine movies except in the case of "Operation Pacific" they are by no means as tense. It is a case that the light hearted first half still carries on in to the second half and so whilst there is action and drama it is of the macho occasionally corny variety.
And in a way it is a shame as there are some good moments in "Operation Pacific" especially when we have them sinking a Japanese submarine with torpedoes something never done before and in achieving this realise that makes them vulnerable to a similar attack. There are more and there are plenty of elements which could have been not only dramatic but also enlightening to how difficult being aboard a submarine was. But instead we have this mix of humour, machismo and patriotism which dilutes any real emotion and drama.
What this really means is that "Operation Pacific" is a John Wayne movie which sees him playing a different hero but in a very similar manner to the way he played so many of his characters. It's entertaining if like me you enjoy a John Wayne movie but for those who don't will find it bordering on the cheesy. And sadly whilst "Operation Pacific" also features the likes of Ward Bond, Patricia Neal, Jack Pennick and Philip Carey they all play second fiddle to Wayne.
What this all boils down to is that as a war movie "Operation Pacific" isn't that good and there are plenty of better movies which take us into the world of life aboard a submarine. But for those who are fans of John Wayne the lack of great war drama won't be an issue as Wayne delivers that special blend of humorous heroism which he did so well in so many movies.