Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Warner Brothers encountered greater production problems on "Desperate Journey" director Raoul Walsh's "Objective, Burma" than any other battle front movie that the Burbank studio made during World War II. This lengthy--at 142 minutes--war film is grittier than usual and gets rather disillusioning near the end because our heroes are caught literally between a rock and a hard place.

Scenarist Alvah Bessie remembers the first time that producer Jerry Wald mentioned the idea for the film. According to Bessie, Wald called him into his office and said, "I was talking to some guys at my house last night, and they told me what a wonderful job the paratroops are doing in Burma." An hour after reading everything that the Warner Brothers Research Department had about combat in Burma, Bessie realized that it was "strictly a British operation." He told Wald, "Look, Jerry,
there are no American troops in Burma." Wald's response was, "So what? It's only a moving picture." Bessie argued that an American invasion of Burma would lay Warner Brothers open to ridicule of the worst kind. Dismissing Bessie's prediction, Wald said, "So, look, put in some British liaison officers and stop worrying." Everybody from the War Department, to the Production Code Administration, and the Office of War Information, warned the filmmakers about the controversy that they were causing, but the nonplussed Wald moved ahead with the production. Not surprisingly, Wald's cavalier treatment of the China-Burma-India Theater of Operations discredited "Objective, Burma," in Britain. British reaction was so virulently negative that Warner Brothers withdrew it from circulation after a week.

Including British liaison officers as well as a Jewish American lieutenant, Bessie wrote the script for this "A" picture's in 19 days. He observed "it was a good story, if you don't mind the fact that Burma was a British show and was not commanded by Errol Flynn." After Bessie penned the original story, Jack Warner told Wald to assign two other scribes, Randal MacDougall and Lester Cole, because in Warner's words, "Bessie can't write all the pictures in the studio." The studio hired Raoul Walsh to direct and production commenced May 1, 1944. Shooting did not conclude until August 26, 1944, and all of the filming took place in and around Burbank and Los Angeles.

"Objective, Burma" dealt with American paratroopers spearheading the invasion of Burma after the Japanese had chased General Joseph W. Stilwell (Erville Alderson of "Parachute Battalion") out of the country. An older American war correspondent, Mark Williams (Henry Hull of "High Sierra"), accompanies Captain Nelson (Errol Flynn of "Captain Blood") and his young paratroopers who drop behind enemy lines and demolish a radar station. Nelson's native guides spot Japanese troops on the march, so our heroes have to wave off two U.S.A.A.F. C-46 transport planes winging in to retrieve them. Since usable airfield exists between Nelson and Allied lines where the U.S.A.A.F. can land, the paratroopers must march 150 miles through enemy infested jungle. During the long arduous journey, Nelson divides his men into two sections. Nelson leads one section with Williams while the Jewish-American Lieutenant, Sid Jacobs (William Prince of "The Gauntlet")commands the other group. Eventually, Nelson's men link up with two survivors from Jacobs' ill-fated group. Nelson learns, to his horror, that the Japanese have captured and tortured Jacobs and his men and left him almost dead. Jacobs begs Nelson to kill him, but Nelson cannot bring himself to shoot his friend. He gives him a gun instead and lets Jacobs commit suicide. The horrified war correspondent surveys the carnage and rants that the Japanese should be wiped off the earth. At one point during production, Bessie sent a memo to Wald about this controversial scene and asked that the studio reinsert a line of his dialogue. According to the original Bessie script, Nelson said, "There's nothing especially Japanese about this . . . You'll find it wherever you find fascists. There are even people who call themselves Americans who'd do it, too."

Neither Jerry Wald nor Jack Warner re-inserted the additional line in the film as released, that Bessie had written for Nelson, and the subject never came up again, despite his protest. Meanwhile, after the grisly discovery of the tortured paratroopers, Nelson receives surprising orders that direct him to march in the opposite direction from Allied headquarters. Reluctantly, the men follow their orders while the USAAF airdrops them supplies. The remnants of Nelson's force
reach a barren hillside, dig themselves into foxholes, repel a sneaky, vicious Japanese night attack, and awaken the following morning to see gliders and
thousands of paratroopers in the skies. They witness the beginning of the Allied invasion of Burma.

In March 1944, Warner Brothers sent the War Department a copy of the "Objective, Burma" screenplay, along with a request for a technical adviser who had served with the paratroops in the Pacific Theater. The studio emphasized in its correspondence with the War Department that "Objective, Burma" would stress "the important work of the paratroopers in the Pacific Theater." Warner Brothers' Location Manager, William
Guthrie, contacted Army Colonel Curtis Mitchell and explained, "Rest assured no political angle as discussed between you and me will be brought into this picture. It will be strictly an all American affair with American personnel only. We welcome any suggestions Army would like injected." On March 11, 1944, Mitchell briefed Major General Alexander Surles about "the story of about 48 paratroopers dropped 200 miles behind the Japanese lines for the purpose of wiping out a radar station and some supply dumps." He explained that the filmmakers were "prepared to make any changes you suggest in order to keep away from any subject that might be embarrassing." Eventually, the War Department assigned Burma combat veteran Captain Charles Galbreath as technical adviser for the film production.

Warner Brothers wanted "Objective, Burma," to look as realistic as possible, especially regarding the troops. The studio requested 5 compasses, 12 infantry demolition kits without explosives, 160 D rations, 80 K rations, 2 Lister bags, 6 hand axes with covers, 4 wire cutters with covers, 24 M-1 rifles with bayonets and scabbards and 4 carbines with folding stocks. As it turns out, the cast wound up eating the rations, apparently to evoke more realism in their performances. The Army located most of the equipment, except the folding stock type carbine.

"Objective, Burma" is a first-rate combat actioneer that will make you sweat.

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