Back to Bataan

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Back to Bataan
Back to Bataan.jpg
Theatrical poster
Directed by Edward Dmytryk
Produced by Robert Fellows (exec.)
Screenplay by Ben Barzman
Richard H. Landau
Story by Aeneas MacKenzie
William Gordon
Starring John Wayne
Anthony Quinn
Music by Roy Webb
Cinematography Nicholas Musuraca
Edited by Marston Fay
Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures (US)
Release dates
  • June 25, 1945 (1945-06-25) (US)
Running time
95 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $2,490,000[2]

Back to Bataan is a 1945 World War II war film, directed by Edward Dmytryk and starring John Wayne and Anthony Quinn.[3] It depicts events (some fictionalized and some actual) that took place after the Battle of Bataan (1941–42) on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. The working title of the film was The Invisible Army.[4]


The film begins with the then-recent US Army Ranger raid at Cabanatuan prisoner-of-war camp. The film then flashes back to March 1942.

As American forces under General MacArthur are forced to pull out of Bataan, Colonel Joseph Madden (John Wayne) of the U.S. Army, stays behind to organize guerrilla fighters against the occupying Japanese forces in the Philippines. Madden teams up with Filipino resistance fighters to liberate POWs from Cabanatuan after the Bataan Death March.

One of his officers, Captain Andrés Bonifácio (Anthony Quinn), carries a heavy burden. Not only does he have to live up to being the grandson of Andrés Bonifacio a national hero, but his former fiancée Dalisay Delgado (Fely Franquelli) is apparently collaborating with the Japanese, broadcasting propaganda over the radio. (In actuality, Ms. Delgado was also using the propaganda broadcasts as a means to relay sensitive information to the Filipino resistance without incurring Japanese suspicions – a fact known only to Col. Madden and his superiors.)

Over the next year, Madden and his group of Filippino guerillas attack Japanese outposts, supply depots, military airfields and other installations. Madden and his men also rescue a middle-aged American school teacher, named Bertha Barnes (Beulah Bondi), who joins the guerillas after witnessing the brutal activities of the Japanese.

Major Hasko (Richard Loo), one of the Japanese commanders, attempts to appease the local population by staging a semi-independence ceremony to reduce popular support for the Filipino reistance forces. Madden, Bonifácio and the guerillas attack the ceremony where Dalisay finally reveals her true alliance when, during her radio speech covering the ceremony, urges the population to rise up against the Japanese. Most of the Japanese troops are killed in the raid, but one young Filipino boy, who is one of Ms. Barnes former students named Maximo Cuenca, is captured. After being interrogated, Maximo agrees to tell the Japanese commander the location of Colonel Madden's forces. However, this attempt fails when Maximo sacrifices himself at the last second by grabbing the steering wheel of the Japanese truck. All the Japanese personnel in the truck are killed and Maximo dies in the arms of his lifelong school teacher, Miss Barnes.

After this, Colonel Madden leaves the Philippines, leaving Captain Bonifácio in command of the Filipino resistance with Dalisay fighting alongside him. Several more months later in October 1944, Bonifácio and his group travel to Letye where news of the impending American invasion to liberate the Philippines is circulating. After arriving on Letye, Bonifácio is reunited with Madden where they are tasked with a mission to secure a small village in preparation for the invasion.

At the climax, Madden and Bonifácio, along with their men, engage the Japanese in a large pitched battle where they try to secure a small bridge over a creek in the village so the American forces can cross. Just when all seems lost as Japanese tanks arrive to engage, American reinforcements and tanks coming from the invasion beachhead arrive on the scene and destroy all the Japanese tanks, winning the battle.

The film closes with another short montage of several of the released Americans from the Cabanatuan prison camp.

Main cast[edit]

As the film opens, the credits roll over actual film clips from January 30, 1945, of POWs being freed from Cabanatuan, a Japanese prisoner of war camp.[1]


Producer and future production partner of John Wayne Robert Fellows had previously made two war films with fictional characters based on true incidents in the War in the Pacific; Bombardier based on the Doolittle Raid and Marine Raiders and also produced the John Wayne western Tall in the Saddle for RKO. Fellows strongly believed that an account of the initial defeat and guerilla resistance of the American and Filipino forces as well as MacArthur's return would be a splendid tribute and a profitable film. Fellows contacted the Office of War Information and the American military who agreed as well as provided their assistance.[5]

The film took 130 days to shoot based on the rapidly changing news of the time. Two thirds of the way through filming, the invasion of the Philippines occurred, causing several script changes and rewrites in order to keep up with current events.[6] The Raid at Cabanatuan and release of prisoners was also rapidly incorporated into the screenplay with scenes of a recreation of the 6th Ranger Battalion attacking the prison camp placed on the beginning of the film with appearances of recently released prisoners added to the end of the film.

Ben Barzman's screenplay emphasized Filipino nationalism as much as American patriotism. A Filipino school principal who reminds a Filpino schoolboy of Philippine nationalism is later ordered by the Japanese conquerors to take down the American flag in his schoolyard, which he refuses to do. The Japanese hang him from the flagpole. Barzman's screenplay can also be taken as an instruction of how to set up a guerrilla warfare campaign.

The soundtrack re-used large sections of Max Steiner's score for King Kong.

Back to Bataan was Wayne's first encounter with Americans with open Communist sympathies and beliefs, as during the filming, Barzman and director Edward Dmyrtyk were outspoken on their communist views.[7] When Wayne heard that Barzman and Dmytryk were openly belittling the religion of the film's technical advisor Colonel George S. Clarke (who had commanded the 57th Infantry Regiment of the Philippine Scouts during the Battle of Bataan and was roughly Wayne's real life counterpart), and mocking him with renditions of the Internationale, he confronted Dmytryk, asking him if he was a Communist. Dmytryk replied that he wasn't but if "the masses of the American people wanted communism it would be good for our country.[8] Though not admitting Dmyrtyk was a communist, Wayne felt that he was by his use of the word "masses".[9] By contrast, Barzman's wife Norma recalled Wayne being friendly with her husband with Wayne hugging him and calling him a "goddammned communist" with Barzman jokingly replying that Wayne was a "fascist".[10]

During the filming, Dmytryk and Barzman found out that Wayne refused to use a stunt double and together, they collaborated in writing scenes that they thought would make Wayne insist on a stunt double to do the painful scenes. In one scene, Wayne was required to be lifted in the air by leather harness to simulate being blown by an explosion, and in another scene, Wayne and Anthony Quinn had to enter an icy pond and remain underwater for a lengthy time, breathing through a reed. Wayne did the stunts, but as he drank a bracing whiskey told Barzman, "You better be goddamn sure we don't find out this is something you dreamed up out of your little head as a parting gift".[8]

In her book The Star-Entangled Banner, Sharon Delmendo views the film as Wayne being a surrogate for Douglas MacArthur.[11] He has to face the wrath of his Filipino officers asking him where American help is, then later leaves the Philippines by submarine to return like MacArthur, in the invasion.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Back to Bataan: Detail View". American Film Institute. Retrieved April 28, 2014. 
  2. ^ Richard Jewell & Vernon Harbin, The RKO Story. New Rochelle, New York: Arlington House, 1982. p. 204
  3. ^ Crowther, Bosley. "Back to Bataan". NY Times. Retrieved 2011-05-05. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ p. 258 Roberts, Randy & Olson, James Stuart John Wayne: American 1997 University of Nebraska Press
  6. ^ p. 115 Davis, Ronald L. Duke: The Life and Image of John Wayne 2001 University of Oklahoma Press
  7. ^ p. 98 Munn, Michael John Wayne: The Man Behind the Myth 2004 Robson Books
  8. ^ a b p. 260 Roberts, Randy & Olson, James Stuart John Wayne: American 1997 University of Nebraska Press
  9. ^ "Cinema: John Wayne as the Last Hero". Time. August 8, 1969. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ p. 83 Delmendo, Sharon Back to Bataan Once More Pax Americana and the Pacific Theatre The Star-entangled Banner 2004 Rutgers University Press

External links[edit]