Darby's Rangers (1958 film)

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Darby's Rangers
Original film poster
Directed by William Wellman
Produced by Martin Rackin
Written by Guy Trosper
Based on Darby's Rangers: An Illustrated Portrayal of the Original Rangers
Narrated by Jack Warden
Starring James Garner
Jack Warden
Stuart Whitman
Music by Max Steiner
Cinematography William H. Clothier
Editing by Owen Marks
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
Release dates
  • February 12, 1958 (1958-02-12)
Running time 121 min.
Country United States
Language English

Darby's Rangers (released in the UK as The Young Invaders[1]) is a 1958 war film starring James Garner as William Orlando Darby, World War II commander of the 1st Ranger Battalion. The movie was shot by Warner Brothers Studios in black and white to match wartime stock footage included in the production and was directed by William Wellman. The film was based on the 1945 book Darby's Rangers: An Illustrated Portrayal of the Original Rangers by Major James J. Altieri, himself a veteran of Darby's troupe.[2]


Major William Darby (James Garner) is a staff officer who is placed in command of the volunteer US Army 1st Ranger Battalion based on and trained by the British Commandos. Darby and Master Sergeant Saul Rosen (Jack Warden), who also narrates the film, select a variety of men for training in Scotland. Darby tells his volunteers that the British Commandos are the best soldiers in the world, but in time they (The Rangers) will be. The Americans are quartered in Scottish homes and several of the Rangers pair off with local lassies: Rollo Burns (Peter Brown) with Peggy McTavish (Venetia Stevenson), the daughter of the fearsome but humorous Scottish Commando instructor, Sergeant McTavish (Torin Thatcher), and vagabond Hank Bishop (Stuart Whitman) with the proper Wendy Hollister (Joan Elan).[3]

After a landing in French North Africa, two more Ranger battalions are formed, with Darby promoted to colonel. Joining the Rangers is 2nd Lieutenant Arnold Dittmann (Edd Byrnes), a by-the-book West Pointer who is humanized by his encounter with Angelina De Lotta (Etchika Choureau). There are several action scenes in a bombed out Italian village where the men face a sniper, and a running firefight with the Germans.

Darby confides to Rosen a recurring dream of being run over by an oncoming train, foreshadowing the climax. His 1st and 3rd Ranger Battalions are ambushed and wiped out by the Germans at the Battle of Cisterna at Anzio. Darby leads his 4th Ranger Battalion in an unsuccessful rescue attempt. Of the 767 men who go in, only seven come back, the majority being captured.



Warner Brothers had had a financial and critical hit in Battle Cry, and wanted to repeat the success with Major James Altieri's biographical account of Darby's Rangers, The Spearheaders. Altieri was known to Warners as he had been technical advisor on Force of Arms (1951). Director William Wellman's reputation for superb war films lay in The Story of G.I. Joe and Battleground. He was hired on condition that Warner Brothers finance his dream project, Lafayette Escadrille, about his (Wellman's) own World War I Foreign Legion air squadron. Warner Brothers emphasised the romantic pairings of most of the leads, as a feature of the film, to emulate the success of Battle Cry; problems arose.

Although the U.S. Marine Corps enthusiastically lent Camp Pendleton, Marine film extras, material, and color film of the Pacific Island campaigns to stimulate recruiting and its public image (see The United States Marine Corps on film), the U.S. Army was not keen on the Rangers, because they had suffered excessively high casualty rates of excellent soldiers that the Army thought would be better employed leading regular infantry units. The U.S. Army of the 1950s preferred training individual officers and NCOs at the Ranger School who then returned to their parent units and trained them in Ranger tactics and military values, and not have separate Ranger companies and battalions, thus, the U.S. Army's co-operation was limited to training the actors and providing black and white stock footage.

Originally, Charlton Heston was cast as William O. Darby. He was enthusiastic about portraying a recent historical figure; he could interview people who knew Darby in creating his characterisation. However, he asked for five percent of the profits. Jack Warner thought he was joking, until just before filming.[4] Producer Warner looked to his contracted stock company, and, fortuitously, choose thirty-year-old James Garner who had the proper appearance and age to play William O. Darby, who died at age thirty-four. Garner, a Korean War veteran, had just broken through as a leading man with the Maverick television series and replaced Heston. Garner's first leading role demonstrated the thespian range that made him believable as a Ranger infantry officer. Garner's original role in the film was taken by Stuart Whitman.[5]

Originally, Tab Hunter was to play the Lieutenant, but quit before filming; Edd Byrnes replaced him.[6] Garner's interpretation of Ranger commander Darby is earnest and sensitive; Byrnes' character is a heartless, over-serious, young lieutenant, the ultimate "square", the opposite of the two stars portrayals of their character of the easy going cyncial Bret Maverick and the hip "Kookie" of 77 Sunset Strip.

Darby's Rangers was filmed, economically, on the studio backlot. The supporting cast includes: Murray Hamilton, Adam Williams, Corey Allen, and William Wellman Jr. French actress Etchika Choureau (née Françoise Choureau) made her Hollywood début in this film, and acted in Lafeyette Escradille, then returned to Europe. Francis De Sales had an uncredited role as a captain. The film emphasizes romantic subplots, as Darby counsels his soldiers about their personal problems. William H. Clothier's black and white cinematography blends with the stock footage, and renders the sets believable.


The premiere showing in several major US cities was proceeded by a banquet where James Garner and the highest-ranking Darby Ranger in that city still in the service sat side by side at the head table. In Philadelphia, that Darby Ranger was Captain Edward Haywood, US Army retired, 1941 to 1961, deceased 1990.


  1. ^ Turner Classic Movies Film Article: Darby's Rangers Retrieved 2011-12-31
  2. ^ http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/72264/Darby-s-Rangers/articles.html
  3. ^ Glamour girl
  4. ^ Heston, Charlton An Actor's Life Penguin (1980)
  5. ^ Screen World 17 Mar 1961
  6. ^ Hunter, Tab and Muller, Eddie Tab Hunter Confidential Algonquin Books (1986)

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