Merrill's Marauders (film)
Original film poster
|Directed by||Samuel Fuller|
|Produced by||Milton Sperling (United States Pictures Productions)|
|Written by||Samuel Fuller
based on the book The Marauders by Charlton Ogburn Jr (1956)
Samuel V. Wilson
|Music by||Howard Jackson
Franz Waxman (uncredited score from Objective, Burma!)
American Patrol by F. W. Meacham
|Cinematography||William H. Clothier
|Editing by||Folmar Blangsted|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Release date(s)||June 13, 1962|
|Running time||98 min.|
Merrill's Marauders is a 1962 Cinemascope war film directed and co-written by Samuel Fuller based on the exploits of the long range penetration jungle warfare unit of the same name in the Burma Campaign. The source is the non-fiction book The Marauders, written by Charlton Ogburn Jr., a communications officer who served with Merrill's Marauders. Filmed on location in the Philippines, the economical historical epic film stars Jeff Chandler (in his final role) as Frank Merrill and several actors from the Warner Brothers Television stock company who were then the lead actors in American television shows.
The epic film begins with black and white historical stock footage and maps as a narrator gives the audience the "big picture" by explaining the world situation of the time. The narration continues with the Burma campaign, crediting the British Army and Imperial Forces involved to avoid giving offence like Objective, Burma! but does not mention the contributions of the Chinese X Force. The narrator continues to explain the presence and mission of the Marauders with a map showing their line of march in three columns spearheaded by a military intelligence and reconnaissance (I&R) platoon, led by Lt. Stockton or "Stock" (Ty Hardin). The black and white film segues into Technicolor as we see the platoon moving through the jungle.
Hiding from a Japanese plane, Brigadier General Frank Merrill (Jeff Chandler) says that keeping his 3,000 G.I. jungle fighters hidden from the enemy for 200 miles is "driving me nuts". They have been discovered and the main column is soon under artillery fire. Lt Stock's platoon take out the artillery battery with platoon sniper "Bullseye" (Peter Brown) shooting the commander and the platoon destroying the emplacement with covering fire and the use of grenades.
Stock reports to the fatherly pipe smoking Merrill. Their interpersonal relationship is like father and son; however both Merrill and Stock's platoon sergeant Kolowicz (Claude Akins) think that Stock is too close to his men. Meanwhile, platoon scout Taggy (Pancho Magalona), a Filipino Japanese speaking veteran of Bataan and Guadalcanal taps into enemy telephone wires to hear that the Japanese have discovered the American presence but do not know the size or mission of the unit. Merrill orders his men to drop their backpacks and hurry to their objective before the enemy reinforces it. The unit thinks they have volunteered for only "one dangerous and hazardous mission....somewhere"; the capture of a town called Walawbum that the platoon leads the attack on. After the successful battle, the mood is one of anticipation of going home, with light hearted moments of meeting a British Army unit of the Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment who ask whether the "Five thousand three hundred and seventh Composite Unit...PROVISIONAL!" is a Quartermaster unit.
The troops celebrate their victory by having a mule race and are preparing to leave Burma to return home when General Joseph Stilwell (John Hoyt) arrives to brief Merrill that his men have to seize another objective, Shaduzup. They then must capture the strategic airstrip at Myitkyina before the monsoon arrives, a trek of over 500 miles through jungle, swamps, and mountains. Merrill summons Stock and explains that his men have to do just one more mission ("All you have to do is put one foot in front of the other and take just one more step") and watches from his window as he sees Stock's excited platoon gather in front of him then shamble off dejected when they hear the news leaving Stock alone.
The unit continues their march through jungle and hellish swamps. In addition to tropical diseases they suffer from disorientation such as arguing whether its day or night in the dark jungle and being unable to remember what day it is with one Marauder winning the argument by saying HE knows what day it is as it's his birthday. Merrill radios for a needed airdrop of food but when he realises it will draw the Japanese, he orders his command back into the swamps. One of Stock's platoon, "Chowhound" (Will Hutchins) disobeys and runs out to the clearing covered in white parachutes and canisters where he's shot by the enemy and covered with a wind blown parachute shroud.
The Marauders attack Shaduzup that is a railyard with massive maze-like concrete blocks that the Americans and Japanese fight at close contact in. An aerial shot following the pyrrhic victory shows the massive losses on both sides. As the Marauders sit exhausted and in shock, locals creep out to bring the jungle fighters food. When tough bearded platoon sergeant Kolowicz looks up to see an elderly woman feeding him like a child he breaks down into tears. Lt Stock meets and helps a wounded girl (Luz Valdez) by carrying her to the regimental aid post. Brigadier Merrill inspects the condition of his men that is summed up by a scene when a G.I. on an operating table screams 'Did Lemchek make it?' and then dies. Merrill asks his medical officer "Doc" (Andrew Duggan) "DID Lemchek make it?" "HE'S Lemchek", is the reply.
Merrill explains to Stock that they have to go on to Myitkyina. Stock replies that he and his men can't go on. Merrill tells him he can and just has to take one more step. Stock reminds Merrill his men are veterans of South Pacific campaigns and were promised to return home after volunteering for the one mission. Merrill tells Stock that he is a leader 'and sometimes leaders have to hurt people'. Stock walks off dejected.
The brigade continues their mission up steep mountains. The platoon mule handler "Muley" (Charlie Briggs) has his beloved mule Eleanor collapse from the weight of her load. Sgt Kolowicz sadly but firmly tells "Muley" he will have to shoot Eleanor as she is holding up the column on the mountain track. The emotionally distraught "Muley" straps Eleanor's load on his back and trudges up the mountain range, passing an exhausted Kolowicz on the ground and glaring at him. As the mountains are crossed at last, "Muley" dies.
In a meeting with his battalion commanders they feel drops of rain and realise they must hurry more. In one of the film's best lines that came from the book, Lieutenant Colonel Bannister (Lt Col. Samuel V. Wilson the film's technical advisor and a former I&R platoon leader with the Marauders) says, "when I go home and have a family, one day I'll line up all my children and tell them what Burma was really like. And if they don't cry, I'll beat the hell out of them".
As night falls the survivors are hit by a massive artillery barrage and flares that light up the landscape making the men take cover in a river bed. Taggy the scout infiltrates the enemy's lines to return saying that a banzai charge is due at dawn. Japanese attempts at infiltration during the night are repulsed, but the men are unable to sleep. The dawn attack is fought off by the exhausted jungle fighters with weapons, bayonets, and unarmed combatives. After the attack Merrill orders his men up. They sit like sheep and stare. Merrill shouts that all his men have to do is take "just one more step, to put one foot in front of the other and take one more step". He suddenly collapses from a heart attack. The men led by Stock slowly rise up and trudge onwards towards Myitkyina as an incredulous "Doc" cradles Merrill in his arms.
Fuller's original version ended with Merrill waking up on Myitkyina airstrip to the sound of airplanes landing with "Doc" gravely telling him that the men took the airstrip but at a great price. Sperling, Warner Bros., and the U.S. Army felt that ending was too downbeat and replaced it with Duggan's narration over a montage sequence of battle scenes, then non Cinemascope stock footage of the 101st Airborne Division on parade that severely clashes with both the tone and the look of the rest of the film.
- Jeff Chandler as Brig. Gen. Frank D. Merrill
- Ty Hardin as 2nd Lt. Lee Stockton
- Peter Brown as Bullseye
- Andrew Duggan as Capt. Abraham Lewis Kolodny, MD
- Will Hutchins as Chowhound
- Claude Akins as Sgt. Kolowicz
- Pancho Magalona as Taggy
- Luz Valdez as Burmese girl
- John Hoyt as Gen. Joseph Stilwell
- Charlie Briggs as Muley
- Chuck Roberson as Battalion Commander
- Chuck Hayward as Officer
- Chuck Hicks as Cpl. Doskis
- Samuel Vaughan Wilson as Lt. Col Bannister
- Jack Williams as Medic
After buying the film rights to The Marauders in 1959, producer Milton Sperling and his United States Pictures Productions made an economical (slightly over 1 million US dollars) epic film in the Philippines, with 1200 soldiers from the Armed Forces of the Philippines, American soldiers of the 1st U.S. Army Special Forces Group at Okinawa and Clark Air Force Base, and cast the leading roles with several Warner Brothers Television contract stars who were then the leading men of popular programs but would not be paid extra salary, three stuntmen (Chuck Roberson, Jack Williams and Chuck Hicks), two Filipino film stars and the film's technical advisor. Due to bad weather, Fuller shot six days over the allotted 41-day shooting schedule.
The company's name United States Pictures Productions impressed the Philippine government and the film crews that they were working with a branch of the United States Government and enthusiastically co-operated with the producer. Sperling approached the experienced Samuel Fuller to write and direct The Marauders (the working title) in early 1961. Fuller was then attempting to have Warner Bros. finance and make his dream project, The Big Red One, and initially refused Sperling's offer. Then, Jack Warner summoned Fuller and told him that Merrill's Marauders would be a dry run for his The Big Red One. For the lead role, Fuller wanted Gary Cooper, who refused it because of ill-health (he died soon afterwards). Fuller was impressed with former Universal Pictures contract star Jeff Chandler and cast him.
Samuel Fuller and Milton Sperling simplify, but follow the events and narrative of Ogburn's historical account. However, they use the character structure of Denis and Terry Sanders screenplay for The Naked and the Dead; an earnest young lieutenant "Stock" in command of a military intelligence and reconnaissance platoon is a mediator between his men and a fatherly Brigadier General Frank Merrill. The screenplay also features a grave medical officer "Doc" continually briefing Merrill (and the audience) on the physical and psychological condition of the men and on Merrill himself.
Lt. Stock and Doc are a Greek Chorus that explains decisions, morale, and conditions to the audience. Unlike the characters in The Naked and the Dead who continually have flashbacks and viciously hate each other, the Marauders are professional veterans who respect each other. They gradually deteriorate when the one mission becomes two, then three, then an endless one, and a beat-the-clock narrative in capturing an airstrip before the monsoon grounds aircraft. The audience sees the effects on the men of not only enemy action, but hunger, tropical diseases, disorientation, sleep deprivation, and breakdown (physical, moral, mental). The soldiers continue, demonstrating superb combat leadership, professionalism, sacrifice, and endurance.
Merrill's Marauders was photographed by William H. Clothier, who used a trick from his work on The Alamo: silence precedes and follows the loud battle scenes. Fuller also eschewed sound effects for the sound of blanks. The U.S. Army was upset at the mood of and events in the film, particularly scenes in the Shaduzup maze of G.I.s accidentally killing other G.I.s, and had the scenes deleted. The original Shadazup maze scene was a single take with panning across the battle instead of cutting to close-ups of who was shooting whom. The studio told Fuller it looked "too artistic" and had a second unit director re-shoot some of the scenes (only one scene appeared in the final print), and also changed the original ending to feature soldiers on dress parade, which angered Fuller; he fought the studio; they dropped plans to film The Big Red One.
During the film, Jeff Chandler, who had back problems, injured himself playing baseball with some of the American soldiers working on the film. Despite the pain, Chandler continued filming; his pain is noticeable. On returning to the U.S., he died under anesthesia during back surgery. Merril's Marauder's was critically and financially successful, and was the final Warner Bros. film made in Cinemascope. The film was illustrated in a movie tie-in Dell Comics American comic book.
Stock footage and music 
Another example of the economical production of the film was using extensive stock footage battle scenes from Battle Cry in the attack at Walawbum. Warner Bros. also used bits of Max Steiner's score for Operation Pacific and Franz Waxman's score from Objective, Burma! that was also used in Warner's Up Periscope (1959). The 1885 tune American Patrol appears in not only the final parade scene but in bits throughout the film that either indicates that the film was scored after the addition of the changed ending or that American Patrol may have been the original title music rather than Howard Jackson's title theme.
- Fuller, Samuel (2002). A Third Face: My Tale of Writing, Fighting, and Filmmaking. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-375-40165-2.
- Dombrowski, Lisa (2008). The Films of Samuel Fuller: If You Die, I'll Kill You!. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press. p. 142. ISBN 978-0-8195-6866-3.
- Merrill's Marauders at the Internet Movie Database
- Merrill's Marauders (film) at AllRovi
- Merrill's Marauders (film) at the TCM Movie Database
- Merrill's Marauders at the Movies http://www.marauder.org/movie.htm
- documentary on YouTube
- comic book of the film http://www.marauder.org/comic.htm
- Peter Brown website of the film http://www.peterbrown.tv/merrills.html
- Will Hutchins' memories http://www.westernclippings.com/hutch/hutch_2008_02.shtml