The Purple Heart

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The Purple Heart
Directed by Lewis Milestone
Produced by Darryl F. Zanuck
Written by Jerome Cady
Darryl F. Zanuck story (as Melville Crossman)
Starring Dana Andrews
Richard Conte
Farley Granger
Kevin O'Shea
Don 'Red' Barry
Trudy Marshall
Music by Alfred Newman
Cinematography Arthur C. Miller
Edited by Douglass Biggs
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates
  • February 1944 (1944-02)
Running time 99 min
Country United States
Language English
For other meanings see Purple Heart (disambiguation).

The Purple Heart is a 1944 American war film directed by Lewis Milestone.

It is a dramatization of the trial of a number of US airmen by the Japanese during the Second World War. It is loosely based on the trial of eight airmen who took part in the April 18, 1942, Doolittle Raid. Three were executed and one died as a POW.[1]

It starred Dana Andrews as the leader of the downed crew, and was directed by Lewis Milestone. Eighteen-year-old Farley Granger had a supporting role.

Plot summary[edit]

In April 1942 the crew of a downed American B-25 Mitchell bomber are captured in a Wang Jingwei controlled section of China by a Chinese collaborator who transferred them to the Imperial Japanese Army. General Mitsubi refuses to allow the Swiss Consul to contact Washington. At the start of the trial, Lt. Greenbaum, an attorney in civilian life (CCNY Law 1939), explains that the trial is illegal, the men are in the military service of their country.

The men suffer the interrogation and torture of the Japanese, the senior officer Captain Ross refuses to answer questions of the sly General Mitsubi. The general decides to break the men: Sgt. Jan Skvoznik, (screams are heard off camera) is left in a catatonic state with a permanent head twitch. In court the men see the pitiful state of Skvoznik, Lts. Canelli and Vincent rush the Japanese general, quickly felled by rifle butts. They are returned to their cell, Canelli, an artist has a broken right hand and arm; Vincent, in a catatonic state much like Skvoznik. Sgt. Clinton returns seemingly unharmed, the Japanese have ruptured his vocal cords, he is unable to speak. The Japanese have a listening device in the cell when Greenbaum repeats what the speechless Clinton writes, if anything happens to Lt. Bayforth, he will tell all. After torture Bayforth returns with his hands and arms useless covered in black rubber gloves.

The story relates the torture and hardship the men endured while in captivity, and their final humiliation: being tried, convicted and executed as war criminals. Throughout, the American stalwarts are subjected to mistreatment and systematic abuse by the sadistic General Mitsubi (Richard Loo) who ultimately chooses to shoot himself, in the face of his captives' unshakable resolve and the realization that the Japanese are doomed to destruction.



The film was a work of wartime propaganda that had a stereotypical portrayal of the Japanese (usually by actors of non-Japanese origin) as sadistic tyrants. It concluded with a speech where one airman declares that he now knew that he had understood the Japanese less than he had thought, and that they did not know Americans if they thought this would frighten them.[1]

The 16 air crews did arrive over Japan from the USS Hornet (CV-8). President Franklin D. Roosevelt said the crews came from Shangri-La, a fictional place described in the 1933 novel Lost Horizon by British author James Hilton. USS Shangri-La (CV-38) commissioned in 1944.

General Mitsubi tells Captain Ross, "The Japanese people worship the Emperor and will die for him." Mitsubi asks Ross, "is the white man willing to make the sacrifices of the Japanese people in total war."

The Imperial Japanese Army and Navy celebrate a gleeful a sword dance after news arrives of the "Fall of Corregidor on May 6, 1942. General Mitsubi tells Captain Ross that General Mac Arthur is a coward to leave his defeated forces. Ross says, "he like Mac Arthur follow orders."

At the time of its release, the war in the Pacific was still raging and there was little concern for such excesses. The December 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was still fresh in the minds of the American public. In later years, many of the principal players, including Dana Andrews, came to express regret over the more distasteful aspects of the film.

By the time of the film's release, the two engine North American B-25 Mitchell Medium Bomber, used in the Doolittle raid, was being used for lighter missions against Japan, having been supplanted by the Boeing B-29 Superfortress.

Released during the war, the film inspired theatre patrons to purchase thousands of dollars of War Bonds, and opened to good reviews.

Three were in executed by the Imperial Japanese Army, one died of starvation in prison. In September 1945, after the Japanese surrender, the four survivors of the trial were repatriated back to the U.S. While three became regular civilians, one would return to Japan to be a minister: this was told by Walter Cronkite, on the TV show The Twentieth Century.


  1. ^ a b John W. Dower, War Without Mercy: Race & Power in the Pacific War p. 50 ISBN 0-394-50030-X

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