Bataan (film)

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Directed byTay Garnett
Produced byIrving Starr
Written byRobert Hardy Andrews
Garrett Fort(uncredited)
Dudley Nichols(uncredited)
StarringRobert Taylor
George Murphy
Thomas Mitchell
Lloyd Nolan
Robert Walker
Desi Arnaz
Music byBronislau Kaper
Eric Zeisl
CinematographySidney Wagner
Edited byGeorge White
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer; United States Office of War Information
Release date
  • June 3, 1943 (1943-06-03)
Running time
114 min.
Box office$3,117,000[1]

Bataan is a 1943 American black-and-white World War II film drama from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, produced by Irving Starr (with Dore Schary as executive producer), directed by Tay Garnett, that stars Robert Taylor, George Murphy, Lloyd Nolan, Thomas Mitchell, and Robert Walker. The film follows the defense of the Bataan Peninsula by American forces in the Philippines against the invading Japanese.

Historical background[edit]

The Battle of Bataan followed the Japanese December 1941 invasion of the Philippines and lasted from January 1 to April 9, 1942. The American and Filipino forces retreated from Manila to the nearby mountainous Bataan Peninsula for a desperate last stand, hoping for a relief force. The Allies, however, were being driven back on all fronts of the Pacific war and none could be sent. After three months of stubborn resistance, the starving and malaria-ridden defenders surrendered and were forced to undertake the infamous Bataan Death March.


The US Army is conducting a fighting retreat. A high bridge spans a ravine on the Bataan Peninsula. After the army and some civilians cross, an ad hoc group of thirteen hastily assembled soldiers from different units is assigned to blow it up and delay Japanese rebuilding efforts as long as possible. They dig in on a hillside, setting up heavy machine guns in sandbag fortifications. They succeed in blowing up the bridge, but their commander, Captain Henry Lassiter, is killed by a sniper, leaving Sergeant Dane in charge.

One by one, the defenders are killed, with the exception of Ramirez, who succumbs to malaria. Despite this, the outnumbered soldiers doggedly hold their position. Malloy shoots down an enemy aircraft with his Tommy gun before being killed. Dane and Todd creep up, undetected, on the bridge the Japanese have partially rebuilt and throw Mk 2 hand grenades, blowing it up.

There is also tension between Dane and Todd. Dane suspects that Todd is a soldier from his past named Danny Burns who was arrested for killing a man in a dispute, but escaped while Dane was guarding him.

Army Air Corps pilot Lieutenant Steve Bentley and his Filipino mechanic, Corporal Juan Katigbak, work frantically to repair a Beechcraft C-43 Traveler aircraft. They succeed, but Katigbak is killed and Bentley is mortally wounded. Bentley has explosives loaded aboard and flies the C-43 into the bridge's foundation, destroying it for a third time.

The remaining soldiers repel a massive frontal assault, inflicting heavy losses and ultimately fighting hand-to-hand with bayonets fixed on their M1903 Springfield rifles. Epps and Feingold are killed, leaving only Dane, Todd, and a wounded Purckett alive. Purckett is shot, while Todd stabbed through the back by a Japanese soldier who had only feigned being dead. Before he dies, Todd admits to Dane he is Burns.

Now alone, Dane stoically digs his own marked grave beside those of his fallen comrades. The Japanese crawl through the ground fog near his position before opening fire and charging. Dane fires back; when his Tommy gun runs out of ammo, he switches to the larger M1917 Browning machine gun. He continually fires it directly into the camera lens as the end card states that the final sacrifice of the defenders of Bataan helped slow the Japanese advance, making possible America's final victory in the Pacific War.



The presence of a racially integrated fighting force prevented the film's showing in the American South.[2]

Scenes from the 1934 RKO film The Lost Patrol, directed by John Ford, were reused in this production.

The film premièred in New York City on 3 June 1943.[3]


According to one historian, the film "successfully made white viewers aware ... of the inherent sadism in the American lynching ritual". By the 1940s, publications were able to mass-distribute photographs taken of hanged men, so there was a "rewriting of the respective relations of the black and the Asian to the white norm, as the film adjusted to a wartime context [which raised questions of integration]".[4] Regardless of this interpretation, this film was predated in release by the 20th Century Fox film The Ox Bow Incident, which depicts the lynching of a white man with all of the attendant ignorance and cruelty of the criminal act.

Box Office[edit]

The film was a hit when first released to theaters; according to MGM records it earned $2,049,000 in the US and Canada and $1,068,000 overseas, resulting in a profit of $1,140,000.[1][5][6]

Home media[edit]

Bataan was released by Warner Home Video on Jan. 31, 2005 as a Region 1, double-sided DVD set that also contained the RKO Radio Pictures World War II feature film Back to Bataan (1945).


  1. ^ a b c The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
  2. ^ Michael T. Toole. "BATAAN". Turner Classic Movies. Time Warner. Retrieved 13 September 2016. So controversial was this film at the time that Bataan actually had trouble being shown in parts of the Deep South in the 1940s.
  3. ^ Bataan at the TCM Movie Database
  4. ^ Locke, Brian (Spring 2008). "Strange Fruit: White, Black, and Asian in the World War II Combat Film "Bataan"". Journal of Popular Film and Television. Heldref Publications. 36 (1): 9–20. doi:10.3200/JPFT.36.1.9-20. ISSN 0195-6051.
  5. ^ Scott Eyman, Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer, Robson, 2005 p 362
  6. ^ "Top Grossers of the Season", Variety, 5 January 1944 p 54


External links[edit]