March 18, 2015
Story of G.I. Joe (1945)
Grade: 49/100

Director: William A. Wellman
Stars: Robert Mitchum, Burgess Meredith, Freddie Steele

What it's about. A war movie that follows an U.S. Army infantry outfit during the Italian campaign of World War II. Filmed a year or two after the events depicted took place, and several veterans of the campaign were cast as extras in the film.

The film stars Burgess Meredith as Ernie Pyle, the good-natured, unassuming, and middle-aged war correspondent who travelled with units, suffered their deprivations, and risked his life as they did. Indeed, Pyle died near Okinawa, two months to the day before the premiere of the present movie.

Second-billed is Robert Mitchum as the unit's leader, Lt. Walker. His character is reminiscent of Richard Barthelmess' in Dawn Patrol (1930), guilty about the deaths of the faceless young men under his command, yet showing bravery and ultimately dying in action.

The featured actors in the unit are Sergeant Warnicki (Freddie Steele), a gruff and determined man in search of a phonograph in Italy that will play a voice recording of his young son back home; Private Dondaro (Wally Cassell), an Italian-American eager to hook up with the Italian women the soldiers have liberated; Private Murphy (John R. Reilly), a tall man whose wedding to a nurse (Dorothy Coonan Wellman, wife of the director) provides a brief distraction for the unit; Private Mew (William Murphy), a man without family whose fellow soldiers are listed as beneficiaries on his life insurance policy; and Private Spencer (Jimmy Lloyd), caretaker of the unit's mascot, a small mutt.

How others will see it. Story of G.I. Joe was not a box office hit but was well received by critics. The movie was nominated for four Oscars, including Best Screenplay, and Robert Mitchum as Best Supporting Actor. It proved to be the only Academy Award nomination in the long career of Mitchum, who had only recently graduated to lead roles.

Today at, the film has a reasonable 2K user votes and a fairly high user rating of 7.4. Women grade it higher at 7.7, perhaps appreciative of the sacrifices of the characters. User reviews respect the film's authenticity and its devotion to the plight of the common soldier.

How I felt about it. This is the type of well-intentioned, well-made movie that makes any critics appear to be jerks. How can anyone poke holes at this movie, or, for that matter, The Diary of Anne Frank (1959)? The answer to that question is that every film must be judged on its own merits, independent of the quality of its message.

The scene depicting the courageous achievement of the unit in taking out snipers is reminiscent of a similar scene in a better movie, Full Metal Jacket (1987). The theme of the foot soldier grinding out an existence during a war campaign has also been better accomplished, in All Quiet at the Western Front (1930).

Specifically, I didn't like the scene where Robert Mitchum threatens the quartermaster with a rifle and demands he procure a Thanksgiving dinner with turkey and cranberries. The running gag of Freddie Steele attempting to play his phono record grows old, and the same can be said about Private Dondaro's romantic escapades. In fact, the character I identified with most was the dog, who takes life one day at a time and is clueless about what will happen next.