“They say after you've been in the army for a while you can do anything a horse does.”
I have written about films that take place during World War II quite a few times. Films during this time were all about boosting morale and American propaganda. I always like seeing films where women have an active role in the war effort because American women at this time did have an active role. They were not allowed to actually fight but they were allowed to join auxiliary groups of the Army, Navy, and Air Force. They were allowed to join the Red Cross as nurses and aides. They were brought to war zones as nurses to help doctors care for the wounded. Before this time women in America never had such freedom and importance. Many of the films showing women contributing to the war effort was a love story more than it focused on empowered women. Cry ‘Havoc’ from 1943 is a little different. MGM tried to insert a love triangle if it can be called that but it genuinely focused on nurse in the Pacific Theater struggling not only to do their job but to survive.
Smith (Margaret Sullivan) and Marsh (Fay Bainter) are overworked in an army hospital. Smith is sick but does not want to go home she wants to stay and help. She tells Marsh the next time she has an attack she will leave.
Pat (Ann Sothern), Grace (Joan Blondell), and some other nurses get stuck pushing a truck they were riding in breaks down. They learn they will be getting their orders from Lt. Smith even though they are volunteers. They have all come from Manila where they escaped before the Japanese invaded. Smith asks the girls their names and their skills. Pat worked as a dancer, soda jerk, and a waitress, Grace was a burlesque dancer, and all the other girls have no skills useful to what they will be assigned. Pat is not thrilled about getting orders from a woman. She likes one of the male soldiers a Lt. Tim Holt but so does Smith who has been on the island longer. That night they hear the air raid siren and bombs dropping. One of the girls, Sue, went out for a walk before hand everyone especially her sister is worried about her. Their bunk starts shaking and dirt starts falling. Marsh calls to say the hospital was hit and they are all needed to help. Grace has a hard time especially after she talked to a poor soldier who was dying.
After the bombs have fallen and the girls return to their bunk Andrea goes looking for her sister. Constance has a melt down everything is too much for her. Pat cannot handle Constance crying and complaining and freaks out a bit herself. Constance later apologizes to Pat and they talk. She does not think any one of them will make it home.
Sue is found she was buried for four days with half a dozen dead bodies. When Sue comes back the whole bunk is quiet. Grace tries to distract everyone she explains her strip tease number. Then they all hear Sue scream out in fear.
Supplies and food are running low. Three ships were supposed to be on their way but they were hit and sunk. The area is bombed again and the hospital is hit again as well. A man dies in Constance’s arms and Grace gets a piece of shrapnel in her leg and Smith pulls it out. Smith is upset with Grace for not taking cover properly. Grace yells at her about liking Lt. Holt and how Pat has been seeing him. Lt. Holt calls Smith with the news that a lot of the hospital staff have been killed and supplies are no longer coming in. The Japanese have the island surrounded. Since they are all volunteers they can leave for safety at Corregidor. Constance says she is staying. All the women decide to stay.
As Constance and two other were out swimming an enemy plane comes and starts shooting. Constance is shot and killed. They find out the plane was on its way from fighting and saw them and just fired. Pat finds out from Holt what the Japanese were planning to do. She says they all have no chance.
Smith gets another attack. She does not want one of the women to call Marsh she wants to stay as long as Holt is there. She lets the woman know that Holt is her husband and that she has malignant malaria which Holt does not know.
Orders are given to evacuate. Pat is told Lt. Holt was killed fighting. Smith comes in and she told what happened to Holt. She goes into his empty office one last time. The guns go quiet. The silence drives Grace crazy. She feels like she should be doing something sp she starts to pack. Pat is told Holt was Smith’s husband and how Smith has malaria. Pat realizes that Holt was a good man he never once made a move on her.
Gun fire begins again and tanks in the distance. They are all surrounded. They all forced to surrender to the Japanese.
The entire cast was great. I loved Ann Sothern and Joan Blondell. They were feisty and tough. I would have died to see them star in a comedy film together. Sothern could have been like Maisie Ravier and Blondell could have been like her feisty Pre-Code characters. They could have made a great film together. Margaret Sullivan was wonderful. I have only seen her in one film before this and I liked her just as much as the first film. Fay Bainter is not in the film very much but her character is very good. Robert Mitchum has a very, very small part in this. He is soldier that dies in Ella Raines’ arms.
I really enjoyed Cry ‘Havoc’. I thought it was interesting to see all these different women from all different walks of life come together under the same call to help their country. This is what really happened women from all over America from all walks of life either rich, middle class, or poor came together to help win the war. I liked Cry ‘Havoc’ because it was not a happy ending there was no soldier coming home to his new wife or new love (There was unfortunately a bit of a love triangle it is poor and not thought out at all but it does not get in the way of the main story). This was not a romanticized glorified film of what war is. Women like the women in this film went through these horrible trying conditions. Cry ‘Havoc’ is a great film. I enjoyed it from beginning to end. It made me appreciate what women sacrificed to pitch in to win the war.