Midway – Directed by Jack Smight – WW II War Action. Vast armadas clash at sea in a turning point battle in 1942. 132 minutes Color 1976.
* * * *
All the male stars, and there are many, make grim faces, and so they all look alike. The only one to whom a grim face comes naturally is the great Toshiro Mifune, but when he opens that face to speak, what few lines he has are dubbed. Anxious, fearful, watchful – the others are all the same: Henry Fonda, James Coburn, Glenn Ford, Robert Mitchum, Cliff Robertson, Robert Wagner, Robert Webber, Edward Albert, and, of course, the star, Mister Grim Mouth himself, Charlton Heston. This tends to level the playing field, or rather it makes it possible for certain actors to rise above the monotony of the waters and shine: James Shigeta, for instance, in radiator paint grey hair, who makes a telling character of the wise Admiral who sank the US fleet at Pearl Harbor now attempting to seize Midway Island which has become a US airbase for the bombing of Tokyo. It is a beautiful performance, perfectly calibrated to suit the ravages of fate, as the huge Japanese Navy, spearheaded by four carriers, sets out for the invasion. And Hal Holbrook, who makes a merry wag of the decoder who tracked down the target of the Japanese mission, which no one knew until the day before. Chance, dumb luck, craft, skill, experience, ineptitude, and ruthlessness on all sides come into play in this story which is a pretty good civics lesson overview of the personalities, strategies, and odds at play. The Japanese had a huge advantage, for the US Pacific Fleet had been generously destroyed by them at Pearl Harbor. The director and writer have endeavored to show these forces honestly and fairly, and we are never in doubt as to the names of the specific pilots on the specific missions which failed or succeeded. Oddly this keeps things impersonal, since we never get to know any of these characters well. But it does keep us informed as to the doings of the battle, and the chances of choice or of weather, for instance, which played such a notable part in the outcome. For huge vessels in fleets wallow around upon the fabric of a vast sluggish ocean trying to destroy one another, and doing so. All this manipulated by Admiral Nimitz in Hawaii. And Admiral Yamamoto on his battleship 300 miles away. Lots of color footage of the battle lend their flare to the story, and while the human relations are clunky, the relation to the personalities at play on the circumstances and events is influential beyond measure. It’s a worthwhile movie, highly dramatic, and clear, and necessary to know.