Gung Ho! (1943 film)

Gung Ho!
film poster
Directed by Ray Enright
Produced by Walter Wanger
Written by Lt. W. S. LeFrançois USMCR (based on his Saturday Evening Post story "We Mopped Up Makin Island")
Lucien Hubbard
Narrated by Chet Huntley
Starring Randolph Scott
Music by Frank Skinner
Cinematography Milton R. Krasner
Distributed by Universal Studios
Release date(s) December 20, 1943
Running time 88 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $866,898[1]
Box office $2,176,489[1]

Gung Ho! (full title: Gung Ho!: The Story of Carlson's Makin Island Raiders) is a 1943 war film starring Randolph Scott. The story is based on the real-life World War II Makin Island raid led by Lieutenant Colonel Evans Carlson's 2nd Marine Raider Battalion.


The film begins with a tough Greek Lieutenant (J. Carrol Naish) announcing that the United States Marine Corps is seeking volunteers for a hazardous mission and special unit. Sergeant "Transport" Anderof (Sam Levene) meets the commander of the unit, Lieutenant Colonel Thorwald (Randolph Scott) who he has served with in the China Marines. Thorwald explains that he left the Corps to serve with the Chinese guerrillas fighting the Japanese during the Second Sino-Japanese War to learn their methods and has decided to form a unit using the qualities of Gung Ho or "work together".

Amongst the volunteers for the unit are a hillbilly (Rod Cameron) who responds to the Marine Gunner's (Walter Sande) question whether he can kill someone with the fact that he already has; specifically a romantic rival. Alan Curtis is an ordained Minister keeping his vocation a secret. Robert Mitchum is "Pig Iron"; a boxer from a background of poverty and hard work. Harold Landon is a young and small street kid who is initially rejected by Naish but wins him over as both worked as dishwashers on ships bound to the United States from Piraeus. Noah Beery Jr and David Bruce are rivals for United States Navy Nurse Corps Lt. Grace McDonald. Volunteers with brief screen time include a Filipino wishing to revenge his sister raped and killed in Manila who teaches the Raiders knife fighting, a veteran of the Spanish Civil War who sees the war as a continuation of the fight against Fascism, and a Marine who honestly admits "I just don't like Japs".

The film moves rapidly in a documentary style with stock footage of training narrated by Chet Huntley. The survivors of the training are sent to Hawaii for further jungle warfare training where they witness the damage of the attack on Pearl Harbor. In Hawaii they hear a radio bulletin of the announcement of the Battle of Guadalcanal. The Marines are ordered to board two submarines, the USS Nautilus and the USS Argonaut destined for a commando raid on a Japanese held island.

After a claustrophobic voyage, the Raiders invade the island from rubber boats. The Marine landing is met by fire from snipers hiding in palm trees. The Marines dispose of them, attack the Japanese headquarters, wipe out the Japanese garrison, destroy installations with explosives, then board the submarines for their return home.


When producer Walter Wanger acquired the rights of the Makin Island raid and Lt W.S LeFrançois' story, the United States Navy film liaison Lt Albert J Bolton insisted that neither Carlson nor his executive officer James Roosevelt be singled out.[2] The screenplay depicted a fictional Colonel Thorwald with no executive officer. The screenplay did include a character played by J. Carrol Naish a Raider Lieutenant of Greek extraction based on Marine Raider Lt. John Apergis[3] as well as Gunnery Sergeant Victor "Transport" Maghakian who served in the raid and survived the war. Though many incidents in the film did not occur in the real Makin Island raid, Carlson wrote of his being pleased with the film to Wanger.[4]

Like many other films about the United States Marine Corps, the movie was filmed at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego and Camp Pendleton with Marine extras and technical advisors. The Japanese were played by Chinese and Filipino extras.[5]


The fast moving film is a template for many war films and other adventure or western films where a group of professional killers and misfits in polite society are handpicked by an inspiring leader, trained to perfection, then use their initiative and skills in marksmanship, combatives, and knife fighting on an enemy who greatly outnumber them.

Thorwald/Carlson lectures throughout the film that the Japanese have no initiative and can not think for themselves or deviate from a plan; thus unexpected action pays off. This is demonstrated in several scenes in the film where a Marine defeats his opponent in unarmed combat by spitting tobacco in his opponent's eyes, a small but fast runner strips down to his trousers and quickly zig zag runs through enemy fire to deliver hand grenades, Marines destroy a Japanese pillbox and its occupants by squashing both with a road construction steamroller, and a speechless Robert Mitchum who has been shot in the throat and is unable to give warning kills a Japanese infiltrator attempting to kill the battalion surgeon (Milburn Stone) by throwing his knife in the Japanese soldier's back. The climax of the film has the Raiders painting a giant American flag on the roof of a building, then luring the counterattacking Japanese to the area where their own air force bombs and strafes them.

In contrast to the Japanese and the rest of the American military, Thorwald orders that his officers wear no rank insignia and have no special privileges. He tells his Raiders "I will eat what you eat and sleep where you sleep" and participate in the same training. Thorwald's Marines participate in "Gung Ho Sessions" where they discuss the unit's plans and each man participates without regard to rank.


Bosley Crowther in a January 1944 review for The New York Times praised the film, its performances and settings but said "the stabbings and stickings go on ad nauseum. [sic] Gung Ho! is for folks with strong stomachs and a taste for the submachine gun".[6]

The movie was a big hit and earned profits of $577,460.[1]

The film was re-released in the early 1950s by Realart Pictures who gave Robert Mitchum second billing on the posters.

The film has often been shown to recruits and Marines of the United States Marine Corps.


Influences on popular culture

The phrase Gung Ho entered the public lexicon from the film and the accounts of the actual Raiders.

In the early 1960s Louis Marx and Company came out with a "Gung Ho Commando Outfit" for children.[7]

Many individuals who accuse the U.S. Marine Corps of deliberately recruiting murderers and criminals may have been inspired by Rod Cameron's role in the film.


External links

  • Internet Movie Database
  • ]
  • TCM Movie Database

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