In Harm's Way (1965) - Rotten Tomatoes

In Harm's Way (1965)




Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

Movie Info

In Harm's Way, based on James Bassett's novel Harm's Way, has enough plot in it for four movies or a good miniseries (when it was shown on network television in prime time, it was broken into two very full nights). On the morning of December 7, 1941, a heavy cruiser, commanded by Captain Rockwell Torrey (John Wayne), and the destroyer Cassidy, under acting commander Lieutenant (jg) William McConnell (Thomas Tryon), are two of a handful of ships that escape the destruction of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Under Torrey's command, the tiny fleet of a dozen ships carries out its orders to seek out and engage the enemy fleet. But lack of fuel and a daring maneuver (but tragic miscalculation) by Torrey causes his ship to be seriously damaged. He's relieved of command and assigned to a desk job routing convoys in the shakeup following the attack, and his exec and oldest friend, Commander Paul Eddington (Kirk Douglas), is reassigned after a brawl, the result of his anger after identifying the body of his wife (Barbara Bouchet) who was killed during the attack while cavorting with an Marine Corps officer. Torrey's shore assignment leads him to reestablish contact on a very hostile level with his estranged son, Ensign Jere Torrey (Brandon de Wilde), from his long-ended marriage; he establishes a romantic relationship with Lt. Maggie Haynes (Patricia Neal), a navy nurse; and he also befriends Commander Egan Powell (Burgess Meredith), a special-intelligence officer. Partly as a result of his contact with Powell, Torrey is chosen by the commander of the Pacific Fleet (Henry Fonda) to salvage an essential operation called Sky Hook, which has become bogged down through the indecisiveness of its area commander, Vice Admiral Broderick (Dana Andrews). Promoted to rear admiral, with Eddington -- who'd been rotting away on a shore assignment, drunk most of the time -- assigned as his chief of staff, Torrey gets Sky Hook rolling and finally finds his purpose in this war, gaining the belated admiration of his son in the process. Eddington is similarly motivated but is still haunted by the violent, ultimately self-destructive demons that blighted his marriage and his life -- he is particularly attracted to a young nurse, Annalee Dohrn (Jill Haworth), not knowing that she is already involved romantically with Jere Torrey. Meanwhile, McConnell survives the sinking of his ship and is ordered to join Torrey's staff. Matters all come to a head when the Japanese begin a counter-offensive to Torrey's planned troop landing. And just at the time Torrey needs his men at their best, Eddington's violence and rage boil to the surface in a way that will destroy him and blight both men's lives. In a final attempt at redemption, Eddington provides Torrey with the information he needs to set up a battle that he has at least a chance of winning, pitting his small task group of destroyers and cruisers against the Japanese task force led by the Yamato, the largest battleship ever built. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovimore
Rating: R
Genre: Drama, Action & Adventure, Classics
Directed By:
Written By: James Bassett, Wendell Mayes
In Theaters:
On DVD: May 22, 2001
Paramount Pictures


John Wayne
as Capt. Rockwell Torre...
Patricia Neal
as Lt. Maggie Haynes
Kirk Douglas
as Cmdr. Paul Eddington...
Tom Tryon
as Lt. William McConnel
Paula Prentiss
as Bev McConnel
Jill Haworth
as Ens. Annalee Dorne
Dana Andrews
as Adm. Broderick
Stanley Holloway
as Clayton Canfil
Burgess Meredith
as Cmdr. Powell
Franchot Tone
as CINCPAC I Admiral
Patrick O'Neal
as Cmdr. Neal O'Wynn
Carroll O'Connor
as Lt. Cmdr. Burke
Slim Pickens
as CPO Culpepper
James Mitchum
as Ens. Griggs
George Kennedy
as Col. Gregory
Bruce Cabot
as Quartermaster Quoddy
Barbara Bouchet
as Liz Eddington
Tod Andrews
as Capt. Tuthill
Larry Hagman
as Lt. Cline
Stewart Moss
as Ens. Balch
Richard Le Pore
as Lt. Tom Agar
Chet Stratton
as Ship's doctor
Soo Yong
as Tearful Woman
Dort Clark
as Boston
Phil Mattingly
as PT Boat Skipper
Henry Fonda
as CINCPAC Admiral
Hugh O'Brian
as Air Force Major
Jerry Goldsmith
as Piano Player
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for In Harm's Way

Critic Reviews for In Harm's Way

All Critics (14) | Top Critics (3)

It goes on and on, the slowness exacerbated by Preminger's customary long takes and by the endless parade of star cameos.

Full Review… | February 9, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

Full Review… | March 26, 2009
Top Critic

Full Review… | May 9, 2005
New York Times
Top Critic

Thematically, this WWII drama is a typical John Wayne fare--the Duke imparts lessons of manhood and honor--but technically, it's an atypical Preminger movie, slow-paced and shapeless.

Full Review… | December 12, 2006

A colossal bore.

Full Review… | September 28, 2005
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

Epic WWII production plays like star-studded soap opera at times.

January 2, 2005
Kansas City Kansan

Audience Reviews for In Harm's Way


Solid WWII drama with a most impressive cast even with many future stars in small roles. Some of the special effects are dated and obvious now but for the time frame were effective. John Wayne and Patricia Neal are unexpectedly quite well matched as a couple with her prickliness and his laconic style playing well off each other. The picture flows well considering it's extended length, moving from one set piece to the next without a great deal of wasted exposition.

jay nixon

Super Reviewer

John Wayne leads the United States Navy into a monumental struggle against the Japanese. Kirk Douglas is the anti-hero who stirs up a fuss. The ships are models and the battles are conducted in a bathtub.

Dean McKenna

Super Reviewer

I don't know what's up with Otto Preminger's obsession with arms, because ten years after he did "The Man with the Golden Arm", he lets them put on this film's poster a big ol' arm pointing out, I don't know, harm or something. Well, of course you're in harm's way, dummy, because you're at war! Well, this film is just about the Navy, so, you know, they just need to be careful about what waters you get in, sailors. I'm kidding; the Navy is pretty hardcore, - as this film which actually shows you that will tell you - especially when John Wayne is present, because, you know, nothing says exciting like John Wayne in a World War II film. Yeah, some people gave "The Green Berets" some heat, but I was actually referring to "The Longest Day", because, come on, I cannot be the only guy who didn't think that film got a little boring at times. Maybe it would have been a little more exciting if it was in color, an issue that we know longer have to worry about ever since this, the last black-and-white WWII film... which is, black-and-white, as I said. Don't worry, folks, because this film is plenty good enough to compensate for its literal lack of color, although its featuring the plague on WWII film intrigue which was evidently John Wayne, and its being about the Navy (Seriously, the war film industry is not giving a whole lot of love to the Navy, and all of the excitement of just floating around, waiting for someone to shoot around you) are not the only things going against entertainment value here.

I must give this film quite a bit of credit for its melodramatics' intrigue and at least not being as derivative as they can be, but the fact of the matter is that so much of the dramatic value of this film's story concept thrives on histrionics, which seem to manufacture conflicts and layers in an attempt to mold an epic in a perhaps overblown manner. Again, the melodrama is generally realized, so maybe the film isn't quite as soapish as they say to me, but it's still overblown, even with its questionable dramatics, which you should get used to, but only come to focus upon more as the film progresses, proving to also be overblown in structure. At the very least, all of the excessiveness leads to unevenness, for this narrative features several segments and plot layers that it approaches in a fashion often so disjointed it's almost startling, to the point of convoluting the significance of each plot layer over another. I don't know if the film is so much confusing, as much as it's simply disconcertingly inconsistent in its handling of an arguably overblown network of narratives, and such an issue, plain and simple, derives from the film's running a little too long, for although the runtime of two hours and three quarters is adequately justified by generally tight storytelling, when the feet start to drag, if focus isn't convoluted, it's simply lost. There a few plot holes which thin out the plot's effectiveness, but as irony would have it, it's the overdrawn periods of exposition which really do something of an injustice to a conceptually solid story, because, at the end of the day, a lack of action begets a limited sense of consequence, and allows you to soak in all of the melodramatics and plot bloatings which try too hard to compensate. Honestly, on the whole, I find this film not simply underrated, but very rewarding, although that's primarily because the idea behind this dramatic war epic has so much potential that the final product could have soared, if its kick wasn't so heavily diluted by a touch too much ambition. Of course, the kick is never so diluted that reward value is lost, at least for me, for although I see the complaints critics are making, I find that the strengths stand firm.

I've made my cracks on this film's being black-and-white, but bland technical limitations of the time really do subdue the cinematographic abilities of Loyal Griggs which still stand out at times, with handsome lighting that takes good advantage of the black-and-white palette, and with a certain scope that immerses you into distinguished, typically lovely locations. The visuals of the film carry a sweep that, no matter how subtle, is instrumental in establishing a sense of scale, not unlike the story concept itself, because even no matter how much the narrative's interpretation betrays even conceptual intrigue, there is a certain uniqueness to this extensive take on the works and struggles of men and women of the Navy, maybe even to melodramatics which often fit in the context of human themes comfortably enough to engage, so much so that I mean it when I say that this film could have stood out as a war melodrama. Wendell Mayes betrays much of this potential through an overblown scripts, but he too plays a part in bringing life to this effective epic, with sharp dialogue and enough dynamic set pieces to present a certain colorful flavor, even in writing, while extensive exposition draws memorable and distinct roles, brought to life by memorable and distinct performances. I don't know if any of the performances truly stand out, but most everyone has a time to shine, with some of the more recurring talents including the charismatic Patricia Neal and John Wayne, in addition to Kirk Douglas, who hits some edgy highlights in his layered portrayal of a charming, but flawed Navy man who holds a certain unpredictable brutality that he hopes will get him what he feels is due in his troubled life. Although the unevenly used Douglas hits about as hard as anyone, most everyone endears in this surprisingly intimate epic, and that helps a lot in allowing the film to endear, despite its slow spells, yet can only do so much in comparison with directorial storytelling. Otto Preminger's direction can make or break the engagement value of this drama, and although he hits his missteps, he delivers through and through, making sure that what action there is proves to be thrilling in its sweeping staging and sharp technicality, and that the steady strolls in storytelling which stand in long stretches between the action never lose entertainment value, anchored by tight scene structuring and colorful plays on Jerry Goldsmith's score which hold your interest, while your investment is really secured by moving dramatic thoughtfulness. The brightest highlights of the film are pretty strong, and I really wish that the film was that on the whole, and yet, I still dismiss those who criticize the final product as underwhelming, as there is more than enough inspiration to craft a thoroughly compelling dramatic epic.

Overall, there is a certain bloating to the melodramatics, and plenty of bloating to the storytelling structure, whose unevenness defuses momentum to the point of leaving the final product to meander quite a ways short of what it could have been: an almost outstanding war drama, the glimpses of which punctuate visual style, often well-rounded writing, solid performances, and realized direction so inspired that they secure Otto Preminger's "In Harm's Way" as a consistently rewarding melodramatic tribute to the Navy.

3/5 - Good

Cameron W. Johnson
Cameron Johnson

Super Reviewer

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