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Major Dan Kirby (John Wayne) arrives to VMF-247 as the new commander while everybody in the
unit was expecting Captain Carl 'Grif' Griffin (Robert Ryan) to take his place. Kirby is
strict with rules and makes it understood from day one. Assigned to the Cactus Air Force
during the Guadalcanal campaign, Kirby has few planes available and a lot to accomplish in
a field that is attacked daily by the Japanese. His pilots are young and behave like 'kids',
at times disobeying orders and foolishly losing their lives and precious planes. Kirby is
requiring maximum effort, and Captain Griffin is not as tough as Kirby expects. Griffin
stays closer to his young pilots. One of them is his own brother-in-law, Vern 'Cowboy'
Blithe (Don Taylor). Kirby is a fan of low-level ground attacks to support the marine
units, but HQ has not approved of his tactics until the time comes when marine troops
are dangerously stuck by the Japanese. Kirby then adjusts his squadron's tactics
accordingly despite losing a number of pilots trying to prove his point. In his most
successful operation, he leads his squadron in an attack on a huge Japanese convoy —
a scenario most likely based on the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. Kirby returns to the
front and to the same unit and crew that is now equipped with the F4U Corsair fighters.
Kirby leads his men against Japanese troops and Kamikaze attacks during the Battle of
Okinawa. During a crucial moment in this battle, Griffin denies assistance to his
brother-in-law to avoid splitting his formation; as a result his brother-in-law is
killed. Kirby shortly after is shot down and injured but is picked up by some navy launch.
Since he is now to leave the squadron, he has to appoint a successor. This time he appoints
Griffin as CO of VMF-247, as he understands that Griffin is able to put the lives of his
pilots second to duty. Throughout the film the character of Sgt Clancy (Jay C. Flippen), an
old marine veteran and friend in arms for Kirby, enhances nicely the scenes with some fun.
Clancy is creative in getting provisions for the needs of his unit, much to the consternation
of other units on the island because of his unorthodox methods.
John Wayne, Robert Ryan, Don Taylor, Jay C. Flippen
Director: Nicholas Ray
Producer: Edmund Grainger
Year Released - Sept. 1951
Length - 102 minutes
Music Composer: Roy Webb
Movie Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures
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