Merrill's Marauders (DVD)
Burma, 1944: The 5307th commanded by Brigadier General Frank D. Merrillis deep behind Japanese lines marching through the dense, unforgivingjungle. They've gone undetected--so far--but the trek has taken its tollon the gaunt, fatigued soldiers. Then, arriving at their destination,the men endure the sheer hell of war, only to be ordered on anotherforced march through the jungle ... another mission for the hard-bittenmen dubbed Merrill's Marauders.
]]> The theatrical trailer included in this DVD release of Merrillâ€™s Marauders
, touting its depiction of "World War IIâ€™s most fabulous jungle fightersâ€¦ (as) they showed the world what the American soldier can do," makes director Samuel Fullerâ€™s 1962 film sound like jingoistic propaganda, but itâ€™s considerably more than that. The year is 1944; the U.S. Armyâ€™s 5307th Composite Unit, a 3000-strong outfit under the command of Brigadier General Frank Merrill (Jeff Chandler), has already been fighting the occupying Japanese forces in the wilds of Burma for several months when theyâ€™re assigned to march hundreds of miles through jungles, swamps, and mountains to Myitkyina, a town of considerable strategic importance and the gateway to India, where the Allies fear the Japanese and Nazis will meet and consolidate their forces. Mission impossible? So it would seem, as the men are exhausted, disease-ridden, disheartened, and ill-equipped; his second in command, Lt. Stockton (Ty Hardin), argues that they'll never make it, but Merrill (who has a heart condition that could bring him down at any moment) refuses to let up. There are numerous combat sequences, most of them quite convincing (including a very cool scene in a concrete maze), but the filmâ€™s strength lies not only in its graphic chronicling of the obvious horrors of war but in its sympathetic (but never condescending) portrayal of the more quotidian aspects of these soldiers' miserable lives, from easy banter to quarrels over food and ammunition, from the interactions with locals to the sheer hell of simply walking another step when youâ€™ve already passed the limits of human endurance. Grim, gritty, intense, and realistic (Fuller was an Army vet himself), this is an effective precursor to the directorâ€™s best-known movie, The Big Red One
. --Sam Graham