WAXMAN: Objective, Burma!
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Franz Waxman (1906-1967)
Objective, Burma! Film Score, 1945
Score restoration by John MorganThe Making of Objective, Burma!
By early 1944 the Allies were no longer losing WorldWar II; they were on the offensive. But certainly upuntil 1943 things were not going well and variousfilms reflected those dire times. Wake Island (1942),Guadalcanal Diary (1943), Bataan (1943) and manyothers dealt with our losses during the period whenJapan had made successful invasions in the Pacific.
But when Warner staff producer Jerry Wald had theidea in January 1944 to make a film about the Burmesecampaign, the tide had turned.
Wald got the O.K. to proceed from Jack L. Warnerand wrote his own story outline as well as having staffwriter Alvah Bessie concoct another. Wald's approachhad to do with an expeditionary mission to destroy amilitary objective which was followed by a heroic butthwarted retreat. Bessie, in his outline, detailed abehind-the-lines mission that ended as the returningtroops passed a new group starting out.
The two outlines were blended somewhat andbecame the basis for the evolving script written byRanald MacDougall, who was later joined by LesterCole (in addition to ex-Warner writer Wald). Whereasother World War II film subjects were oftenmentioned officially or unofficially as being similar to,based upon, or reminiscent of previous works - suchas Bataan and Sahara (1943) recalling the structure ofThe Lost Patrol (1934) - it seems that no onementioned the parallels in story construction betweenObjective, Burma! and an M-G-M 1940 picture,Northwest Passage, which had derived from the firstpart of Kenneth Roberts' historical novel of the samename, it, in turn, having been based on real charactersand incidents in upper New York state and EasternCanada during a period of the French and Indian War(1759).
The plot: Major Rogers (Spencer Tracy), theleader of a group of trained men called Rogers'Rangers, at the request of the British, leads anexpedition to destroy a hostile Indian village.
Following a successful surprise attack at daybreak, theRangers encounter on their return numerousdifficulties as well as their other enemy - the French.
Suffering from exhaustion, hunger, and waningmorale, the Rangers split up into four groups, some ofwhich are ambushed and tortured to death. When thesurvivors reach an English fort where food andsupplies had been promised, they discover the fort hasbeen abandoned. The Rangers are virtually starved anddesperate. But the British arrive with food andsupplies.
In his January 3, 1944 \notes," Wald wrote "ReadNorthwest Passage."The fictional plot of Objective, Burma! hasCaptain Nelson (Errol Flynn) and about fiftyAmerican paratroopers being dropped in a Burmesejungle in 1944 to find and destroy a Japanese radarstation. After accomplishing their mission, the mentrek through 140 miles of enemy-filled jungle when aplan to get them out by plane fails owing to theenemy's intervention. Nelson decides to split his meninto two groups. The Japanese capture one group andkill everyone. The other group arrives at apredetermined rendezvous, but it is barren and bleakwith no signs of rescue. Then the Allied airborneinvasion begins, and Nelson and his few survivors arerescued.
Of course, the parallels are in the bare bones of theoutline and the character of the protagonist - certainlynot in dialogue or some other ingredients.
Primary co-writer Ranald MacDougall had animpressive career in radio before coming to WarnerBros. under contract in late 1943. He developed andwas the head writer on the highly respected and awardwinningCBS World War II drama series, The ManBehind the Gun. The realistic stories were based onfact and interviews by MacDougall but developed ascomposite representations of military personnel.
MacDougall recalled, "The first film I worked on wasPride of the Marines [1945 - uncredited] and after thatObjective, Burma! ... If there was any element of'realistic detail' in any of those films, some of it atleast was generated by Man Behind the Gun. I found itextremely difficult in Hollywood, at that time anyway,to sell realism."Objective, Burma! was planned from the outset asan Errol Flynn vehicle, but in a memo from producerWald to Jack Warner on January 26, 1945, Wald says:"In those early days when we were getting Burmaready for production, there were times when BrotherFlynn refused to become a part of the entire projectand I know that it was you, injecting your confidenceinto the production, that succeeded in selling Flynninto making the picture." Flynn's reluctance probablystemmed from reading or hearing about Wald'sJanuary 12 "note" regarding "The possibilities ofdoing a story with a Burma background much alongthe lines of Desperate Journey." That 1942 Flynnvehicle, not to be taken seriously, portrayed incomedic Rover Boy-like fashion the exploits of anRAF bomber crew which, having destroyed anobjective, is brought down by anti-aircraft fire inGermany where they make their way through thatcountry via fun and games with the Nazis and back toEngland. Although the film was a success, Flynn didnot want to do a follow-up. Objective, Burma! evolvedin a completely different mood and tone.
With Warners' estimable Raoul Walsh set todirect, the two primary jungle locations were selectedat Whittier Park just east of Los Angeles, and the"Lucky" Baldwin Santa Anita Estate (now the LosAngeles County Arboretum in Arcadia). Some of theother exteriors were filmed at the Warner Ranch inCalabasas and at Providencia Ranch (now ForestLawn - next to Warners' Burbank studio). The oldMetropolitan Airport in Van Nuys and the air field inPalm Springs doubled for air bases in India andBurma.
Shooting commenced on May 1, 1944, with thescript still being revised and embellished throughoutthe filming. Sixty shooting days were allotted butowing to uncharacteristically bad weather, includingrain and fog during the summer months, and thefrequent script changes, the virtually all-exteriorpicture ran over by forty days!A good deal of time and care were obviously putinto the film. A better than average script was given asemidocumentary approach and solid, exceptionalexecution. Raoul Walsh's direction and James WongHowe's photography superbly captured the operatingprocedure of the paratroopers, the realistic tensions,the omnipresent danger in the jungles and swamps, thegradual breaking of the men's spirit, and the grimbattle scenes.
Obtained from various newsreel, documentary,and government sources was actual footage ofparatroopers jumping, gliders landing and expellingjeeps, tractors, cannon, etc. Also shots of CommanderMountbatten, British General Wingate, GeneralStilwell and his Chinese troops, America's ColonelPhil Cochran and his commandos, and BrigadierGeneral Merrill of Merrill's Marauders fame.
Knowing that a good deal of military footage wasgoing to be interspersed within the film,cinematographer Howe was careful to style his blackand-white shooting to be compatible with the realmaterial.
Released in January, 1945, Objective, Burma!,made at a cost of $1,600,000, received generallyexcellent reviews. There were some comments aboutthe picture's excessive length of 142 minutes, butaudiences seemed to be engrossed from beginning toend.
The actors performed with restraint andbelievability, Flynn being particularly good. Nobravura histrionics were part of his portrayal; he wasprofessional and human. The actor regarded thevehicle as one of his few worthwhile works. After thefilm opened, producer Wald commented in a January26, 1945, memo to Jack Warner that "I have receivedinnumerable calls from friends of mine of the press,who commented mainly on how good Flynn was in thepicture." Raoul Walsh said that "he was a much