War Movie – Immortal Sergeant (1943)

Henry Fonda & Maureen O Hara in “Immortal Sergeant” (1943)

During World War II, while bashful, receding, passive, loner Canadian journalist Colin Spence (Henry Fonda), lacking in confidence, is living in London, he joins the British Army and is stationed in the North African desert of Libya. There he serves as a Corporal under stalwart Sergeant Kelly (Thomas Mitchell).

Although Kelly takes an interest in Spence and tries to build up his ego, Spence remains unassertive. One afternoon, Spence has a flashback to a time before the war, when he went with his girl friend, Valentine Lee (Maureen O’Hara), to a party at which they met war correspondent Tom Benedict (Reginald Gardiner). Benedict was a self-assured blowhard who easily impressed Valentine, and Spence soon regreted introducing them.

Back in the desert, Kelly and Spence lead a reconnaisance patrol of fourteen men into the brutal heat. As they are traveling, Spence again reminisces about Valentine, who was further won over by Benedict when he impressed her on her birthday. Spence’s mind returns to the present when the patrol stops for lunch, but before they resume their journey, they are attacked by Italian airplanes. During the ensuing skirmish, Spence and his men shoot down one of the planes, but it crashes on one of the patrol’s trucks, killing eight men.

Kelly moves the remaining men Spence, Symes (Bramwell Fletcher), Pilcher (Melville Cooper), Cottrell (Morton Lowry), and Cassidy (Allyn Joslyn), onward, but they are lost.

The next day, Symes is killed during the exchange of enemy gunfire, and Kelly is seriously wounded. Spence gets the sergeant to cover, where he refuses to listen to Kelly’s orders to leave him behind for the good of the group. While Spence is discussing the situation with the remaining three men, Kelly shoots himself, and the soldiers bury their brave sergeant. Spence then assumes leadership of the patrol and drives the men hard, as Kelly had instructed him. While they are walking, Spence’s mind drifts back to Valentine, who spent his first leave with him and encouraged him to be more assertive romantically. Spence’s reverie ends when the group finds an oasis, which is held by German soldiers.

While Spence waits for dark, he remembers the last time he saw Valentine, when it appeared that Benedict had completely won her affections. As darkness falls in the desert, Spence crawls into the oasis, steals food and water, then dismantles the Germans’ radio equipment. Spence returns, and tells his men they must take the German stronghold, explaining that it is the cumulative effect of every single man fighting in every position that will win the war. The men split up and engage the enemy during a sandstorm. Spence is with Cottrell and fights hard until an explosion knocks him out.

Spence awakens in a Cairo hospital. Cottrell explains he was wounded when Cottrell threw a grenade in the enemy munitions dump. The action was successful, although Cassidy was killed. Pilcher is recovering in the same hospital, and both Cottrell and Spence have been awarded distinguished conduct medals. Spence is trying to assimilate the information when Benedict arrives and is his usual sarcastic self. Suddenly aware of his own strength, and no longer afraid, Spence orders Benedict to send Valentine a telegram saying that he wants to marry her. Benedict protests, but Spence intimidates him and sends him on his way. Soon after, Spence, who has been promoted to lieutenant, meets Valentine at a London railway station. There, Spence once again hears Kelly’s encouraging words as he embraces Valentine.

A 1943 American Black & White war film directed by John M. Stahl, produced by Lamar Trotti, screenplay by Trotti, based John Brophy’s 1942 novel of the same name, cinematography by Arthur Miller, starring Henry Fonda, Maureen O’Hara, Thomas Mitchell, Allyn Joslyn, Reginald Gardiner, Melville Cooper, Bramwell Fletcher, and Morton Lowry. Released by 20th Century Fox.

The first American film about the North Africa campaign and the last film Henry Fonda made before enlisting in the U.S. Navy during World War II. It is Fonda’s least favorite. Fonda made a deal with the head of 20th Century Fox, Darryl F. Zanuck, signing his only studio contract in order to get the part of Tom Joad in “The Grapes of Wrath” (1940). The studio cast him in what he considered junk for the most part because he got what was left after Tyrone Power and Don Ameche rejected it.

Soundtrack music:
“The Campbells Are Coming” – Traditional, Played on the bagpipes at the beginning
“Loch Lomond” – Traditional, Sung by a chorus at the beginning
“South of the Border” (Down Mexico Way) – Written by Jimmy Kennedy and Michael Carr,
played at the nightclub
“There Will Never Be Another You” – by Harry Warren played at the nightclub

This well executed, low-budget, combat story with romantic flashbacks is a WWII American propaganda film. Its main thrust is NOT realism but to bolster support of the war effort. Still, it’s enjoyable, not brilliant but entertaining.
Credit to : Donald P. Borchers

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