Wildly overrated at the time of its release, THE PURPLE HEART has not aged well, and viewers today may have trouble with its leering racism, overwrought patriotic speechifying, and terribly bombastic musical score. The story concerns two bomber crews captured by the Japanese after the 1942
air raid against Tokyo. Capt. Harvey Ross (Dana Andrews) is the ranking American officer of the eight bomber crew members who are imprisoned in Japan and brought to trial, not as prisoners of war, but as war criminals. The false charge against them is that they purposely dropped bombs on schools,
hospitals, and other nonmilitary targets. When none of the Americans will admit to such atrocities, they are taken from their cells one by one and tortured by Gen. Mitsubi (Richard Loo), the sadistic military intelligence officer, not so much to gain confessions but so that their Japanese
interrogators can learn the base from which the bombers flew. The bombers, unbeknownst to the Japanese, launched their planes from the US carrier Hornet while at sea--a secret the men must keep from the enemy no matter what. Directed by veteran helmsman Lewis Milestone, who seems to have shed the
pacifism he so movingly extolled in ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (1930), THE PURPLE HEART was based on an actual kangaroo trial conducted by the Japanese in which some American pilots were condemned as war criminals and later beheaded. Although based on fact and obviously designed as propaganda
to fuel patriotic fervor at the height of WWII, the film is a bit hard to take now because of the overt racism embodied by Loo, who specialized in the sort of devious, sneering, buck-toothed portrayals of the Japanese common in those days. Racism aside, the film is not without cinematic interest.
Milestone brings his trademark visual style to the proceedings, especially in the courtroom scenes, in which the camera constantly prowls through the space. Cinematographer Arthur Miller's use of light and shadow is almost expressionistic, and is especially effective as the prisoners are led down
the long hallway from their cells to the courtroom. The filmic highlight occurs when news comes that Corregidor has fallen to the Japanese and Milestone conveys the triumph of the enemy through an impressive Eisensteinian montage.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: Wildly overrated at the time of its release, THE PURPLE HEART has not aged well, and viewers today may have trouble with its leering racism, overwrought patriotic speechifying, and terribly bombastic musical score. The story concerns two bomber crews captu… (more)