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Release Dates:1976
Running Time:132 min
Formats: VHS, DVD
Starring:Charlton Heston, Henry Fonda, James Coburn, Glenn Ford
Directed By:Jack Smight
Produced By:
Written By:
Reviewed By:Harold C. Hutchison    Buy it at Amazon.com

Midway. The word conjures up the famous foreword from Walter Lord’s “Incredible Victory”, the images of the Yorktown listing to port, and the famous against-all-odds attack of Torpedo Squadron 8.

The movie of the same title catches a lot of the same images. From the codebreaking efforts led by Commander Joe Rochefort (played by Hal Holbrook) that gave Admiral Chester W. Nimitz (Henry Fonda) the advance warning needed to react to the Japanese effort.

The film is reasonably accurate historically. It starts with the Doolittle Raid on April 18, 1942. The raid rattled Yamamoto’s cage, and eliminated resistance to Yamamoto’s desire to finish off the American fleet. Yamamoto’s plan is presented accurately, albeit in a simplified version for the film. Their overconfidence is also depicted well.

The film also portrays the major figures there with superb accuracy. Ray Spruance (Glenn Ford) is portrayed as the calm, unflappable commander he was at Midway. Frank Jack Fletcher (Robert Webber) is also portrayed in an accurate fashion in keeping with Samuel Eliot Morison’s extensive history. Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo’s (James Shigeta) indecisiveness is also accurately depicted, leading to the back-and-forth switching from torpedoes to bombs and back to torpedoes, as was Tamon Yamaguchi’s (John Fujioka) skill as a carrier commander. The persistence of Wade McCluskey (Christopher George) leading to the decisive dive-bomber attack that stopped the Japanese in their tracks in a five-minute span also shines through.

Where the film suffers is when it tried to get beyond the title. This is the added romantic sub-plot involving the fictional Thomas Garth (Eddie Albert) and Haruko Sakura (Christina Kokubo). The romantic subplot and the resulting “preaching” about the internment of Japanese-Americans bogs down the first 53 minutes of the movie. The TV version, which included the Battle of the Coral Sea in great detail, also added a romantic subplot between the fictional Matt Garth (Charlton Heston) and Ann (Susan Sullivan).

Some minor historical details are missed in this film. The SBD attack includes some planes not in front-line service at the time (primarily F4U Corsairs and SB2C Helldivers). There also is the second strike on the Yorktown, which includes two kamikaze strikes, one by Lieutenant Tomonaga (Sab Shimono). Still, despite those small details, this film captures the essence of the battle, and tells the story of the true heroes, the codebreakers. This film is well worth watching

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