Merrill’s Marauders (1962)
Stoic, square jawed Jeff Chandler would sadly play his final role at the age of 42 in this Samuel Fuller directed tale of WW2 in the Burmese jungles. Chandler stars as General Merrill who leads a platoon of 3000 volunteer fighting men deep into the heart of Japanese held territory during the campaign of 1942 to reclaim the lands for the allies.
Narrating the opening and closing of the film is featured player, Andrew Duggan as the company’s doctor. Plot wise, there isn’t much to speak of as this is a tale of man versus the elements and his enemy against the backdrop of thick jungles and swamps.
At the head of his troops, Chandler leads the march that will take the men head first into many skirmishes and outright battles that Fuller delivers on camera. Playing second lead to Chandler is Ty Hardin as a Major who backs Chandler until he believes the troop can’t take anymore treks thru swamps only to face their enemies guns once again.
At every instance when the fighting troops conquer there enemy and expect to be relieved, they are forced to move on. Even when Chandler himself believes they are thru, his commanding officer, John Hoyt sends them further into the jungles to raid the next Japanese held territory. Covered in leaches, infected with either malaria or typhus, the men soldier on with Chandler pushing for more all the way.
Filmed in color and with a screenplay from director, Fuller, this is a top notch WB effort that does it’s best to capture just what the force would go thru on their way to glory. Fuller would dabble in various war pictures culminating with 1979’s The Big Red One with legendary Lee Marvin. I’m usually critical of films that set up plot points with narration and the beginning of this war epic is no different. The first couple of minutes following the credits are narrated over by Duggan to set the scenes ahead. Inevitably, all this does is expose a lack of budget though the rest of the film plays fine.
Aside form Chandler and Hardin, the only actor of note in the film is Claude Akins who comes off fine as the large, gruff Sarge who plays it tough when necessary but in a couple of scenes, reminds one of Charles Bronson as he caters to the small children as Bronson did just two years previously in The Magnificent Seven.
If anything what Merrill’s Marauders really needed was a stronger supporting cast along with Akins. More in line with another film released the same year as this, Hell Is For Heroes. That film included up and comers like James Coburn, Harry Guardino and Nick Adams. And where’s Richard Jaeckel? A film like this is a natural for the forever young character actor.
There’s one scene in here at the 51 minute mark where Chandler is barking orders to Hardin. Chandler has clearly been dubbed causing me to wonder if he had already passed before entering the sound booth to touch up any of his lines in post sync. This his final film would be released posthumously.
Overall this is an agreeable tale of WW2 and the fighting spirit of the foot soldier far from home brought to us by the maverick filmmaker Samuel Fuller and a window to the great “what if” question concerning what may have still been ahead for the likable leading man, Jeff Chandler.