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Battle Stations (1956)

From Columbia and director Lewis Seiler comes this WW2 tale of the Navy that plays like a resurrected script from Warner Brothers production schedule twenty years earlier. It stars John Lund in the Pat O’Brien role. Meaning a man of the cloth with William Bendix playing the Alan Hale part of the gruff man in charge of the rookies Then we have some guy named Keefe Brasselle as the hot head who disobeys orders at every turn. Yes sir he’s got the Cagney role.

Richard Boone commands the aircraft carrier which is the backdrop for the this war time picture. It’s 1945 and the U.S. Navy is sending the reconfigured ship back into battle after it was heavily damaged on it’s last tour of duty. Boone will prove a hard task master as he whips the crew into shape with the help of Bendix being …. well Bendix! Yes, William Bendix once again essays that character who plays it tough on the outside but is pure mush on the inside. Case in point when he reprimands one of his sailors for bringing a dog aboard as a stowaway. Bendix can’t bring himself to putting the cute little fellah ashore and sends the pup back to his lonely master.

Prior to the final half hour of this 82 minute “B” in black and white from Seiler, much of the plot revolves around Brasselle wanting a transfer out from under Bendix’s command and generally being a negative influence on the crew. He wants that transfer so much that he even decks Bendix with a roundhouse punch to the kisser. Hard to miss when we’re talking about Bendix’s kisser. Nothing doing as Bendix refuses to put him on report though Boone and Father Lund know full well what has happened.

“Time to take in the slack.”

Boone’s authority figure won’t take too lightly to men who aren’t on their game physically and mentally. When pilot William Leslie makes a dramatic error that could have cost the lives of crewmen, he’ll feel the wrath of the Boone’s considerable screen presence. Not to worry, Boone to has a soft side and when the men are called to battle, he just might give the young pilot a second chance.

Produced by Bryan Foy, the film will feature some riveting real war time footage of a carrier in distress and violently afire. Mixed into the footage will be Boone barking commands and Bendix trapped below deck with a group of youngsters. They’ll need a hero in the Jimmy Cagney mold looking to make good. Paging Mr. Brasselle.

Battle Stations is a low budget affair produced by Bryan Foy of the Seven Little Foys vaudeville troupe. Just one year prior to this effort, little Jerry Mathers of Leave it to Beaver appeared as the producer in the bio pic The Seven Little Foys starring Bob Hope as Eddie Foy, the family’s patriarch. On Battle Station I suspect some real life officers were given dialogue during the filming aboard an active Navy vessel which lends the film some authenticity at times. Especially when Bendix is on deck barking orders at shell shocked extras. Credited as technical advisors are Captain Wm. A. Moffett U.S.N. and   Rear Admiral Joe Taylor U.S.N.{Ret.}. The fact that some of the movie is filmed on board a ship gives it a leg up on many of the other programmers that come and go in movie houses. Then again maybe I’ve been fooled with some early form of CGI.

Pedestrian it may be and I do hate a narrator, yes one rears his annoying voice here to overcome the budget shortfalls, but I’m usually game for any film that features Bendix, Boone and another character actor I’ve always liked in movies and television, Claude Akins. Claude is one of the sailors frequently in the backdrop here and scores his fare share of lines throughout this Columbia Pictures production.

Boone who has long been a favorite of mine thanks to his villainous screen presence in westerns like Hombre and Big Jake, proves here once again that he could play more than backshooting outlaws. He could command the screen in roles of authority and it’s too bad he never got the chance to star in a major military production in a featured role along the lines of Patton or MacArthur. But we’ll always have his fine work in Have Gun Will Travel to enjoy and remember him by.

At the TCM site where comments can be left, there is one in particular I’ve cut and pasted credited to Mr. Richard Himes posted in 2015 about this production. It goes as follows ….. I was a member of the crew of the ship on which the movies was made, the USS Princeton CV-37. Each morning at roll call they would ask for volunteers to be extras for the filming for the day. I would jump for every opportunity to work with the film crew just to see the ways the film was made. It was fun also to work with the actors and get to know them. This has always been one of the highlights of my military duty. At the end of each week they would invite us to see the takes of the week at the local theater. 

Battle Stations may not be overly memorable but if you like the trio of actors I’ve focused on, one could do worse so keep your eyes peeled to the TV stations who take pleasure in treating us to older hard to find films.

3 Comments »

  1. Well, Mike, you’ve done it again. I saw this when I was a little kid, and never since. Always liked Bendix (first saw him in “Wake Island” and that locked it) and I dimly recall thinking it was okay–when I was like, eight, maybe? Blast from past. Akins always a fave, too.

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