This Walter Mirisch production represents a style of movie making we’re not likely to ever see again. Not only is it a star studded effort done in a documentary style when the script calls for it but it incorporates bits and pieces of previous films including 30 Seconds Over Tokyo as well as Tora, Tora, Tora and actual WW2 footage from the likes of the legendary John Ford who was on hand to film the actual battle as it happened.
Is Jack Smight’s film any good? That’s debatable at times thanks to someone drafting a racially charged romance angle into the proceedings but when you get to see the likes of Chuck Heston, Henry Fonda and Toshiro Mifune taking the lead roles supported by lesser known names including Robert Webber and Monte Markham all looking authoritative on camera it’s hard to deny not getting caught up in the action.
I have no idea how close the finished film is to the actual events of Midway but I suspect the documentary style lends to the authenticity of the events on screen unfolding as they did during the actual battle. Aside from the role of Charlton Heston and his on screen son played by Edward Albert that is. Let’s not forget it’s a Hollywood film after all and Heston’s fictional he-man takes center stage as the story evolves around him.
I recall the film years ago playing as a two-part television event despite the theatrical release running at just over two hours in length. The reason is simple, additional scenes were filmed for the TV version that added Susan Sullivan to play Heston’s love interest in between tours of duty. Maybe this is why the film has a TV feel far too often between phony cockpit shots and model ships exploding into fireballs. If I wasn’t watching Heston I’d think I was watching lost footage of a MASH episode when the action is on land.
On to the star studded cast that preceded Richard Attenborough’s own WW2 star studded venture, A Bridge Too Far into theaters by a year.
Charlton Heston as Capt. Matt Garth, “They’ve taken the bait, Sir. It’s Midway!” Now how easy is it to picture Heston growling out this line with his macho bravado? “You better shape up before some hotshot Jap pilot flames your ass!… You’re being paid to fly planes, not sit in your room and cry over your girlfriends picture!” Love it!
Henry Fonda as Admiral Nimitz, “Well, that might be the smart play, Commander. Trouble is, I *want* that fourth carrier.” and with authority, “declare a state of fleet-opposed invasion. Target… Midway Island. Issue the order immediately.”
James Coburn as Capt. Maddox, “If you’re wrong, Admiral, if you send our carriers into a Japanese ambush, the entire west coast and Hawaiian islands will be wide open for invasion.”
Glenn Ford as Admiral Spruance, “If it’s Midway, I’ll *bushwhack* ’em!”
Hal Holbrook as Cmdr. Rochefort, “Three of their first-line carriers, Admiral. Isn’t that worth at least a “hot diggity damn?”
Toshiro Mifune as Admiral Yamamoto, “Leave that to me, I am the only one who must apologize to His Majesty.”
Robert Mitchum as Admiral Halsey, “You play it the way you *feel* it, not the way you think *I’d* play it. You go to sea, you find Nagumo, and *chew his ass*! Now, that’s all there is to it.”
Cliff Robertson as Commander Jessop, “The boy’s got to learn man: you do not win a war by kissing the enemy.”
Robert Wagner as Lt. Commander Blake. Truthfully Wagner has very little to say but gets plenty of camera time in the war room as number 5 or maybe number 6. Eventually he’d make it all the way up to Number 2 but that’s a different story.
Robert Webber as Admiral Fletcher, “I’d give my retirement pay to know what Nagumo is up to now.”
James Shigeta as Admiral Nagumo, “They sacrifice themselves like samurai, these Americans.”
Others in the cast include… Edward Arnold as Heston’s son and pat Morita as an advisor to Shigeta.
No stranger to war films is Christopher George and then there’s Monte Markham.
Midway presents big screen entertainment with a cast of heavyweights to match despite any obvious flaws the film carries. Overall a worthwhile venture.
Some minor trivia that springs to mind.
Heston and Coburn had another film in theaters during the same year. A violent western pitting them against each other titled The Last Hard Men that’s worth hunting down
In real life Glenn Ford was a decorated navy veteran who rose all the way to the rank of Captain and retired from the Navy Reserves in the 1970’s.
Robert Mitchum’s role was a very minor one in Midway but in a few short years he’d headline the naval television miniseries The Winds of War to great acclaim.
Like Mitchum, Coburn has a minor role and one has to wonder if it was done as a favor to Mirisch who produced Coburn’s breakthrough role in The Magnificent Seven back in 1960.
A pair of future television stars played minor roles in Midway, Tom Selleck minus his mustache and Eric Estrada.
Christopher George playing a pilot in the battle had previously played a WW2 pilot in the 1969 war film The 1000 Plane Raid.
Other names you’ll spot within Midway include Dabney Coleman, Gregory Walcott and Glenn Corbett.
With Henry Fonda easily identifiable with his role in Mister Roberts one can’t help but wonder if any footage from that film made it in to this production.
Lastly if you get a chance to see a buddy buddy film titled The Rounders with Midway’s Glenn Ford and Henry Fonda, give it a go.
Feel free to chime in on the history aspect of the film and if it sticks to the facts of the battle and how it unfolded. That’s provided you’ve seen it and know your history.