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Midway (1976)

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.

13 Comments »

  1. Nice review of the film. It was one of the last of the big World War II films. Loading the cast with many stars certainly added marquee value and helped sell it to other markets and television as you noted. You mentioned A Bridge Too Far, that was a terrific war film with one of those loaded international casts to help Joseph E. Levine sell it around the world to finance the budget. As far as realism, I don’t know how well Midway does historically, but the mixture of real battle action certainly helps. The cheesy dialogue and unnecessary love subplots shave a star or two off of my review. These big productions were attempts to hit a box office homerun. The percent of grand slams was pretty small.

    • As a kid I loved the fact that I could sit down and watch a movie with 5 of my big screen heroes. Meaning Heston, Fonda, Ford, Coburn and Mitchum. Secretly I guess I still do. Yes Bridge was a better film and another great cast overall in that one. Proof they just don’t make them like they used too I suppose.

  2. You mention all those A-list and B-list stars, but you fail to mention…my favorite football player? Yes, as a kid I was excited to see Dolphins fullback Larry Csonka in this, and if I remember correctly, he had about a 5-second scene in a submarine…but I’ve only seen this once, when it came out, so my memories of WHERE he was might be a bit sketchy. And that’s absolutely all I remember about this film…that it STARRED Larry Csonka! (Also, that it was in Sensurround!)

    • oh oh. Not being a football fan I’m not familiar with just who that is. I mean it’s not like I’ve missed Jim Brown in The Dirty Dozen or wrote a review of Ace Ventura and forgot to mention that Dan Marino plays a prominent role…. lol. But hey he did come out of retirement and play a role on Ballers, a TV show my wife watches cause she’s got a thing for Dwayne Johnson.

      • Don’t worry, Zonk went uncredited in the movie, so unless you’re a fan of his, you’d probably miss him. But look out…I bet your wife switches allegiance from Dwayne to Larry when she watches some of his bruising Dolphins clips on YouTube!

  3. I’ve seen this film dozens of times. The new MIDWAY film is nearing a release date and comparisons will be plenty. As a kid I was ready for the action but the relationship of Heston’s son with the girl of Japanese descent dragged on but it did bring attention to the Japanese Internment Camps which was noteworthy. George Takei from Star Trek’s family was placed in one and there was an episode on “LONGMIRE drawing attention to them but MIDWAY was first.
    Historically, it’s pretty good. The Yorktown being damaged in the Coral Sea prior and rapidly made seaworthy again for participation in the battle is covered.
    Last year I read the excellent book “The Code Girls” by Munday and Rochefort’s team is covered in detail and what I didn’t know was how the bigwigs in Washington didn’t want to be upstaged by his team’s success in identification of “AF” and ruined his career after claiming “they” were responsible not him. A very sad postscript to the MIDWAY story. Torpedo Squadron 8’s loss and Ensign George Gay are covered as well.
    Overall a fine effort. I will always favor this film and TORA, TORA, TORA over the CGI films of today.

    • Thanks for pitching in some of the historical facts. I know that Dennis Quaid also had a movie out about the internment camps titled Come See the Paradise that I’ll admit to not seeing. I know there is a new Midway coming out but the only people I think that will compare the two films are folks like us. Reviewers in print will not likely bring it up and sadly a good majority of people going to the show won’t know of this film’s existence. Anytime a similar situation comes about I ask around at work in the cafeteria and it’s surprising how little is known sometimes. Kind of like the younger generation’s total ignorance that the all new Star Is Born had been done three times before officially. “who’s Judy Garland” and I’d fall out of my chair if they knew of the 1937 version.

  4. I recall seeing this as a kid (it was either a class trip or I saw this with a relative) and holy hell, that Sensurround was way too loud when it kicked in. I also recall the TV version which was really annoying with the extra content (I tried to stay awake, but didn’t make it. Still, I’ll heartily agree with Robert above. If anything, it makes for a decent double feature with TORA, TORA, TORA, which is light years better than that wretched Pearl Harbor flick from Michael Bay that really goes off the rails on nearly every front.

    • And another vote for Midway over Pearl Harbor. Yeah there’s nothing quite like these star studded reenactments from yesteryear. I vaguely remember seeing Earthquake as a kid and the boom of Sensurround in the theater was pretty cool considering we’re watching a city crumble.

  5. I’ve not seen Midway but have always wanted too. I love that Charlton line you highlighted. What a cast indeed.
    I’ve seen the John Ford propaganda documentary The Battle Of Midway (On Netflix now) a few years ago and recall them showing a few scenes of footage in that ace doc “Five Came Back” I remember you also saw.
    BTW I’ve just seen there’s a big Hollywood version coming in November. Directed by Roland Emmerich! Which can only mean it will be filled with explosions. Sure to be a cut shot of the Empire State Building in the ocean getting blown up LOL. The cast looks pretty cool.
    https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6924650/?ref_=nv_sr_1?ref_=nv_sr_1
    Absolutely love Tora x 3 and only just recently watched “30 Seconds Over Tokyo” which I liked but it wasn’t as good as I’d imagined in my mind.
    You can’t beat a good war movie. I will endeavor to see Midway soon.

    Thanks for the tip on The Rounders. It does sound like a nice feel good movie.

    • Just seen in the comments above you already know about the new Midway film. I will definitely be going to see that on the big screen. Unless that is the reviews come in stating it’s the new 2001 Pearl Harbor!!!! LOL

    • Heston was always a good fit in he-man hero roles in the days when a muscular six pack wasn’t a necessity. You’ll love seeing this cast all in flick. Roland will play true to his reputation I’m sure in the new film. Independence Day goes to Midway. Keep meaning to feature Rounders. Remember it being a fun modern day cowboy flick.

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