movie review: the purple heart {part 1}

The year is 1942: eight American airmen crash-land during the Doolittle bombing raid on Tokyo and are taken prisoner. Though slated for execution, the pilots are put through a “show trial” by the military, on a charge of committing war crimes. The Japanese judges promise to be merciful if only the Americans will reveal vital US military secrets. But Captain Ross speaks for the rest of his melting-pot crew – some of whom have been subjected to the most horrific of tortures – when he chooses death before dishonor.  But the Japanese still have a few cards to play.  Will any of the men talk?


Why on earth did I ever watch this film in the first place?  When I purchased it, I already knew how it was going to end, because I’d stumbled across the final scene on Youtube when I was searching for the trailer – and ended up watching the whole thing because I was transfixed by Dana Andrews’/Harvey Ross’ passionate speech near the closing.  So I knew all about the depressing (but, at the same time, uplifting) closing scene.  I guess I just like HAVING MY HEART RIPPED TO SHREDS.  *sniffff* (Of course, I didn’t try very hard to resist even the most obvious emotionally manipulative scenes, so I suppose I have only myself to blame.)  Plus, I wanted to know the backstory behind all those brave guys walking down the corridor with smiles on their faces.  I mean…HOW.  How did they do that???  And, for that matter, why?

Well, watching the film and finding the answer is emotionally exhausting, but I’m still glad, in a way, that I watched The Purple Heart and found it out.  Simply put, they’re Americans, and they know that even if they die, America (and her Allies) won’t give up.  Won’t give in.  Not to the Japanese or the Germans or any other evil power.  I recognize the film’s fault in its portrayal of the Japanese (and Chinese), and I’m definitely not endorsing racism, but you do have to remember that this movie was made during WWII.  The Japanese were a hugely dangerous enemy, and The Purple Heart is a propaganda film (more well-made than most, though), so go figure.  There are speeches and heroes and an ending sure to stir even the coldest person to feel at least a little pride in his or her country.  I’ve read a few reviews that mock The Purple Heart’s blatant patriotism, and I take issue with that.  In this day and age, I don’t think it would hurt anyone to accept this film for what it is – a celebration of American spirit and integrity.  Appreciate it.  Take it seriously.  And you might even be moved by the last scene.

(I am half-American, so I tend to get worked up over these issues like my mom does.  But now I’ll move on to more of the actual review part of this post, especially now that I have Major Concerns & Issues out of the way.  Now I can ramble and fangirl and freak out over the characters as much as I want.)

Dana Andrews is Captain Harvey Ross, pilot of ‘Mrs. Murphy’ – the plane that the eight parachuted from – and leader of all the other men.  I watched The Purple Heart because Dana was in it, and his performance didn’t disappoint.  From his various encounters with the arch-nemisis of the film, General Mitsubi, to the tears in his eyes after Bayforth was dragged away…he did an outstanding job.  Ross really looks out for his men, something that can be easily seen numerous times.  One of my favorite examples of this is after he returns to the cell when Skvoznik has been taken away.  Clinton looks tenser and more nervous with every passing second, so Ross gives him a good pep talk.  That moment always makes me a little happier inside.  

Responsibility hangs heavy on Ross, both to keep his men alive, and to not give any information to the Japanese – two tasks that become increasingly difficult to reconcile as the film progresses.  You can see the worry and strain building and building right up until the very end.  No spoilers, but when the burden is suddenly lifted (at least the one that concerns not giving in to the enemy), you can just see the triumphant relief in his face.


As much as I like Dana Andrews and as much as I admire Ross, I’ve come to realize (after my re-watch a few days ago), that Clinton – Sergeant Howard Clinton – is my favorite character.  While The Purple Heart is definitely an ensemble film, it’s also, in my opinion, Clinton’s story.  At least in a small way.  He’s a rich kid who was never allowed to do a thing for himself (besides that incident with the cop named Joe), and now that he’s been captured, he has a chance to find out something about who he really his: will he crack under pressure, or will he remain strong?  Clinton’s subtle character development throughout the movie really speaks to me, especially since he’s around my age (eighteen, or so).  He does grow, so much, through the ordeal: compare the scared, ashen-faced kid at the beginning to the look of quiet pride on his face when Greenbaum reads out his ‘confession’.  Wow.

Clinton was the first Farley Granger role I saw (since then, I’ve only seen him in one other film – The North Star), and to say I was blown away would be an understatement.  His acting was just…crazy-amazing.  There really aren’t any words I can think of to accurately describe it.  I think his best acting came after he was strangled, because instead of relying on dialogue and such to convey his thoughts, everything had to come through his eyes and body language.  And, boy, do they. (I believe he’d spilled everything at first, the same as everyone else – excluding Greenbaum.  I feel rather ashamed now, looking back. *sigh*)

{This review ended up being incredibly long, because I had so much to say about the movie, so I split it up.  Part Two to follow soon!}



5 thoughts on “movie review: the purple heart {part 1}

  1. I haven’t seen Farley in very many things either. He’s excellent and sympathetic in both Rope and Strangers on a Train, and he makes a rather good antagonist in Hans Christian Anderson (first thing I saw him in). That’s really it, other than the two you’ve seen too.


      • Both of those are Hitchcock films, and plenty dark and disturbing, but Farley is the nice guy in both of them, so that makes everything better 🙂

        There’s an exterior shot in “Strangers on a Train” that was filmed at the old train station in the city in Connecticut where we lived for 3 years before we moved here. I have the movie just because I bought it at the train museum there, where I took Sam alllllll the time because he was madly in love with trains when he was tiny.


  2. I think it’s kind of silly for people to airily dismiss movies like these as “propaganda,” only because they show characters making enormous sacrifices for their country. Because there have been plenty of people in REAL LIFE who made equally great, sometimes greater, sacrifices for the sake of their patriotism or other stuff they believed in. I mean, look at “Unbroken”–that was based on a true story. So was “The Final Days.” So was “Maria Goretti,” for goodness’ sakes.


    • Exactly! That’s exactly it. I actually find it quite interesting to compare The Purple Heart and Unbroken, since both films (I’ve read Unbroken too) are about POWs under the Japanese. I’ve read several stories of bravery and sacrifice during war-time, and TPH (and films of its kind) definitely isn’t just unrealistic propaganda.


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