This article is about the 1976 feature film. For other uses, see The Battle of Midway (disambiguation).
Midway, released in the United Kingdom as Battle of Midway, is a 1976 American Technicolorwar film directed by Jack Smight and produced by Walter Mirisch from a screenplay by Donald S. Sanford. The film features an international cast of stars including Charlton Heston, Henry Fonda, James Coburn, Glenn Ford, Hal Holbrook, Toshiro Mifune, Robert Mitchum, Cliff Robertson, Robert Wagner, James Shigeta, Pat Morita, Robert Ito and Christina Kokubo, among others.
The music score by John Williams and the cinematography by Harry Stradling, Jr. were both highly regarded. The soundtrack used Sensurround to augment the physical sensation of engine noise, explosions, crashes and gunfire. Despite mixed reviews, Midway became the tenth most popular movie at the box office in 1976.
The film chronicles the Battle of Midway, a turning point in World War II in the Pacific. The Imperial Japanese Navy had been undefeated until that time and out-numbered the American naval forces by four to one.
The film follows two threads; one centered on the Japanese chief strategist AdmiralIsoroku Yamamoto, and the other around two fictional characters: Captain Matt Garth and his son, Ensign Thomas Garth, both naval aviators. Matt Garth is a senior officer who is involved in various phases of the US planning and execution of the battle, while Thomas Garth is a young pilot romantically involved with Haruko Sakura, an American-born daughter of Japanese immigrants, who has been interned with her parents. Captain Garth calls in all of his favors with a long-time friend to investigate the charges against the Sakuras. He apparently has some success, as Haruko is free and at dockside when the injured younger Garth is carried off the ship at the end of the film, while Captain Garth himself was killed at the end of the battle when his plane crashed.
The film starts with the Doolittle Raid, April 1942, and then goes on briefly to mention the Battle of the Coral Sea (May 1942). It then describes the planning for the Battle of Midway (June 1942), depicting the creation of a complicated battle plan. Unknown to the Japanese, American signals intelligence has broken the Japanese Naval encryption codes and suspects that the ambush will take place at Midway Island. They then trick the Japanese into confirming it. American Admiral Chester Nimitz, plays a desperate gamble by sending his last remaining aircraft carriers to Midway before the Japanese to set up his own ambush. The gamble pays off and all four of the Japanese carriers are destroyed in the battle of Midway.
Successful in saving Midway, but at a heavy cost, Nimitz reflects that Yamamoto "had everything going for him", asking "were we better than the Japanese, or just luckier?"
Midway was shot at the Terminal Island Naval Base, Los Angeles, California, the U.S. Naval Station, Long Beach, California, and Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida. The on-board scenes were filmed in the Gulf of Mexico aboard USS Lexington. Lexington, an Essex-classaircraft carrier, was the last World War II-era carrier left in service at that point, although the ship was completed after the battle. She is now a museum ship at Corpus Christi, Texas.
Scenes depicting Midway Island were filmed at Point Mugu, California. "Point Mugu has sand dunes, just like Midway. We built an airstrip, a tower, some barricades, things like that," said Jack Smight. "We did a lot of strafing and bombing there."
A Consolidated PBY-6A Catalina BuNo 63998, N16KL, of the Commemorative Air Force, was used in depicting all the search and rescue mission scenes.
The film was the second of only four films released with a Sensurround sound mix which required special speakers to be installed in movie theatres. The other Sensurround films were Earthquake (1974), Rollercoaster (1977), and Battlestar Galactica (1978). The regular soundtrack (dialog, background and music) was monaural; a second optical track was devoted to low frequency rumble added to battle scenes and when characters were near unmuffled military engines.
Many of the action sequences used footage from earlier films: most sequences of the Japanese air raids on Midway are stock shots from 20th Century Fox's Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970). Some scenes are from the Japanese Toho film Hawai Middouei daikaikusen: Taiheiyo no arashi (1960) (which also stars Mifune). Several action scenes, including the one where an Mitsubishi A6M Zero slams into Yorktown's bridge, were taken from Away All Boats (1956); scenes of Doolittle's Tokyo raid at the beginning of the film are from Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944). In addition, most dogfight sequences come from wartime gun camera footage or from the film Battle of Britain (1969).
Interestingly, cast member Henry Fonda (Admiral Nimitz) had been one of the narrators of the 1942 John Ford documentary The Battle of Midway, some footage from which was used in the 1976 film. The only actress with a speaking part in the original film was Christina Kobuko as Horuko. In the TV version of the film Susan Sullivan appears playing Matt Garth's girlfriend. Later video versions dropped Sullivan to emphasize the essentially all-male cast and wartime action.
As with many "carrier films" produced around this time, the US Navy Essex-class aircraft carrier USS Lexington played the parts of both American and Japanese flattops for shipboard scenes.
Midway proved extremely popular with movie audiences, earning over $43 million at the box office, becoming the tenth most popular movie of 1976. Robert Niemi, author of History in the Media: Film and Television, stated that Midway's "clichéd dialogue" and an overuse of stock footage led the film to have a "shopworn quality that signalled the end of the heroic era of American-made World War II epics." He described the film as a "final, anachronistic attempt to recapture World War II glories in a radically altered geopolitical era, when the old good-versus-evil dichotomies no longer made sense."
Later studies by Japanese and American military historians call into question key scenes, like the dive-bombing attack that crippled the first Japanese carrier, the Akagi. In the movie, American pilots report, "They've got bombs all over their flight deck! We caught 'em flat-footed! No fighters and a deck full of bombs!" As Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully write in "Shattered Sword" (2005), aerial photography from the battle showed nearly empty decks. In addition, Japanese carriers loaded armament onto planes below the flight deck, unlike American carriers (as depicted earlier in the film). The fact that a closed hangar full of armaments was hit by bombs made damage to Akagi more devastating than if planes, torpedoes and bombs were on an open deck.
On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 54% score based on 13 reviews, with an average rating of 5.9/10.
Shortly after its successful theatrical debut, additional material was assembled and shot in standard 4:3 ratio for a TV version of the film, which aired on NBC. A major character was added: Susan Sullivan played Ann, the girlfriend of Captain Garth, adding depth to his reason for previously divorcing Ensign Garth's mother, and bringing further emotional impact to the fate of Captain Garth. The TV version also has Coral Sea battle scenes to help the plot build up to the decisive engagement at Midway. The TV version was 45 minutes longer than the theatrical film and aired over two nights. Jack Smight directed the additional scenes.
In June 1992, a re-edit of the extended version, shortened to fill a three-hour time slot, aired on the CBS network to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Midway battle. This version brought in successful ratings.
Part of this additional footage is available as a bonus feature on the Universal Pictures Home Entertainment DVD of Midway.
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
- ^"MIDWAY (A)". British Board of Film Classification. April 23, 1976. Retrieved March 12, 2016.
- ^"Midway, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved January 23, 2012.
- ^Variety film review; June 16, 1976, page 18.
- ^"'Midway' writer Donald S. Sanford dies at 92". Variety. 2011-02-15. Retrieved 2011-02-24.
- ^Newspaper Enterprise Association, "Filming of 'Midway': Making War for the Movies", Playground Daily News, Fort Walton Beach, Florida, Wednesday 8 October 1975, Volume 30, Number 209, page 5B.
- ^Niemi, Robert. History in the Media: Film and Television.ABC-CLIO, 2006, p. 119. Retrieved on April 9, 2009.
- ^Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully (2005). "Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway" (pp. 431-432). Potomac Books, Washington, DC. ISBN 978-1-57488-924-6.
- ^"Midway (1976)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved March 12, 2016.
- ^ abcMirisch, Walter (2008). "I Thought We Were Making Movies, Not History" (pp. 338-339). University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, Wisconsin. ISBN 0-299-22640-9.
- ^"AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers Nominees"(PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-14.
On June 4, 1942, the Japanese Imperial Navy attacked United States forces on the island of Midway. With four Japanese aircraft carriers sunk by the conclusion of the conflict, the battle was the first major victory for the US in the Pacific. But victory did not come without cost. More than 300 Americans lost their lives during the Battle of Midway, including all but one member of the bomber group Torpedo Squadron 8. Two films made by Oscar-winning director John Ford, now preserved at the National Archives, tell the story of triumph and sacrifice at Midway.
The Battle of Midway
Two years into John Ford’s war service, the Hollywood director had produced Sex Hygiene, the military’s frontline weapon against venereal disease—a threat to military readiness—and established the Navy’s Field Photo Unit. When Ford was asked to find a few cameramen for an assignment in the Pacific, he put his own name forward and headed to Midway, a strategically important island halfway between mainland America and Japan.
As the United States’ codebreakers deciphered messages that alerted the US military to both the time and place of the impending conflict, the attack on Midway was not unexpected. When the battle began, Ford, along with cameramen Kenneth Pier and Jack McKenzie Jr., was ready to record the action on 16mm Kodachrome.
The men were not unscathed by the fighting; John Ford was knocked out by the force of an explosion and was awarded a Purple Heart for shrapnel wounds received during the battle. The Battle of Midway famously shows how the film itself was jarred inside the camera as a result of the blasts occurring around Ford and McKenzie. While some of the film effects appear to have been created after the fact, Ford used them to communicate the confusion and chaos of battle to American audiences.
With the fighting over, John Ford returned to the mainland and fashioned the footage into a film that would be released to theaters across the United States. To tell the story, Ford added four narrators who would have been familiar to movie-going audiences of the time. Henry Fonda and Jane Darwell had starred as Tom and Ma Joad in 1940’s The Grapes of Wrath, and Donald Crisp and Irving Pichel were in 1941’s How Green Was My Valley, with Pichel serving as an unseen narrator. Ford won Best Director Oscars for both of those films and would not have been unaware of how those voices would connect with viewers. The device may seem heavy-handed today, but one cannot deny that it is effective. The narrators helped Americans relate to the unimaginable horror of a battle happening thousands of miles away.
The Battle of Midway is perhaps only nominally a documentary, with several sequences featuring fictitious families back home framing five minutes of battle footage, but audiences who saw the film may have had their first dramatic glimpse of what it meant for the country to be at war. The Battle of Midway was released to theaters by September of 1942 and was screened in most of the nation’s theaters at a time when Americans had a regular movie-going habit. It is likely that The Battle of Midway was seen by nearly everyone who had access to a movie theater.
Torpedo Squadron 8
While The Battle of Midway was seen by nearly everyone on the home front, Torpedo Squadron 8 was made solely for the families of the lost Squadron members. On the day the attack began, Kenneth Pier was shooting footage on the deck of USS Hornet. Soon after, the men of Torpedo Squadron 8 (VT-8) were the first to fight the enemy, flying unaccompanied toward Japanese forces. When it became clear that twenty-nine of the thirty men of VT- 8 died during the battle, Ford identified and assembled footage of the airmen into a simple but poignant film. Torpedo Squadron 8 is a film memorial that shows the men mugging for the camera and posing beside their planes, unaware that they had only hours left to live.
The film, shot on 16mm, was reduced to 8mm and presented to all of the families of VT-8. We can imagine that the film served both as a painful reminder of what was lost and as a gift as family members could see their loved ones one last time. Today, we all can view this film and remember the men who gave their lives.
Lt. Commander Charles Waldron and Chief Radioman Horace Franklin Dobbs
Ensign Henry R. Kenyon Jr. and ARM 2nd Class Darwin L. Clarke
Ensign E. L. Fayle (Not Missing) and Seaman 2nd Class Aswell L. Picou
Lt. Raymond A. Moore and ARM 1st Class Tom Harstsel Pettry
Ensign William Robinson Evans and ARM 3rd Class Ross Eugene Bibb
Lt. JG Jeff Davis Woodson and ARM 2nd Class Otway David Creasy, Jr.
Ensign William W. Creamer and Seaman 2nd Class Francis Samuel Polston
Lt. James Charles Owens, Jr. and ARM 1st Class Amelio Maffei
Lt. JG George Marvin Campbell and ARM 2nd Class Ronald Joseph Fisher
Ensign John Porter Gray and ARM 3rd Class Ronald Joseph Fisher
Ensign Ulvert Matthew Moore and ARM 3rd Class William F. Sawhill
Ensign G. H. Gay and ARM 3rd Class George Arthur Field. Gay was the sole survivor from Torpedo Squadron 8.
Ensign Grant W. Teats adn ARM 2nd Class Hollis Martin
Ensign Harold John Ellison and Carneiro (Not Missing)
Ensign William W. Abercrombie and Aviation Pilot Robert B. Miles
ARM 3rd Class Robert K. Huntington and ARM 2nd Class Bernard P. Phelps
Note: As we do not hold production files for either of these films, many of the background details on the films came from Mark Harris’s Five Came Back. Check out this excellent book for much more on John Ford’s service and The Battle of Midway.
About Audrey AmidonAudrey works in the Motion Picture Preservation Lab, which is responsible for performing conservation and preservation work on motion picture records held across the National Archives.
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