Purple Heart [1944]

One of Hollywood's most striking films of World War II has very little war in it, yet it whips up a fearsome power. A U.S. bomber that took part in the Doolittle raid on Tokyo crash-lands in Japanese-occupied China afterward. Captured, the officers and crew are hauled before a Japanese court and tried for war crimes. The trial is illegal and stacked against the Americans from the outset. But that doesn't stop it from developing into a fierce duel of nerves and icy politesse, especially between the U.S. commander (Dana Andrews) and the Japanese general (Richard Loo), who is the chief architect of the strategy to break the Americans and learn how the raid was carried out. The story for The Purple Heart was written by none other than 20th Century-Fox studio chief Darryl F. Zanuck, resurrecting one of his pseudonyms--Melville Crossman--from the days when he used to crank out gangster pictures and Rin Tin Tin movies for Warner Bros. Did it have any corollary in fact? Home front audiences in 1944 were ready to believe the worst, and what The Purple Heart asked them to believe was both terrible and inspiring. The film was directed, pungently, by Lewis Milestone, a two-time Oscar winner and Hollywood's most honored chronicler of the horrors of war (e.g., All Quiet on the Western Front); cinematographer Arthur Miller, Fox's master of black and white, worked wonders with the claustrophobic interiors. The solid cast also includes Richard Conte, Sam Levene, and Farley Granger. --Richard T. Jameson

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