Thursday, November 24, 2022

Battle for Saipan

Five Americans were awarded the Medal of Honor for their service at Saipan, all of them posthumously. A campaign was launched to upgrade Guy Gabaldon’s Navy Cross to the MOH, which still continues after his death. Such valor testifies to the battle’s high stakes and brutal conditions endured by tens of thousands of American soldiers, including my grandfather. The attack on an American field hospital in this film is fictional, but it is consistent with the Imperial army’s scorched earth “banzai” charge. A handful of soldiers and medical personnel must stand against several Japanese platoons in screenwriter-director Brandon Slagle’s Battle for Saipan, which opens tomorrow.

Like Gabaldon (who was raised in a Japanese-speaking family), Maj. William Porter speaks some of the local lingo, but it is never explained how he picked it up. Regardless, he overhears plans of an attack on the nearby U.S. Army field hospital while dodging a Japanese patrol. He finds a rag-tag facility lacking proper supplies for the many patients they have. Porter even brought another—the only other survivor of his scouting party. Vic, the lead surgeon, never expected to fight, but he completed basic like any other serviceman, so he and Porter will have to spearhead their defense.

There are a few reasonably colorful characters in the hospital, particularly, the demoted commanding officer, Gen. Jake Carroll, but the narrative still boils down to: the Japanese attack and the Americans defend. It is simple, unfussy, and pretty effective for what it is. This is hardly
Hell to Eternity (based on Gabaldon’s story), but lead thesp Casper Van Dien bears some resemblance to Jeffrey Hunter.

Along with Van Dien, Louis Mandylor and Jeff Fahey bring a lot of grit and grizzled scenery chewing as Porter and Carroll. This is definitely not your current president’s woke military, which is why they won the war. Plus, Eoin O’Brien shows the potential to break-out of his action-focused supporting parts, doing some nice dramatic work as Vic’s medic colleague, Connor.

Nobody can accuse Slagle of glorifying war, because the Japanese charge is relentless and merciless. Technically, the events depicted would certainly constitute war crimes, but considering what we know about the Bataan Death March, Nanjing, and the comfort women, it hardly seems like a controversial invention. In fact, it is rather refreshing to see a film depict U.S. servicemen in clearly heroic terms. We should indeed be thankful for the courage and sacrifice of those Americans who served at Saipan. Recommended as a meat-and-potatoes war film,
Battle for Saipan opens tomorrow (11/25) in New York at the Cinema Village.