Richard Tregaskis’ Guadalcanal Diary (1943)



On the shores of the Guadalcanal Island, a group of brave soldiers try to stay alive in the midst of heavy air and ground attacks by the Japanese Army during World War II.

Reaction & Thoughts:

On August 7, 1942, U.S. Marines landed on the Guadalcanal Island in one of the first attacks against Japanese-held positions in the Pacific Ocean. The Marines managed to obtain and hold Henderson Field on the island in the face of bitter ground, sea, and air attacks by the Japanese. Fighting continued in the dense jungles of Guadalcanal until February 9, 1943, when the U.S. Army and Marine Corps secured the island against fierce Japanese resistance.

Richard Tregaskis’ Guadalcanal Diary is not as perceptive and enthralling as other films depicting this important battle — Terence Malick’s poetic The Thin Red Line (1998) is probably the best film about the subject — but the film is surprisingly well made for what it is: a propaganda film designed to support the war effort. This film is a valid attempt at presenting one of World War II’s most famous and difficult battles in a realistic manner.

Guadalcanal Diary, written by Lamar Trotti, adapted by Jerry Cady from the book by Richard Tregaskis, directed by Lewis Seiler, was a film conceived mainly as a tool to glorify the actions of American soldiers during Word War II. As an action film, many will find the movie’s obvious propaganda aspects a little intrusive, but as a document of how our society felt right after the Japanese attack to Pearl Harbor, this is a valuable piece of social commentary.

Even though the film is almost 80 years old, this is a believable war film. The initial landing on the Pacific island by the U.S. Marines is well staged, with an abundant variety of sonic effects used to give the illusion of what is to be in the middle of a combat zone. The film doesn’t look like much right next to Full Metal Jacket (1986) and Black Hawk Down (2001) — too much stock footage for my taste — but this film tries very hard to recreate the war experience.

Guadalcanal Diary should also be praised for avoiding the temptation of casting high-profile stars in the main roles, instead giving a talented ensemble cast the opportunity to shine in key roles, particularly William Bendix (The Dark Corner) and Richard Jaeckel (The Dirty Dozen). Also notable is the fact that the film gave Anthony Quinn (Zorba the Greek) one of his first substantial roles as the heroic Mexican soldier who seems uncommonly courageous during moments of crisis. The cast also includes Preston Foster (North West Mounted Police), Lloyd Nolan (Peyton Place), and Richard Conte (Thieves’ Highway).

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Guadalcanal Diary is an unglamorous, documentary-like film that succeeds in telling both a story of American heroism and a cautionary tale of the terrible consequences of the war. Guadalcanal Diary probably won’t impress many modern moviegoers, but its patriotic tone will please those of you who are interested in how the Hollywood of the 1940s tried to support our government’s causes. It would also make for an interesting double-feature with Malick’s well-regarded The Thin Red Line. Black and White, 93 minutes, Not Rated.


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