Because this is the factual story of Dr Wassell’s heroic evacuation of 12 men, plus himself, from Java in earlier stages of the war, it packs more interest than otherwise might have been the case. The exploits of the by-now famed naval commander are brought to the screen on a lavish scale by Cecil B. DeMille, with an exceptionally fine cast and good comedy relief. The entertainment value, even had the scenario been fictional, is very strong.
There can be no quarrel with the cast. While Gary Cooper bears no particular resemblance to Commander Wassell himself, who was 60 and a weather-beaten type, the star imparts to the role much vigor, color and sympathetic interest. It’s one of Cooper’s best performances.
The story [by James Hilton] based upon facts as related by Commander Wassell [and 15 of the wounded sailors involved], through various cutbacks, takes Cooper from his early horse-and-buggy country doctor days in Arkansas through medical research in China before the war and, finally, to Australia after he has successfully transported wounded men to that point. Instead of being court-martialed there for having disobeyed orders to leave stretcher cases behind in Java, Dr Wassell was awarded the Navy Cross and his heroic deed made the subject of a broadcast by President Roosevelt.
1944: Nomination: Best Special Effects