John Wayne is in every sense the big gun of In Harm’s Way. Without his commanding presence, chances are director-producer Otto Preminger probably could not have built the head of steam this film generates and sustains for two hours and 45 minutes.
Although the personal drama that unites and divides the lives of navy people caught up in this dramatization of US efforts to strike back within the year after the Pearl Harbor disaster doesn’t win any prizes for creativity, Preminger uses it effectively to establish a bond between the characters and the audience. It’s a full, lusty slice of life in a time of extreme stress that Wendell Mayes has fashioned from the novel by James Bassett.
Romantic coupling of Wayne and Patricia Neal, as a navy nurse, is the most natural stroke of man and woman casting in many a year. Neal brings to her role a beautifully proportioned, gutsy strength and sensitivity.
Through skillful blending of fact and fiction, Preminger provides, in the picture’s action stretches, a highly suspenseful and, at times, shatteringly realistic account of an underdog US Navy task force boldly seeking out a Japanese group of ships. The sea battle sequences are filmmaking at its best.
There are some heroics that come out of a traditional mold and fall to Kirk Douglas to carry off as a hard-drinking exec officer, and buddy of Wayne, brooding the loss at Pearl Harbor of his double-timing wife. Henry Fonda, as the four-star boss of this navy show, moves in and out of the story, hitting the mark every time.
1965: Nomination: Best B&W Cinematography