Review: John Farrow’s “Wake Island,” Starring Brian Donlevy

Robert Preston and Brian Donlevy in
Robert Preston and Brian Donlevy in "Wake Island"

The United States military base on Wake Island was a key strategic point during World War II, one of the first sites Japan attacked in the days following Pearl Harbor. John Farrow’s Best Picture–nominated film Wake Island portrays a heavily fictionalized version of the attack and eventual U.S. defeat at the base, in a modestly compelling fashion. As one of the very first WWII combat films, it set a formula that would be replicated time and time again as the war stretched on. With some first-rate location shooting that adds a lot of authenticity to the picture, the first act introduces us to the island and its inhabitants. There are many of the usual stock characters, from a strict new commanding officer (Brian Donlevy) to some troublemaking but good-hearted privates (Robert Preston and Oscar-nominated William Bendix). Soon, the battle arrives, but in this Wake Island diverges from the average WWII picture in a few notable ways. For one, it does not end with a victory, as in real life the island did fall; but the movie manages to spin the sacrifice of these men as an inspiration to the rest of the nation to go out and win. There’s also the interesting detail-oriented nature of the film, which often forgets about characters or action to showcase small aspects of military procedure. The final card of the opening credits goes not to director or producer, but to the military consultants—indicative of the content of the picture that follows. Mostly for military fanatics or WWII buffs, but even for the average viewer, Wake Island ultimately remains compelling enough to sustain itself for under ninety minutes.

Where to Watch

Buy it on DVD

For More on Wake Island

Read the review in The New York Times

Read the review in Variety

Watch the Trailer