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Film Review

By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

 

MacArthur
Directed by Joseph Sargent
Universal Studios Home Video 1978 DVD/VHS Feature Film
PG

To this day General Douglas MacArthur remains a controversial figure. His fans call him the greatest military commander in United States history, a patriot who could do no wrong. His detractors talk of him as a reckless warmonger, a power-hungry man who put himself above the Constitution and two presidents. Just what kind of individual was he? In this engaging film biography, scripters Hal Barwood and Matthew Robbins play to both of the above evaluations of MacArthur. In their picture he is neither saint nor monster. They chart his career from 1942 when he was ordered by President Roosevelt to abandon the Philippines until two decades later when he delivered his polished and moving "Duty-Honor-Country" speech at West Point. The film is chock-full of battle sequences from the American attack on New Guinea and the Philippines to skirmishes in the hills of Korea. But the best scenes are those which give us a sense of the complexity of this hero.

Gregory Peck portrays MacArthur as an intense and dignified general with a rigorous and well-defined sense of patriotism. His home as he stated on many occasions was West Point. He was military through and through. MacArthur made FDR squirm and he raised the ire of President Truman. But he was always loyal to his men. When forced to leave Corregidor, he promised to return and liberate the Americans and Philippinos there — and he did. At the Japanese surrender aboard the U.S.S. Missouri in Tokyo Bay, it was MacArthur who stood at the fore. He later became Proconsul in vanquished Japan and directed the shape of culture and politics in that depressed country.

The film gives a glimpse of the general's flare for dramatics — his studied use of khaki garb, sunglasses, and corncob pipe. When someone sent him a letter about his use of a cane and implied he was an old codger, MacArthur tossed the cane into the nearest wastebasket. All this P.R. centered around the heroic stature of the man, however, didn't seem to help him in a bid for the presidency. He made a disappointing showing in the Wisconsin primary.

Religious imagery infused MacArthur's speeches. When he landed on the beaches of the Philippines, he sated: "The hour of your redemption is here…the Holy Grail of righteous victory." Later he would be Supreme Commander in Korea when war broke out there. Since he equated democracy with Christianity and communism with godlessness, MacArthur's fervor for victory was strong. No wonder he disobeyed President Truman and could not tolerate a no-win situation. He was leading a religious crusade!

Director Joseph Sargent gets some excellent performances from Ed Flanders as Truman and Dan O'Herlihy as FDR, but this is Peck's movie from start to finish. Physically he is perfect for the part. He captures MacArthur's arrogance and determination in a truly memorable way. Producer Frank McCarthy previously brought us a brilliant cinematic portrait of General Patton. His encore is of the same quality, both enriching and humanizing our memories of an important leader. The military people of the country owe this producer a special place in their hall of fame.

 

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by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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