Wartime From A Female Perspective: ‘So Proudly We Hail’ Reviewed

by Rachel Bellwoar

Mark Sandrich’s So Proudly We Hail isn’t the only film to have been made about the battle of Bataan. In her commentary, film historian and writer, Julie Kirgo, names some of the others that have come out, including Bataan and Back to Bataan – titles that are direct, if slightly uninspired.

So Proudly We Hail isn’t a very original title either, but it does get the film’s patriotic message across. Maybe those other films were onto something, though, because it is a little confusing in the beginning, to figure out when So Proudly We Hail takes place.

That’s because, instead of starting at the beginning, the film begins at the end, with eight American nurses being evacuated to Australia from Corregidor. When So Proudly We Hail was released it had only been a year since the battle of Bataan, so the events of that conflict would’ve been very fresh. Watching the film today, Bataan was a major battle during WWII, but it’s not as assured that viewers will know what happened there, so when the film brings up Bataan and Corregidor during the opening text, it’s intimidating, because the tone is one of you should know this.

This is where it would help to know that So Proudly We Hail is about the battle of Bataan, because the text places the battle in the past, which is the frame story. One of the nurses – Lieutenant Danny (Claudette Colbert) – has been in a bad way since evacuating, so to help determine the cause of her distress the film uses her health as an excuse to have the other nurses recount what happened. The idea is that from listening to their stories the doctor will be able to ascertain what’s been bothering Danny psychologically, but the answer is so obvious there’s no reason one of the girls shouldn’t have been able to tell him without needing to rehash everything.

Basically, if the film had ditched the frame story (which is flimsy anyway) and let things enfold chronologically everything would’ve been hunky dory ⁠– the film tells viewers everything they need to know. It matters, though, because those kinds of decisions can lead to someone turning a film off or getting scared away from what is ultimately a really special movie.

What sets So Proudly We Hail apart from other war films is its focus on female nurses instead of male soldiers. It’s also, to borrow a word Kirgo uses, “harrowing,” and immersive, with its believable battle sequences (the visual effects team were nominated for an Oscar) and some very tense evacuations. Veronica Lake gives an especially haunting performance as the standoffish nurse, Olivia. If you only know Lake from her noirs and screwball comedies, So Proudly We Hail is in a category of its own. It’s also not a coincidence that Lake keeps her hair up for most of this movie – Kirgo explains more about why Lake’s hairstyle was garnering attention during the war in her commentary.

Other things So Proudly We Hail does really well:

  • Confronts female rage and doesn’t apologize for it
  • Includes prominent Filipino and Chinese characters that aren’t just extras
  • Captures the distress of a pre-cell phones world, where a jammed radio could cause a lot of confusion and worry about what was going on at home or in the war

Other topics that come up during Kirgo’s commentary:

  • Juanita Redmond’s memoir, which acted as source material for the film
  • Eunice Hatchett, who was an advisor on the film and an army nurse
  • How the film manages to play with gender roles in its romances

So Proudly We Hail is available on Blu-Ray starting September 13th from Kino Lorber.

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