Movie Review: Destroyer (1943)
“You’ll Always Remember . . . And Never Forget . . . Destroyer”
Director: William A. Seiter
Cast: Edward G. Robinson, Glenn Ford, Marguerite Chapman
Synopsis: A new World War 2 battleship fails its fighting trials so it is assigned to mail runs , but the crew ends up having to engage Japanese planes and a submarine, anyway.
Did WWII audiences really fall for all the flag-waving propaganda fed to them by Hollywood studios during the conflict? Surely those who watched Destroyer, one of Columbia’s dull contributions to the effort, must have emerged from the cinema in a haze of self-deluded complacency if they did. How, they must have wondered, could America lose against a foe whose six planes and a sub was defeated by a lowly patched-up US mail ship?
Of course, wartime movies were there to provide the world with a sanitised version of reality. So, in Destroyer there are no American casualties in the climactic battle, and a universally despised martinet wins over his defecting crew with a rousing speech about John Paul Jones entitled ‘I Have Not Yet Begun to Fight.’ The martinet is Edward G. Robinson (Little Caesar, Double Indemnity), a fine gangster who never really convinces as a sailor-turned-welder-turned-sailor just so he can build the ship on which he proudly serves his country.
His character’s name is Steve Boleslavski. Boley is Chief Bosun aboard the John Paul Jones, and he’s so house proud he’d have placemats for everything if he could. He can’t though, so he takes it out on the crew by constantly sniping and criticising. Boley’s old school; he doesn’t understand that time has moved on, and doesn’t care to listen to anyone who tries to tell him. To complicate matters further, the sailor (Glenn Ford – Human Desire, 3:10 to Yuma) in line for the Bosun’s gig before Boley bagged it for himself, is secretly wooing Boley’s daughter (Marguerite Chapman – The Seven Year Itch).
Even a still-sprightly fifty-something Eddie G. can’t do much to keep this one afloat, despite some lively support from a spunky young Glenn Ford. What battle footage there is to be found doesn’t show up until the last fifteen minutes, and is the usual combination of grainy stock footage and unconvincing models. The forgotten Marguerite Chapman provides welcome, statuesque relief from endless scenes of central casting’s finest in Jack Tar outfits, but the domestic scenes don’t mix well with the military ones. Destroyer is generic production-line movie-making that provides little entertainment value and has no ambition other than to ram home its simple message.
(Reviewed 15th May 2016)