Objective, Burma! Is A Solid-But-Flawed War Film

Errol Flynn (center), John Alvin, James Brown. Henry Hull, and Frank Tang in Objective, Burma! Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Objective, Burma! is based on the six-month raid by Merrill’s Marauders, albeit loosely, as a part of the Southeast Asian theatre in WW2.

In short, Captain Nelson (Errol Flynn) leads a group of U.S. Army paratroopers into Burma. Their objective is to take out a Japanese radar station because of it’s strategic location. Unfortunately, they miss their rendezvous because the Japanese are waiting at the airstrip. Captain Nelson makes the call and the 36-men team–after splitting into two groups–start hiking their way through the jungle and swamps. Nelson’s group makes it to a Burmese village but the other unit, as we learn, was ambushed. There’s 11 of them remaining when the Burmese invasion begins at the end f the film.

Errol Flynn starred in a number of swashbucklers early in his career. However, he wasn’t just limited to the one genre. He did Westerns and war films as well. In fact, Flynn is on record as saying that Objective, Burma! “is one of the few features of which I am proud.” You couldn’t blame him. War movies were the closest that he came to actually fighting in the war. Because of medical issues, he was unable to enlist but none of this was public during the war. If his only contribution is by participating in war movies, it’s better than nothing.

Maybe the most surprising aspect of the filmmaking is star Eroll Flynn being on good behavior. In all likelihood, you probably know about Flynn’s lifestyle choices by now. During this film, he was writing a book when not rehearsing or filming on set. Because of this, Flynn wouldn’t be sneaking in a drink or partying. You know, the usual activities.

While I haven’t seen a substantial number of war movies made in light of World War II, it’s a solid piece of filmmaking. I mean, it’s probably not going to be in my top ten war movies but one can appreciate the technical craft that went into the film. When a film has James Wong Howe handling the cinematography, it’s sure to be gorgeously shot. Maybe it’s because of the black-and-white photography but they definitely fooled me. Although to be fair, the film does incorporate footage from both China/Burma/India and New Guinea.

This film went into production in California right after raid. Taking advantage of the news wasn’t uncommon during the 1940s especially when it came to war films. If producer Jerry Wald had his way, a film about the Burma campaign would have been in theaters a few years earlier. In any event, the film brings the Burma Campaign to the screen. It’s not surprising to hear some of the language in the film. I certainly wouldn’t use those words today but that’s what went for the 1940s.

Alvah Bessie, a future member of the Hollywood Ten, wrote the story while Ranald MacDougall and Hollywood Ten writer Lester Cole pen the script. Bessie would get an Oscar nomination for his work. It’s still weird how the person coming up with a story gets an Oscar nomination but not the actual screenwriters. Make it make sense! In any event, the film does a solid job at capturing what it’s like to be fighting during World War II.

One question I am asking myself is whether or not the film needs to be almost two and a half hours. It could certainly be shorter but then you start asking what needs to go. Personally, I’m not sure although it was also a struggle to focus while watching the film–that was because of unrelated reasons. I do think that a 142-minute Objective, Burma can exist side by side with a 170-minute Saving Private Ryan. They’re very different films but they’re both showing what American troops went through during the war. Interestingly enough, film editor George Amy received an Oscar nomination. Franz Waxman’s score also earns an Oscar nomination.

It’s one of the better war films of its era but the biggest problem with Objective, Burma! is that it’s more American than it has any right to be. I get why the film is the way it is but that’s because Hollywood mostly catered to an American audience at the time. They could have done a better job at getting more British troops on screen. After all, it was their fight, too! Colonel Curtis Mitchell, A.U.S., Chief, Pictorial Branch, offered suggestions to Warner Bros but it wouldn’t be the first time that the studio ignored advice.

Bonus Features

  • The Tanks Are Coming (1941) with George Tobias, Richard Travis, and Gig Young
  • The Rear Gunner (1943) with Burgess Meredith and Ronald Reagan

DIRECTOR: Raoul Walsh
SCREENWRITERS: Ranald MacDougall & Lester Cole
CAST: Errol Flynn, with James Brown, William Prince, George Tobias, Henry Hull, Warner Anderson, John Alvin, Mark Stevens (as Stephen Richards), Richard Erdman (as Dick Erdman)

Warner Bros. released Objective, Burma! in theaters on February 17, 1945. Grade: 3.5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.