Welcome back to Movies You Have Not Seen But Should. This week we will look at 1976 historical war drama Midway. The film’s stars include Charlton Heston, Henry Fonda, Robert Mitchum, Glenn Ford and Toshiro Mifune.
The film is based on the true story of the Battle of Midway. The Battle of Midway was a pivotal World War II battle that took place between June 4 and June 7, 1942. It was the turning point in the war in the Pacific front. Up to that point in the war, the U.S. hadn’t had a big victory in the Pacific. The Battle of Midway changed that. It is credited that this battle changed the momentum and gave the Americans confidence in the war with Japan.
The film focuses on both the U.S. and Japanese fronts. On the Japanese front, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto (played by Mifune) was looking to keep expanding on the victories that the Japanese had gained at Pearl Harbor. He also wanted to enact revenge on the Americans for the raid on Tokyo by Jimmy Doolittle and his crew, which is portrayed at the beginning of the film. He then plans a strike on the tiny island of Midway. Midway is a tiny island west of Hawaii that also housed a small base and refueling station for planes. It was considered the second most important base for protecting the U.S. West Coast behind Pearl Harbor. With it being nearly six months after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese believed that if Midway was taken out, the Americans would be crippled in the Pacific front.
On the American side, the U.S. Navy was looking for any break they could get. They were scrambling after losses at Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Coral Sea and needed to catch a break. That break came in the form of intercepted messages that the Japanese sent out about their intent on attacking Midway. Admiral Chester Nimitz (played by Fonda) had to make a tough call. Does he send what few battlecarriers he has left on a hunch that the message is legit? After some convincing by his staff, including Captain Matt Garth (played by Heston), Nimitz gives the orders.
The film views a lot of the American side through Captain Garth and also his son Ensign Thomas Garth (played by Eddie Albert), who is a fighter pilot assigned to fight in the battle. Thomas is also in love with a Japanese American named Haruko Sakura. She and her family end up in an internment camp during the war. The film shows that dynamic, as well as the interaction that happens between father and son over this.
The Japanese believe that they have the advantage due to surprise and knowing who will be in charge of the fleet. However, due to Vice Admiral “Bull” Halsey (played by Mitchum) getting ill, the U.S. fleet is led by Rear Admiral Raymond Spruance (played by Ford). Spruance’s tactics are very different than Halsey’s and the Japanese do not take that into account. With the lack of surprise and the illpreparedness of the Japanese due to the American response, the Japanese fleet suffers huge losses and the U.S. gains a big victory in the Pacific.
The film does a good job of portraying the battle, and includes some footage that was taken from the actual battle. There is some fiction involved, including the characters of Matt and Thomas Garth. However, for a film made thirty-something years later, it is pretty good at portraying the story.
Also starring in the film are actors Pat Morita, Hal Holbrook, Erik Estrada, Cliff Robertson, Robert Ito, James Coburn, Tom Selleck, Robert Wagner and even former football star Larry Csonka. The film’s score was done by John Williams. It debuted in theaters on June 18th, 1976. Interestingly enough, an extended version aired on TV a few years later. There were nearly 33 more minutes of film shot that included scenes of the Battle of the Coral Sea as well as introducing a new character. That character was Ann (played by Susan Sullivan), who was a girlfriend to Matt Garth. That footage has been included in later home releases as bonus footage.
Midway is available on DVD, Blu-Ray and Amazon Instant Streaming. If you’re a fan of war films, then this is one to watch. It is a classic film that you may not have seen, but you should.