Have Cheetah,Will View #128 – “PT 109” (1963)

It’s 12:20 pm
snowing

Looking outside at our second snow storm of the season. We’re supposed to get around 4 inches today with maybe another inch tonight.

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So far in our reviews,the cheetah and I have covered all sorts of movies and genres but somehow we have managed skip any war films. Considering how much I enjoy reading and studying military history,not reviewing any war movies is rather shocking.
I know the cheetah and reviewed “Sniper 3” but that was more or less a action adventure film.
As I was pondering this,I got a package from our deep cover asset over at Warner Brothers Archive who sent us the very good “PT 109”. I haven’t seen this movie in over 25 years and I was pretty eager to show it to Paladin.

 

This year is 1943 and the war against the Japanese in Pacific is going on. The US Navy hampered by critical losses at Pearl Harbor,is trying to hold the Japanese at bay while America’s industrial might can be brought into play with new ships and planes.
The US Navy doesn’t have the proper ships to find in the close combat that island fighting has wrought and as a stop gap measure,throw small 80 ft PT boats (Patrol Torpedo) in hopes of slowing the Imperial Japanese Navy down.

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It here were we meet USN Lt (jg) John F. Kennedy (Cliff Robertson) who has used his family name and influence to get CLOSER to the combat theater. He is aboard a troop transport,the USS Rochambeau, on the way to the Solomon Islands to join a PT squadron based there. While enroute,his ship is attacked by a flight of Japanese Zero fighters and several men are killed and wounded. It is Kennedy’s first taste of the war.
He arrives at his base and introduced to his commanding officer,C.R. Ritchie (James Gregory) who says he can be Ritchie’s operations officer. Kennedy says he would rather have a boat of own to command but is told there are no boats…well except one beat up PT boat,the 109.

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Kennedy then experiences his first “Washing Machine Charlie” attack. The Japanese used to send 1-2 planes a day to drop small bombs and strafe the bases the Americans were at. This caused a lot havoc and panic as men were sent diving for craters and foxholes. Cdr. Ritchie merely lowers the blinds on his hut and continues doing paperwork.
Lt. Cluster then shows Kennedy the PT 109 and she is in rough shape,her three engines have used for parts,the guns have been left unprotected in the hot tropical sun as has the wooden hull. Not only is the boat beat up but Kennedy has to find a capable crew.
He finds a XO is Ens. Leonard Thoms and 3 crewmen and the five proceed to work some very long hours as they only have a week to get 109 ready for Cdr. Ritchie’s inspection.
During the week,more crewmen arrive and soon PT 109 has her full compliment of men.
The engines are the hardest part in getting repaired as the lack new engines was a dire problem back then.


Ritchie comes and inspects PT 109 and despite a few minor hiccups, 109 passes. Kennedy approaches Ritchie and asks him if he would say a few words to the men who busted ass in getting boat to combat readiness. Ritchie responds “Why should I praise them for a job they would be doing anyways”.
Kennedy takes PT 109 out for a test run and they make a combat run on a transport which shakes up the crew on the other ship. As they head back to base,they see other PT boats fly past them,Kennedy is confused until he sees them lined up the refueling station. Those crews who get there first get refueled first and more importantly,get to sleep sooner as the PT boats only operated at night. Crews had to stay with boat until they refueled which could hours.

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That same night Kennedy and PT 109 get their first assignment,they are to cover a withdrawal of a Marine unit on another island. They are pinned down and PT 109 is the only warship available to help out. But because they were last in line,Kennedy knows his boat won’t make it back without help.
The mission starts off well with a landing craft taking half the Marines off but when the second is damaged by Japanese fire,PT 109 picks up the survivors and suffers three men wounded,as they egress out of range,Kennedy’s boat runs out fuel and they start to drift back into the Japanese line of fire….until Lt. Cluster comes and gives them a tow home.

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On 1 Aug 43,after getting several replacements,the squadron is moved to Rendova and PT 109 is sent on a mission to disrupt the Tokyo Express. The Tokyo Express was group of IJN ships,mostly destroyers,to ferry troops and supplies to front line Japanese units.
It is on this mission that PT 109 was rammed by the IJN destroyer Amagiri,cutting the much smaller boat in half and killing 2 crew members.

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Kennedy,who already had a bad back,towed a badly burned sailor almost four miles along with the rest of his men through shark infested waters to a small unoccupied island called Plum Pudding. The island was very small and had no food or fresh water on it.
What happens next is the most amazing part….how the sailors of PT 109 were rescued after six very long days. There are several acts of incredible courage that will leave you shaking your head,the story of PT 109 is one of most incredible stories in the war.

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Actually this was a hard review because I wanted to put in the whole true story but since I’m doing the film version,I’ll leave the research of PT 109 to you,my dear reader.
Here are a few facts about “PT 109”

JFK himself picked Cliff Robertson to portray him. Jackie Kennedy wanted Warren Beatty to play him.
This was the first film that featured a story of a sitting United States president
Jack L. Warner personally supervised the filming of the movie.
PT 109 opened in Canada the same day the Kennedy was killed.
Many well known actors popped up in this movie,Robert Blake (yes,THAT Robert Blake),Ty Hardin,Robert Culp and Norman Fell all played key roles.
The film was released in the States on 19 June 63.
Leslie Martinson,who directed “PT 109” would later direct “Batman” in 1966.
Robert Ballard found the wreckage of PT 109 in 2002.

Overall I liked the movie,Cliff Robertson has always been one of my favorite actors,he always gave his 100% into every role he played. The supporting cast was also very good.
The action scenes were exciting even if Hollywood did some retconning of some of the parts.  All in all,its definitely worth a look and you can buy a copy of “PT 109” at the Warner Brothers Archives website.

Do you have a favorite war movie? Drop a comment below and share it with us. As always,thank you for reading!

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