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Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Bataan in the Movies During the Second World War

Today, we commemorate the Day of Valor, officially known as Araw ng Kagitingan. In this national observance in the Philippines, we honor the Filipino and American soldiers who bravely fought in the Battle of Bataan. The holiday also provides an opportunity to a watch a couple of American films about the said battle: Bataan and Back to Bataan. Both films have titles that include the name of the historic province.

Image Credit: Provincial Government of Bataan

Bataan is a 1943 drama from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, directed by Tay Garnett. The lead cast members are Robert Taylor, George Murphy, Lloyd Nolan, Thomas Mitchell, Desi Arnaz and Robert Walker. The film follows a group of 13 men chosen to blow up a bridge on the Bataan Peninsula in an effort to stop the Japanese invaders from rebuilding it.

Back to Bataan is a 1945 production from RKO Radio Pictures, directed by Edward Dmytryk. The war film stars John Wayne and Anthony Quinn. It depicts a combination of fictionalized and actual that took place after the Battle of Bataan on the Philippine island of Luzon.


- Bataan and Back to Bataan were produced and released while the Second World War was still raging. Several script changes and rewrites were necessary in order to keep up with current events. Furthermore, Back to Bataan is not a direct sequel to Bataan as the titles might imply.

- Manila-born Alex Havier (Jose Alex Havier) was the only performer associated with both Bataan (1943) and Back to Bataan (1945). In both films, Havier was billed under the name J. Alex Havier. His very next film was another John Wayne war movie, They Were Expendable (1945). They Were Expendable was released on December 31 of that year, a few weeks after Havier took his own life by gunshot at age 34.

- In Back to Bataan, the fictional character Andres Bonifacio (portrayed by Anthony Quinn) is supposed to be the grandson of Andres Bonifacio, a leader of the Philippine revolt against Spain in the late 19th century. The real Andres Bonifacio had no grandchildren; his only child died of smallpox.

- SeƱor Buenaventura J. Bello, the martyred school principal in the town in Balintawak, is portrayed by the Russian actor Vladimir Sokoloff. In the film, Bello refused the Japanese soldiers' orders to take down the American flag. The scene might have been inspired by a real-life incident. Details can be read in the July 14, 1942, entry in Francis Burton Harrison's diary:

"The part of [Carlos P.] Romulo’s interview dealing with the Bello incident was true. Bello had a school of his own at Vigan, and when the Japanese first got there they ordered him to haul down the American flag, but said he could leave the Philippine flag over his school flying. He replied that the law obliged him to have both flags, that they could haul down the flags themselves, but he refused to do so. They shot him down."

-The town of Balintawak might have been a nod to a possible location in which the Philippine Revolution against the Spanish Empire started in the late nineteenth century.  Accounts of this event vary, so the exact date and place of the event is yet to be determined.

- The first 10 notes of Lupang Hinirang, the Philippine national anthem, can be heard in the scene where Filipino guerrillas attack the Japanese convoy. Composed and arranged by Julian Felipe, Lupang Hinirang was adopted as the national anthem following the establishment of self-rule under the Commonwealth of the Philippines. (Approved on September 5, 1938, through Commonwealth Act No. 382.

- Fely Franquelli, a Filipina who became known in the international dance scene in the 1930s, portrays the role of Andres Bonifacio's sweetheart, Dalisay Delgado. Delgado is apparently collaborating with the Japanese, broadcasting propaganda over the radio. [SPOILER: It is then revealed that she is actually using the broadcasts to secretly transmit valuable information to anti-Japanese guerrillas.] Franquelli's role might have been inspired by Tokyo Rose, a name coined by Allied troops in the South Pacific during World War II to refer to female English-speaking radio broadcasters of Japanese propaganda.

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