Anyone watching this is likely to develop a severe case of déja vu. But that's okay because you really HAVE seen it all before in one iteration or another. The Thunderbirds are members of the 45th infantry division of the National Guard, mostly from Oklahoma. Their shoulder patch is a bright red square, balanced on one of its points, with a golden wingspread bird on it, a symbol of the Navaho Indians.
It shouldn't take more than a few minutes to capture the caricatured characters and dope out their destinies. There is the handsome young lead, John Derek, who will survive. There is best friend (and rival for girl friend) John Drew Barrymore who surely must die to make up for a blotch on the family's escutcheon and to get out of the way of Derek's pursuit of the girl. (One thing had me puzzled: "the girl" was not Mona Freeman.) There's the elitist snob who must learn to get down in the ruck with the rest of them. Sammy Jacobs, whose Mamma gives him a mezzuzah and sends him a salami, may not be long for this world. This time, the New York wiseguy is from Bayonne, New Jersey. The tough sergeant -- Gene Evans, with a voice like a coffee grinder -- will survive unless he too must be gotten out of the way so Derek can take over command. The tiny, goggle-eyed, plump clerk is probably going to make it. If skinny, dumb Texan Slim Pickens -- he's the guy with no mandible -- makes it, that's okay but he may just turn out to be cannon fodder.
Barton MacClane is the sadistic three striper. Ward Bond is the stern but fair top sergeant. I'd be surprised if he didn't make it. Assembled church goers sing "America the Beautiful" and, later, the boys at religious services sing "Battle Hymn of the Republic," even Sammy Jacobs tucked away in the back and wearing his tallit. When the training camp banter and grabass are over, the unit ships out.
All of this is during the first twenty minutes or so. Then you're forced to stick with this dusted-off World War II story to see if your guesses turned out to be correct. The dialog keeps pace with the martial musical score. "It's quiet out there -- too quiet." "Waiting is tougher than doing." (Not in my experience.) "Training doesn't prepare you for the sight of your first dead man." "Anyone who tells you he's not scared, he's a liar." "We run short of everything -- but guts." "Atta boy! Hit 'em right in their swastikas!" The invasion of Sicily. They're in Palermo. No mention of General Patton. A Dear John letter arrives in the form of a record. It's from the girl back home, and she's chosen John Drew Barrymore over Derek.
I was aghast. What the hell was John Derek going to do NOW? But then Derek is ordered to drive "a lieutenant" to the nearest hospital. The "shavetail" turns out to be lovely Mona Freeman and everything was back in place. They don't exchange more than two dozen words before they fall into each other's arms and start necking. The next time they meet they're calling each other "darling." It strains credulity. Of course it happens to me all the time but Derek doesn't have my pheromones.
Next they're in Anzio, which turns out to be a spot of bother, and then Rome, with no mention of such personages as Mark Clark or Lucien Truscott. Not that it matters in this kind of story, but the leader of the US Army in Italy was now General Mark Clark, who always saw to it that the press referred to "MARK CLARK'S Fifth Army." After the breakout from Anzio, Clark allowed an entire German army to withdraw unmolested while he made a mad dash for Rome so he could be the first to conquer the Eternal City. His celebrity was short. A few days later the Allies landed at Normady.
The 45th division was in the thick of things in Europe: Sicily, Salerno, Anzio, the southern coast of France ("the champagne campaign"), across the Rhine, liberating a concentration camp, and then being demobilized. They took a lot of casualties, including an uncle of mine. The movie shows no such heroism. It sticks to the rules. Virtually no combat scenes that aren't clips of newsreel footage. The commanding office at Republic Pictures was Herbert J. Yates, a notorious skinflint and cheat. This production reflects his values.