November 4, 2019  (Web Review)

Merrill’s Marauders

Warner, 98 min., not rated, Blu-ray: $21.99

Reviewer rating: 2.5/4

“Merrill’s Marauders” was the nickname that the press gave to the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), a volunteer force created from jungle warfare veterans, which was assigned to long-range missions against the Japanese occupying forces in Southeast Asia during WWII. Their six-month campaign inspired the 1945 film Objective, Burma, but this 1962 war drama from director Samuel Fuller is based more closely on the real-life record. Jeff Chandler plays unit commander Brigadier General Frank D. Merrill and Ty Hardin is newly-promoted Lt. Stockton, a good friend and loyal soldier who is torn between supporting his commander and caring for his men (a collection of character types familiar to the platoon war movie genre). Fuller emphasizes the grueling toll of the mission on the men, who hike through 500 miles of thick jungle, across swamps, and over mountains, while suffering from dysentery, typhus, and malaria, as well as mental fatigue and physical exhaustion. The unit Doc (Andrew Duggan) chimes in with commentary on the state of the men and the losses are suggested in the handfuls of dogtags given to Stockton at the end of each day. Merrill’s Marauders was shot in the Philippines, which provided a realistic backdrop to the jungle scenes, and Fuller focuses on a small group of soldiers while also suggesting the scope of the mission in battle scenes, effectively creating the sense of an epic mission on a relatively small budget. While it’s not Fuller’s best movie, and certainly not his most personal, he invests it with a respect for the soldiers and their commitment to a grueling campaign. A strong optional purchase. (S. Axmaker)