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20th Century Fox presents
Guadalcanal Diary (1943)

"Why don't they come out in the open and fight?"
- Johnny 'Chicken' Anderson (Richard Jaeckel)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: November 05, 2001

Stars: Preston Foster, Lloyd Nolan, William Bendix, Richard Conte, Anthony Quinn
Other Stars: Richard Jaeckel, Ralph Byrd
Director: Lewis Seiler

Manufacturer: DVCC
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence)
Run Time: 01h:33m:11s
Release Date: November 06, 2001
UPC: 024543025320
Genre: war

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B B+BB- D+

DVD Review

Imagine a war being fought in unfamiliar and hostile terrain, against a fanatically determined enemy, who are holed up in networks of caves, invisible for all practical purposes. No, this isn't Afghanistan 2001, this is Guadalcanal, 1942. Based on Richard Tregaskis' bestselling book of the same title, Guadalcanal Diary tells the story of the U.S. Marines who launched the first U.S. ground action offensive of World War II.

After a brief picture of life aboard ship, waiting for action, the film launches with the landing on the island of Guadalcanal in the Coral Sea. Among those taking part are the spiritual leader of the group, Father Donnelly (Preston Foster), Sgt. Hook Malone (Lloyd Nolan), Corporal Taxi Potts (William Bendix), Jesus 'Soose' Alvarez (Anthony Quinn) and raw youth Johnny 'Chicken' Anderson (Richard Jaeckel, who looks to be about eleven years old). The landing is surprisingly unopposed, lulling the Marines into overconfidence. The Japanese, however, holed up in the caves of the island, prove to be a more than formidable enemy.

William Bendix completely steals the picture as the Flatbush fighter Taxi Potts. His pugnacious, slightly doofy but good-hearted persona puts the heart and soul into the film in a way that no one else does. Anthony Quinn generally does a respectable job as Soose, but most of the others are little more than types.

Obviously rushed to the screen, the film was released only months after the landing on Guadalcanal. This leads to a slightly ambiguous but hopeful tone, much like one finds in a history of the Civil War written in 1862. There are the expected Hollywood touches, such as the soldiers aboard the ship singing innocuous barbershop quartets. The fighting is typically antiseptic, with soldiers suddenly dropping limp for no obvious reason. Somewhat surprising in light of this treatment is the rather brutal annihilation of many of the American troops. Those that aren't slaughtered are left much the worse for wear, instantly turning new recruits into hardened veterans by dint of privation and hardship.

While there are hokey moments, the picture has an undeniable power and drama. The voiceover narrative is a shade too journalistic and pompous, but the desire to boost morale is certainly understandable. For the PC, in addition to the expected racial slurs against the Japanese, a number of gratuitous racial insults against the friendly native population are included. Fox to its credit didn't eliminate this material, but presented it in its original context.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The original full-frame picture has a number of problems, all related to the source materials. There is plenty of speckling early on, though it improves once we get past the credits. Frame damage is visible in quite a few places, and the stock footage looks terrible, beaten up and blurry. The feature itself has very good black levels, however, and a detailed picture with a rich array of grays. No edge enhancement was noted during my viewing of the film. Every last bit of quality is coaxed out of the transfer, with the video bit rate averaging around 8 Mbps, frequently spiking up to 10 Mbps.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: Both stereo and mono English language tracks are provided. They both exhibit a fair amount of hiss. The stereo track gives much better definition to the sound, and is much preferable to the original mono. The audio has surprisingly good bass extension, and much of the picture has nonstop explosions so there's plenty of sound to be pleased about. Obviously this isn't going to be anyone's reference disc, but the sound is certainly passable and should be more than acceptable for most viewers.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring Halls of Montezuma, Men of Honor, Tigerland, Tora! Tora! Tora!, The Young Lions, A Wing and a Prayer
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 44m:55s

Extras Review: The sole extras are a passel of trailers. The feature gets one, and trailers for six other war-related films are included as well. All are presented 1.33:1, except for Men of Honor and The Young Lions, which are provided with 1.85:1 nonanamorphic transfers. They're all in acceptable condition, for trailers, but nothing fabulous.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

A somewhat Hollywood but surprisingly frank look at war in the Pacific Theater, while the war wasn't even half over. Despite somewhat iffy source material, the transfer is very good.


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