They Were Expendable is a movie about defeat. Or, rather, the glory that may be found in defeat. Based on a non-fiction book by William L. White, it’s a grim, sad yarn, but a strangely uplifting one.
If How Green Was My Valley isn’t John Ford’s finest film, it’s certainly the most honored. Nominated in 1941 for 10 Oscars, it won five - in a year when Citizen Kane was up for most of the same honors.
In 1936 director John Ford was sitting pretty in Hollywood. Now, he was told by Fox studio boss Darryl F. Zanuck he was being entrusted with the hottest star on the lot and Hollywood’s biggest box-office attraction: 8-year-old Shirley Temple.
John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath (1940) spends two hours rubbing our noses in poverty and humiliation, yet somehow sends us off with hope-filled hearts. And it stars Henry Fonda in his greatest performance.