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Away All Boats
Directed by Joseph Pevney
Written by Ted Sherdeman
Produced by Howard Christie
Cast: Jeff Chandler as Captain Jebediah Hawks
George Nader as Lieutenant Dave MacDougall
GoodTimes Home Video, 1956, 114 min., DVD

Three kamikaze planes hit and nearly sink a US Navy attack transport (APA) in this realistic movie based on the 1954 novel of the same title by Kenneth Dodson, who served in World War II in the Pacific aboard the attack transport USS Pierce (APA-50). No other English-language movie highlights a fictional ship hit by kamikazes. The crewmen of the film's fictional attack transport, named USS Belinda (APA-22), participate in battles throughout the Pacific. Although the battle scenes convincingly portray the dangers faced by the Belinda and her boats that carry battalion landing teams totaling 1,400 officers and men, the real strength of Away All Boats lies in the depiction of the crewmen and their relationships in the midst of war.

The Belinda's inexperienced crew include a wide variety of personalities and temperaments, but the captain demands the highest level of performance in order to develop his men into a team ready to fight together in battle. Although the captain plays a critical role in the ship's success in battle and her survival after being hit by kamikaze planes, the movie depicts how many individual crewmen played heroic roles. The film's scenes portray many typical happenings on a US Navy warship besides battle, such as shakedown cruise, initial seasickness, artillery target practice, boat landing drills, mail call, shore leave, and disabling mines.

Lieutenant Dave MacDougall, former merchant marine ship captain, starts the film by saying goodbye to his wife to go aboard the Belinda as the ship's boat group commander. Captain Jebediah Hawks, graying veteran whose destroyer went down fighting at the Battle of Santa Cruz, boards the Belinda at 0300 and gathers together the officers, most who have no battle experience. As the Belinda makes her way to Pearl Harbor, Hawks tells MacDougall that he needs to get used to the fact that he is no longer captain, but throughout the movie Hawks depends more and more on MacDougall's experience and leadership. After MacDougall injures himself in a boat landing drill, Hawks assigns MacDougall to train new officers and to serve as his unofficial backup since his executive officer, Commander Quigley, lacks experience.

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The boats of the Belinda experience their first combat during the Battle of Makin as they storm the beaches of the atoll. Next follow battles at Kwajalein, Saipan, Guam, and Leyte, but the movie just inserts some historical film clips rather than shows the Belinda's participation in these battles. At one point three unknown planes approach the fleet, so Hawks asks Ensign Twitchell, the ship's signal officer, to identify the planes. He mistakenly identifies them as enemy planes rather than American Hellcat fighters, and one of the other ships in the fleet shoots down a plane with friendly fire. Away All Boats clearly pays tribute to the wartime performance of the US Navy, which provided support and lent ships for the film, but this friendly fire incident and a few other scenes show that the film's director was willing to expose some embarrassing actions by officers and men in the US Navy.

The last quarter of the film covers two waves of mass kamikaze attacks early in the Battle of Okinawa and the saving of the Belinda after being hit by three Japanese planes. Despite several kamikaze planes in the first wave of 20 to 25 planes being shot down by gunners on the Belinda and other nearby ships, one plane slams into the attack transport near the waterline and kills 26 men in and near sick bay. After a short reprieve, later in the same day five separate groups of Japanese planes approach from different directions and attack the Belinda and nearby ships. Two more planes hit the Belinda, even though Captain Hawks tries to wave off the last incoming plane by yelling out, "Get away from my ship! Get your filthy plane away from my ship!" Hawks gets seriously wounded from the third and final kamikaze hit, but he stays alive until his men work together to keep the ship from sinking and use the Belinda's boats to tow the ship to safety at Kerama Retto.

Jeff Chandler turns in an excellent performance as Captain Hawks, a demanding leader who keeps pushing his men to the highest performance level so they will be ready for battle. MacDougall understands how Hawks must stay apart emotionally from the other officers and his crew in order to make effective decisions as captain. He becomes the object of his men's hatred when he orders them to build him a personal sailboat rather than to repair the ship's landing craft for an upcoming battle. However, MacDougall comes to understand that Hawks did this deliberately so that his men would start working together as a team rather than fighting with each other. When Hawks dies at the end of the movie after seeing that his ship will make it safely to Kerama Retto, MacDougall says to the ship's doctor, "All of us are better than we ever thought we could be because of what he gave us. I'm going to go home again because of him."

MacDougall, even though he had his own command in the merchant marine prior to joining the Navy, keeps levelheaded and understands his new role reporting to Captain Hawks. Although he clearly disagrees with some of the Captain's comments toward him, he tries to support Hawks and does not talk back nor become embittered. MacDougall explodes only when Hawks tells him that he blocked a couple of opportunities for him to have command of his own ship. Ultimately, when Hawks is dying, he transfers command of the Belinda to MacDougall. Although MacDougall has a wife and young son at home, his family receives no attention except at the movie's beginning when his wife says goodbye to him and during an extended flashback after he receives letters from his wife. This flashback of his courtship and his homecomings does not fit well with the rest of the film.

Several other memorable characters add humor and appeal to Away All Boats. For example, Gilbert Hubert, the garbage grinder who always carries a strong stench, takes great pride in keeping a clean area and plays a critical role to ensure any waste dumped into the sea is thoroughly ground up so it will not be detected by enemy submarines. Ensign Twitchell, signal officer, tries to browbeat the crewmen with his officer rank, but eventually Captain Hawks transfers him off the ship due to his technical incompetence and his lack of leadership skills.

Both the film and the book on which the film is based realistically portray life aboard an attack transport and combat faced by the battalion landing teams and the ship's gunners. The movie, of course, contains far less details than the novel of over 400 pages, but the film director closely follows the novel's plot and includes almost all the main characters from the book. One major difference is that the novel has another captain, Winthrop Gedney, before Jebediah Hawks takes command of the ship. Captain Hawks in the film combines traits from both captains in the novel. The actual US Navy ships used in the film make the scenes realistic, although the attacking kamikaze planes shown in the film do not reach the same high standard. A couple of the flaming planes approaching the ship seem quite realistic, but the planes shot down by the Belinda's gunners appear to be cheap models when they explode in the air.

Away All Boats stands out from other fictional films as the only one that focuses on a ship hit by kamikaze pilots. The movie shows the carnage inflicted by these suicide attacks, but it also gives a heroic portrayal of how the crewmen work together to save the Belinda. This thoughtful and realistic film stands as a Pacific War classic.


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