Otto Preminger’s war story starts as the bombs are falling on Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941 while Captain Rockwell “Rock” Torrey (John Wayne) and his Executive Officer Cdr. Paul Eddington (Kirk Douglas) rally the men on their ship and make for open water.
Among the other ships that escape the holocaust is the destroyer USS Cassidy with Lt. JG “Mac” McConnel (Tom Tryon) at the helm.
In the immediate aftermath of the attack, Torrey receives orders to gather his small, brave armada and make contact with the Japanese. To save time and fuel, he discontinues the required zig-zag patterns.
The ensuing battle, fought against impossible odds, is a catastrophe. Torrey is gravely injured and has his ship literally shot from under him. When he returns to Pearl Harbour, he is severely reprimanded for his bold action.
Feeling among the top brass about Torrey changes, though, and at a secret meeting, the CINCPAC (Commander-in-Chief-Pacific Fleet) (Henry Fonda) promotes Torrey to Rear Admiral and gives him command of ‘Operation Skyhook’, a spearhead mission designed to begin the drive against the enemy.
How he redeems himself is the story of bitter engagements in the Pacific, including the first great sea battle fought in that ocean in the Second World War.
In Harm’s Way is less concerned with the facts or even the tragedy of these events – it’s much more invested in Naval duty and honour (notwithstanding an unfortunate and disturbing subplot involving a misogynist male predator and rape).
Most of the filming took place onboard the USS St Paul (CA-73). Other US Navy ships that participated included the cruiser USS Boston (CA-69) – though only the forward two-thirds of the ship could be shown, as she had missiles aft -, destroyers USS Braine (DD-630), USS O’Bannon and USS Renville (APA-227). All of the destroyers had to have their modern-day anti-submarine warfare gear covered over with fake gun mounts or deck houses.
Captain/Rear Admiral Rockwell “Rock” Torrey
Cdr. Paul Eddington
Lt. JG “Mac” McConnel
Brandon De Wilde
Commander Egan Powell
Admiral Kimmell, CINCPAC (Commander-in-Chief-Pacific Fleet) I
Commander Neal Owynn
Lt. Commander Burke
Lt. J.G. Tom Agar
Admiral Nimitz, CINCPAC (Commander-in-Chief-Pacific Fleet) II