This 1976 movie dramatises the epic air and sea battle in June 1942 that changed the course of the war against Japan when a Japanese carrier force, in an attempt to occupy Midway island and lure the American fleet to destruction, was met valiantly by US forces operating from three aircraft carriers and numerous escort ships.
It was the first battle in which naval air power was extensively used, and at its conclusion, the Japanese carrier force had been completely destroyed paving the way for the 1943 and 44 US-led offensives which would eventually bring the Pacific War to a close.
When an intelligence officer (Hal Holbrook) intercepts communications suggesting the Japanese are planning to attack US ships stationed at Midway Island (potentially a devastating repeat of Pearl Harbor), the Americans spring into action preparing defensive manoeuvres.
The film then cuts between American and Japanese strategy sessions which humanises the enemy and shows how luck and tactical errors have as much bearing on military success as heroism and leadership.
Some of the best scenes take place aboard a Japanese carrier, where Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo (James Shigeta) wrangles with doubtful subordinates, resulting in indecisiveness.
The main storyline involves Captain Matt Garth (Charlton Heston), a strong-willed junior officer whose role in the battle is relatively inconsequential. Henry Fonda lends authority as the top US admiral; Glenn Ford is effectively stoic as a soft-spoken naval commander, and Robert Mitchum plays an enjoyable cameo as a cranky admiral consigned to bed rest.
A little bit of melodramatic romance – with Garth’s sailor son and a Japanese-American civilian – gets in the way, and it’s hard to track which ships are where or whose plane took off from which airstrip, but the presentation of the battle is spectacular and was greatly enhanced by a soundtrack presented using the innovative new Sensurround system.
Captain Matt Garth
Admiral Chester W. Nimitz
Captain Vinton Maddox
Rear Admiral Raymond A. Spruance
Admiral William F. Halsey
Lieutenant Commander Ernest L. Blake
Commander Carl Jessop
Cmdr. Joseph Rochefort
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto
Rear Admiral Frank J. ‘Jack’ Fletcher
Admiral Harry Pearson
Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo
Commander Max Leslie
Captain Miles Browning