Guadalcanal Diary (1943)

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Released 24-May-2004

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category War None
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1943
Running Time 89:27 (Case: 93)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Lewis Seiler
Studio
Distributor

Twentieth Century Fox
Starring Preston Foster
Lloyd Nolan
William Bendix
Richard Conte
Anthony Quinn
Richard Jaeckel
Roy Roberts
Minor Watson
Ralph Byrd
Lionel Stander
Reed Hadley
John Archer
Case ?
RPI $24.95 Music David Buttolph


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles Danish
Dutch
English for the Hearing Impaired
Finnish
French
Norwegian
Spanish
Swedish
Spanish Titling
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Guadalcanal Diary was based on the book of the same name by Richard Tregaskis, a war correspondent who landed with the initial troops on Guadalcanal on August 7, 1942. In order to halt the advance of Japanese troops across the Pacific and into Australia, two simultaneous operations were planned. One was an advance across New Guinea, the other an assault on Guadalcanal, the closest of the Solomon Islands to Australia and recently occupied by Japanese troops.

    The battle for Guadalcanal was the first major American military operation in the Pacific involving an amphibious assault, and was still fresh in the minds of Americans when this film was released in 1943. There were many casualties: while about 1,600 soldiers were killed and 5,000 wounded, about 5 times as many succumbed to malaria and dengue fever. The Japanese lost 15,000 men in the fighting and another 9,000 to disease. The operation was characterised by a mixture of heroics, poor planning and ineptitude, the latter due to the lack of experience by Americans in this kind of warfare. But that aspect of the campaign is not addressed in this film.

    The film takes up the story of a group of soldiers on a troop ship ferrying them to Guadalcanal. The landing on the island goes well, and it seems as though the Japanese have run away. But in fact they have retreating to fortified positions, and the long campaign begins to root them out and take the island. The Japanese put up greater than expected resistance, and death and disease take their toll.

    Like most films from the early period of the war, the view of the Japanese (and even the local natives, portrayed by African-Americans with fuzzy wigs) is highly racist. Referred to as monkeys, slit-eyes and Japs, aspersions are cast on them based on all of the stereotypes of the time. Later in the war, realising that this attitude would not serve in peacetime, the jingoistic rhetoric was toned down. In this film, you can see and hear it at its peak. The Japanese are criticised as cowardly for shooting from trees and concealed positions, and are obviously inhuman monsters because they ambush American soldiers. This attitude apparently appealed to audiences of the time, as the film was a success.

    The film is full of stock characters and none really convince as real human beings. The nominal star of the film is Preston Foster as the Irish chaplain Father Donnelly, but the real stars are Lloyd Nolan and William Bendix, the latter playing the usual dumb native of Flatbush for comedy relief, sometimes in tandem with Lionel Stander. There is the raw youth (Richard Jaeckel, famously plucked from the Twentieth Century-Fox mailroom for this role), the philosophical officer (Richard Conte) and the stereotypically sex-crazed Latino (Anthony Quinn, virtually playing himself I guess). The direction by Lewis Seiler is pretty good, and this is probably his best film.

    If you take the view that certain elements of the film are a reflection of the times in which it was made and make allowances for this, then Guadalcanal Diary can be enjoyed as an entertainment. Thankfully Fox have seen fit not to edit out the objectionable material, but Japanese people and sensitive Solomon Islanders should perhaps steer clear of this one.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    The film is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, close to the original 1.37:1.

    This is an unrestored print but for the most part the print materials were in good condition, and the image is mostly quite sharp. There are sequences where the image appears slightly blurry, especially at the beginning of the film. It seems to me that I can see faint scan lines on the image, especially noticeable on horizontal lines which seem to be multiplied. This effect is accentuated by the use of deep focus photography throughout the film. Fortunately this is not the case throughout the entire running time.

    Shadow detail is quite good. There are some dark sequences, but these seem to be a result of shooting night sequences during the day and turning the brightness down afterwards.

    This is a black and white film, and the black portions of the video are very black. Possibly the source material was a nitrate print, which generally has rich blacks and luminous whites. Some of the whites on display are certainly luminous, but this is not always apparent.

    Aliasing is present throughout the film to varying degrees. The worst examples of this artefact occur during the opening sequences on board the troop ship, which constantly moves and has many straight lines at various angles. There is also some barely noticeable excessive noise reduction, which is only just at the threshold of perception.

    Film artefacts are more pronounced. There are numerous examples of white spots and dirt, most noticeable at the beginning of the film, and on inserted newsreel footage. For the most part these are held in check, but there are some more severe instances, such as splice marks at 37:21 and vertical scratches on the print which appear for some time after 23:00. There is also what seems to be an attempt by the film to jump off the telecine machine at 2:28, resulting in some severe distortion of the image. And I can also see early signs of decomposition on some shots, with light coloured patches on the film.

    My description of the video quality may make the transfer sound worse than it is. In fact, it is pretty good for a film of this vintage, and potential viewers should not be put off by these minor problems.

    The film is presented on a single layered disc with English subtitles available. The subtitles are readable and while not all of the dialogue is transferred verbatim, it is satisfactorily done. The subtitles are white with black borders and are easily readable.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There are two audio tracks. The default audio is English Dolby Digital 2.0, with an alternative Spanish track that sounds to have been recorded in a completely different acoustic and much more recently.

    The original audio was mono, and this track does not seem to have any stereo effects, but like other recent Fox releases there is surround encoding present. In Pro Logic mode this directs some of the effects and music to the rear channels, and the frequent explosions give the subwoofer a workout. If you like noisy soundtracks, this will be the preferred mode of listening, but to me the audio has slightly more presence when effects are switched off.

    Generally speaking, the audio is pretty good. Early in the film there is some harshness to the sound, but after about 15 minutes it softens to the extent that the harshness disappears. There is a surprising amount of bass to the sound, with the initial naval bombardment generating a lot of low frequency sound. Dialogue is quite clear and distinct all of the time. I did not notice any audio sync problems.

    The music score is by David Buttolph. As you would expect, this is intended as a rousing score to help raise the morale of the audience. Some patriotic themes are interpolated, such as America, a song which uses the music from God Save the King as it was then. A measure of the subtlety of the score can be heard in the sequence where the Marines read letters from home, as a lone harmonica plays My Old Kentucky Home. As they say in the US, subtle it ain't.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    No extras are provided. This sort of film really cries out for some historical context to explain the attitudes displayed in it, and the progress of the real life events depicted, so even a short essay would have been good.

    The menus are all 16x9 enhanced.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This film has been released on DVD in Region 1. From the available reviews, it seems that this is the same transfer as we get in Region 4. Region 1 gets some extras in the form of a theatrical trailer and trailers for other releases from Fox. Personally, I don't think that this is sufficient to recommend the Region 1 above the Region 4.

    As far as I can tell, this film has not been released on DVD in Japan.

Summary

    A war film that is both jingoistic and realistic in equal measure, this is an entertaining film and nothing more. Not for the politically-correct brigade.

    The video quality is good apart from a few minor issues.

    The audio quality is quite good.

    There are no extras.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Tuesday, June 29, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationYamaha RX-V596 for surround channels; Yamaha AX-590 as power amp for mains
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Richter Harlequin; Rear: Pioneer S-R9; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175

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