Fighting Seabees The (1944) – full review!
Directed by Edward Ludwig based on a story by Borden Chase who wrote the screenplay with Aeneas MacKenzie this average war drama about the formation of Construction Battalions (C.B. – get it?) by the U.S. Navy during World War II also includes a love triangle subplot involving its three top-billed actors: John Wayne Susan Hayward and Dennis O’Keefe. Wayne plays a well known (and well liked by his crews) construction company owner Wedge Donovan who’s recruited by Lieutenant Commander Robert Yarrow (O’Keefe) to help sell his idea to train and arm the construction specialists to his superiors. But Wayne’s character (who dances the Jitterbug with Adele Mara uncredited) is a bit of a hothead who doesn’t take direction nor orders from others very well and that in addition to his interest in Yarrow’s girlfriend Connie Chesley (Hayward) is the basis for the story’s conflict. The film’s Score was nominated for an Academy Award.
After Donovan’s construction crew returns from doing a job for the Navy during which several of his men are killed Lt. Cmdr. Yarrow asks him to help go before some admirals to arm these specialists against the enemy. But when Donovan learns that the Navy wants to do more than just provide his men with weapons that they want to train them (to fight properly) for perhaps 3 months or more Wedge is impatient and refuses to cooperate further. Donovan decides to go with his men – William Frawley plays foreman Eddie Powers Leonid Kinskey J.M. Kerrigan Grant Withers Paul Fix and Ben Welden (among others) – on their next job for the Navy and Yarrow’s newspaper reporter girlfriend Connie is assigned to go along for the story. She tells Donovan that the Lt. Cmdr. had been sent ahead to keep Wedge and his men from getting into trouble (e.g. the war). Their convoy heads for a Pacific island that’s later invaded by the Japanese. During the invasion when a few of his men are killed (because they weren’t in the Navy’s provided shelter) Donovan’s temper gets the best of his judgment and he leads his construction crew into the middle of the crossfire that Yarrow had set–up to contend with Japan’s invading force. The result is not pretty: a large number of Donovan’s crew is killed or injured including Connie who’d been spending a considerable amount of time with Wedge. While Donovan is tending to her wound she tells him that she loves him and Wedge proclaims the same before she passes out. Yarrow heard it all but that doesn’t keep him from forgiving and apologizing to Donovan’s men for his error when after realizing what he’d wrought Wedge is at a loss for words.
Wedge seems to have learned his lesson because he then helps Yarrow to form the Seabees by recruiting construction specialists into training by the Navy for specific battalions (e.g. to build and repair runways and other requirements). Donovan’s even given the rank of Lieutenant Commander in the Navy working for Yarrow. When Connie’s better she’s as upset to learn that Wedge doesn’t want her as Yarrow is that she doesn’t want him. Donovan and Yarrow then ship off to another Pacific island to build and secure a runway with a fuel depot. Unfortunately his men make easy targets for the (smiling) Japanese snipers that still infest the “jungle”. Naturally this leads Donovan who had changed and learned to perform within the Navy’s system to ignore Yarrow’s orders once again and nearly cause the depot to fall into the now invading enemies’ hands. But like the cavalry Donovan and his men who had been hunting the snipers return just in time to save the day (tractors & cranes in combat!) causing Wedge to lose his life heroically. After a ceremony honoring the brave Seabees and their successful defense Yarrow and Connie decide that they can be together once again.