“Yeah, it gets embarrassing being called a heroine all the time.”
“What is a heroine, anyway?”
“I don’t know. Somebody who is still alive, I guess.”
Our common knowledge about World War II is always about the men who fought for our nations. Yes, the men were the ones on the battle front fighting the enemy, but what about the women who fought the war in any way they could? Did you know that there were women’s auxiliary groups set up in countries such as the United States and Great Britain? These auxiliary groups included the WAVES, WACs, WRENS, and nurses both in the air and on the ground. These are only the groups I know off the top of my head there were a lot more. They also served in a way by working in factories producing materials for the War.
Since our common knowledge of WWII lacks in women’s roles during the period due to not promoting or bringing forth their stories, there have not been many films made focusing on women who served. One film that does tell a story of army nurses (in a melodramatic way) is So Proudly We Hail! from 1943.
The story begins with the rescue of eight nurses. They had been held captive by the Japanese and were able to get away. The plane carrying them has landed in Australia. From there they will board a cruiser back home to America. Among the nurses are two lieutenants Janet “Davy” Davidson (Claudette Colbert) and Joan O’Doul (Paulette Goddard). Joan tells the male officers that as soon as Davy got on the plane she collapsed and has been unresponsive since. On the cruiser the doctor on board comes to speak the nurses. A letter has come for Davy signed by a man John. He wants the nurses to tell him who this John person is to see if he and the letter are something that can help Davy come out of her comatose state.
The story begins before World War II has started for America. Davy, Joan, and other nurses are at a dock waiting to board their cruiser for service. Most of the girls say goodbye to their parents while Joan, on the other hand, says goodbye to two men she has promised to marry because she has a problem saying no! Before they get on the cruiser, Joan is charmed by a bumbling soldier she simply and affectionately calls Kansas.
While on the cruiser word comes that Pearl Harbor has been attacked by the Japanese and the entire ship is being rerouted to the Pacific. They are escorted by a convoy but one of the ships in the convoys is attacked. Some soldiers and nurses from the sunken ship including Lt. John Summers (George Reeves) and Lt. Olivia D’Arcy (Veronica Lake). Almost as soon as she comes aboard ship Olivia is not well liked by the other nurses. She keeps to herself, she is rude, and very angry. No one wants to be roommates with Olivia so Davy makes Joan be roommates with her. While getting ready for a Christmas party one of the nurses pulls out a necklace from a back she thought was Joan’s bag. Joan figures Olivia will not mind but Olivia does mind. The two women wind up getting into a drag out fight until Davy comes in to break it up. Janet decides to stay in the room with Olivia. She gets Olivia to come out with her story; her fiancé was killed at Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. She watched him trying to run to his plane when he was shot six times. When she got to him his face was covered in blood and he was dead. She vehemently hates the Japanese and swears to kill any one of them she comes across.
Davy becomes close with John. They started flirting when he was being taken of, after the sinking. At first their flirtation is nothing but by the end of the Christmas party it becomes a little more.
The ship is rerouted from their original destination to Bataan. For a while nothing major happens and the nurses settle into the routine of helping with surgeries and taking care of the wounded as they come in. Davy and John become very close in Bataan. They even spend the night together in a fox hole. After all the quiet the Japanese have decided to fight back in full force. Their camp is ordered evacuated and to be destroyed. That night after all the soldiers were evacuated the nurses and their soldier escorts are the only ones left. Joan realizes she has left something in her bunk and runs back to get. The Japanese have them and the camp surrounded. The enemy kills the soldiers. Olivia still wants to go through with her plan to kill whatever Japanese soldiers she can. She takes a grenade and walks over to the soldiers to create a distraction. Olivia sacrifices herself so the others can get away.
The group of nurses and soldiers make their way to another camp/hospital in the middle of the jungle where they work nonstop. Joan works herself to exhaustion. She does it partly because they are short nurses and partly because she feels guilty about Olivia. Again the camp/hospital is attacked by the Japanese and they are all ordered to evacuate. The Japanese again attack the camp/hospital and the soldiers there, including John, try to defend the camp/hospital as much as they can. John is wounded and cannot move around by himself. Throughout all the moving bases and fighting, Kansas and Joan have also become very close. Kansas wants to stay behind and fight with the other soldiers he does not want to go with Joan. To make him go Joan knocks him out and gets him onto a small boat.
All the evacuees are ordered to Corregidor. Corregidor proves to be the worst of the bases the nurses and soldiers have been stationed. Back up never arrives for either soldiers or nurses which means no supplies that they desperately need. By this time Davy and John are madly in love and want to get married. They have a chaplain marry them. The day after their nuptials John has to go out with some other soldiers to see if they can get to the other side of the island to make communication with other troops. The nurses are given official orders to be evacuated off the island and they cannot tell anyone. Joan is beside herself she does not want to leave Kansas. Davy refuses over and over to go she cannot leave without seeing John. The head of the nurses tells Davy that John and the other men have been considered missing in action since no one has heard from them in days.
Back on the cruiser, the doctor now knows who John is and decides to read the letter to Davy. Of course Davy comes out of her comatose state once she hears what he has written and imagines his voice saying the words.
The cast was excellent. Janet “Davy” Davidson may just be one of my favorite performances by Claudette Colbert. She was fantastic. You can feel all of Davy’s love and sadness and bravery in every scene and it is all because of Colbert’s wonderful acting. Paulette Goddard can never do anything wrong in a film. I adore her so much. I think her performance as Joan O’Doul was one of her best as well because you really get to see the variety in her acting skills. Goddard was her usual feisty self but she also brought in some great drama. Veronica Lake is given top billing along with Colbert and Goddard but she is barely in it. I would say the whole of her screen time in this film is maybe like twenty minutes. It was nice not seeing Lake as a femme fatale. Sunny Tufts as Kansas was adorable. I LOVED him and Goddard together. Their characters had such a great relationship. This is the first time I have ever really seen George Reeves in anything. I know he is most famous for playing Superman in the 1950s and that he was a Tarlton twin in Gone with the Wind. I have seen GWTW so many times but he is in a scene with Vivien Leigh and when Vivien Leigh is in a scene you look at nobody else but her! Anyway, I really liked Reeves he did a great job playing John. You can see him what Davy saw in him.
So Proudly We Hail!, while a melodrama of a women’s film, was very good. I enjoyed seeing women during the war be the focus of a major motion picture. I especially liked seeing this because it had been made during the war and not immediately after or decades later. Seeing this makes me wish that someone today would make a film about women’s roles in the different armed forces and on the home front during World War II. (Of course, that is just a dream because Hollywood today sucks when it comes to making pictures about women and all they care about is if it will make money and not the content). For the most part So Proudly We Hail! is interesting, however, there are some scenes that just dragged or were too over melodramatic. Despite the dragged out scenes, So Proudly We Hail! is definitely worth seeing. I can only hope that those who watch this film and may not know be familiar with women’s roles during World War II will become interested in researching that topic. It is fascinating and another side to WWII that should absolutely be more well known.