Original release date 1962
Directed by Samuel Fuller
Written by Milton Sperling
& Samuel Fuller
Jeff Chandler as General Merrill
Ty Hardin as Lt. Lee Stockton
Peter Brown as Bullseye Wheeler
Andrew Duggan as Dr. Kolodny
Will Hutchins as Chowhound
Claude Akins as Sgt. Kolowicz
Luz Valdez as Burmese Girl
John Hoyt as Gen. Stilwell
Charlie Briggs as Muley
Chuck Hicks as Corp. Doskis
Vaughn Wilson as Bannister
Pancho Magolona as Taggy
This was a typical Warner's production. Most of the principle actors, other than Jeff Chandler, were Warner's contract players. They were paid sweat wages for what promised to be a real sweat war epic filmed in hardship locations in the Philippines.
Merrill's Marauders tells a compelling tale of sheer endurance during one of the toughest campaigns of World War II. The Marauders were a provisional composite unit sent to Burma, which included Yanks, Scots, Brits, Irish, Aussies, Sikhs and New Zealanders.
The Marauders' first assignment is to take the main Japanese supply base at Walawbum. Peter is the first actor we see alone on screen when Bullseye takes point for the advance platoon in what was called "the cruelest jungle on earth." As we first see him, Bullseye is a confident, cocky sharpshooter who reminds us a little of Chad Cooper, the character Peter would play a few years later in Laredo. Merrill is a few miles behind leading the main force across the river.
He orders Stock to take out a gun nest that is bombarding his men. Bullseye takes out the officer and the platoon takes out the guns. The men are then forced to make a fast paced twenty mile march to beat a Japanese battalion to Walawbum. Stock's platoon is again sent ahead, this time to get behind the supply depot as the main force hits it from the other side. Stock and the General have a relationship that goes back to when Stock was a sergeant and Merrill was a Major. When Stock questions the doctor about Merrill's health, we get the impression all is not well with the general.
As Stock leads his platoon to their goal behind Walawbum, the sergeant reminds him that his new bars means he's top man in the platoon, so he shouldn't be walking point. Stock puts Bullseye at point.
At the synchronized time, Stock has Bullseye take out the supply depot tower guard.
After a fierce battle, the men rest and start wondering when they'll be going home. They've been promised as much. The Burma campaign is not their first. They're veterans of other major jungle battles such as Guadalcanal. Bullseye dreams of a girl back home. When he jolts awake, he angrily tells Chowhound "you stay away from my girl."
Kolowicz thinks they'll be relieved by the British. So when Bullseye sees Stock talking to Merrill, he rushes over to ask when they're going home. All he gets for his trouble is the Sarge reminding him to address Stock, as "Lieutenant."
The British troops arrive and inform Merrill's men they're on their way to Mitchina. The Marauders feel bad for the Brits who have a 500 mile trek and a good chunk of the Japanese Imperial Army in front of them. They soon learn, however, that they're not going home afterall. Merrill tries to argue that his men are fatigued and sick, but Gen. Stillwell orders them to Mitchina as well, with a stop at Shaduzup to take the railhead on the way.
Merrill decides not to tell the men about Mitchina until after they take the railroad out of commission. He tells Stock they'll be taking Shaduzup where the Japanese will be expecting them. So they'll go the hard way, through the swamp. Men drop like flies from sickness in the swamp. They run low on food and water. They burn off leeches with lit cigarettes. The men are snapping at each other.
Morale improves when they finally get word of a supply drop, but Merrill orders them to vacate the area before it arrives. Knowing the parachutes will attract the enemy, he says he would rather see them hungry than dead.
After taking the railhead, the men drop exhausted and hungry. Except for Stock who has time to rescue a native girl. The natives come out of hiding and bring food. Stillwell indicates to Merrill that the taking of Mitchina is essential to the war effort, but he asks the question, "Can you do it?" The doctor urges Merrill to decline because the men have nothing left, but Merrill pushes to go on.
An interchange between Bullseye and Stock exposes the depth of the men's total mental and physical exhaustion. Stock starts giving the men assignments. He tells Bullseye to pick up eight cases of ammo for the platoon. Bullseye asks in a despairing voice what Merrill has volunteered them for now. He says, "Dammit, I'm not fighting anybody." He leaps up says he's through taking orders from "that butcher" (meaning Merrill). Stock punches him. After Bullseye apologizes, Stock helps him up. Bullseye's outburst confirms the doctor's earlier assessment that the men are coming apart. The Sarge expresses the hope that Merrill doesn't plan to send "what's left of us" anywhere else.
But of course, he does. When Stock protests and tries to resign his commission, Merrill rejects the resignation. The men then set on a fearsome trek through horrible terrain. The footing is so treacherous, a misstep can and does send men to their deaths. When Eleanor the mule collapses under her heavy load, Muley stops them from shooting her by taking on her pack himself. At the top of a steep mountainous trail, Muley collapses and dies. To give Merrill credit, he takes every step the men do. The audience knows what the men don't, that Merrill had a heart attack prior to the Burma campaign and is now suffering early symptoms of another one.
Night-time is a psychological nightmare. With constant bombing and the enemy silently sneaking toward them in the dark, Bullseye, a courageous man with absolutely no reserve of strength to keep his courage alive, falls apart. The Sarge saves him from being taken out by a Japanese soldier.
The next morning's battle is worse. They are badly outnumbered but somehow manage to hold the Japanese back. But the losses are horrendous. In he end, Merrill must get the men moving toward Mitchina. He is unsuccessful in getting anyone to move. He then collapses with a heart attack. Stock orders them on their feet.
A voice-over says that Merrill's men do the impossible. They take Mitchina, but out of the 3000 volunteers who started in the provisional unit, less than 100 remained. The composite picture on screen when the movie ends isn't clear but it shows us that Bullseye survived Mitchina.
NiteOwl Review: We have to be careful about reviewing Peter in this movie because this site has a gush filter and we wouldn't want to set off the alarm. But everyone agreed this was an exceptional part for him. Not all of us like war movies the way we like westerns (the split isn't by gender) but watching Peter taking his character from the cocky, self-assured sharpshooter to an exhausted, soldier on the edge of hysteria made us appreciate this particular movie. In effect, Bullseye Wheeler was the barometer for the condition of the troops. As he deteriorated, so did everyone else.
Cast Notes: When someone mentioned to Peter that Ty Hardin gave a pretty "one-note, brave, concerned officer performance," he told us that the part was written that way. Hence, it wasn't Ty's fault. Will Hutchins noted that true to Warners then parsimonious practice, when his character was killed midway through the film, his paycheck stopped.
A movie tie-in comic book
Jeff Chandler injured his back while the cast played baseball with U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers who served as extras in the movie. According to Peter, Chandler, who had a pre-existing back problem, was in a great deal of pain.
During Chandler's back surgery after returning home, an artery was damaged causing massive hemorrhaging. Two more surgeries followed during which he received enormous amounts of blood. Chandler died June 17, 1961 at the age of 42, nine months before Merrill's Marauders was released. The official cause of death was blood poisioning due to malpractice. After a lawsuit, Chandler's children were awarded a large settlement.
At that point, Chandler had already completed all scenes involving close-ups and dialogue, so he could have gone home for treatment without compromising the film. All that was left was trudging through jungles and swamps with a full pack, things that could have been done in long shot with a double. However, the director allegedly insisted that Chandler remain there. So Chandler worked all day in agony and spent the night in traction until filming wrapped.
Official Peter Brown Fan Site