I well remember PT 109 coming out in movie theaters during the summerof 1963. It was still playing in the hinterlands when the events ofNovember 22, of that year occurred.Probably Cliff Robertson wisely decided not to try for a Boston accentin his portrayal of the 35th president of the United States during hisWorld War II years. If he had he might have come off as imitatingVaughn Meader imitating John F. Kennedy. As it is the only concessionhe made to the role was a bit of reddish tint in his hair to suggestthe man he was playing. It worked rather well and still works today.Ironically though had their been other U.S. Navy craft near the PT 109when the Japanese battleship Amagiri sliced it like a loaf of bread inthe middle of the night who could have picked up survivors, Lieutenantj.g. John F. Kennedy probably would have been facing a court martialfor losing his boat that way. It was the only PT boat in World War IIlost to the Japanese in that manner.But the story is not about that as it was the survival of all, but twoof his crew who were killed in the collision. It's about LieutenantKennedy towing an injured man while swimming for a deserted Pacificisland and keeping his men alive until they could be rescued. The Navywas not about to court martial a hero.Warner Brothers filled out the rest of the cast with some tried andtrue players, some like Ty Hardin and Grant Williams from theirtelevision series which was rapidly taking over the Warner Brotherslot. Particularly I liked James Gregory as the career naval officer incharge of the PT squadron and Michael Pate as Australian coast watcherReg Evans. This is one of the few American made films where MichaelPate plays someone from his own country.I remember on Jack Paar's Friday night variety show he devoted anentire hour to one long commercial for this film. He reunited all ofthe surviving PT 109 survivors with Australian coast watcher Reg Evanswho had a big hand in rescuing them. Evans had met Kennedy of course,but had never met the rest of the crew. The whole living crew was thereexcept the skipper who was in the White House and who could know he'dbe the next one to die.If JFK had lived and been running for re-election in 1964 what a greatpiece of election propaganda PT 109 would have been. The story also hada lot to do with his successful campaign in 1960. Kennedy was runningunder the cloud of his father Joseph P. Kennedy being a supporter ofappeasement back in the day. This story and the death of his olderbrother Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. in combat in the European theaterblunted a lot of the criticism of the actions of his father.PT 109 is a nicely done war film and a great piece of nostalgia for theKennedy years.
Since movies based on true life stories often are less than memorable, myexpectations here were minimal. However, after viewing this film(finally!),I was very impressed. This story is very well done, with minimal obviousHollywood embellishments. (No, I've not read the underlying book, of thesame title, but now I'd like to.)In the big scheme of World War II, the events depicted here would have beenforgotten except that the central heroic figure, John F. Kennedy, wouldlater become U.S. President. For those of us who lived through the Kennedyyears, this portrait of JFK in his 20's is quite consistent with the JFK welater saw when he became nationally prominent and subsequently president.(If "Private Ryan" deserves a movie, then JFK and his shipmates are surelyno less entitled.)The story begins when JFK arrives in the Pacific and is given command of aPT ("Patrol Torpedo") boat. PT boats were fast wooden craft with a crew of12 and carried four torpedos and some small-bore guns, capable of quicklygetting in and out while operating in shallow waters and doing various oddjobs on short notice. Without a lucky torpedo shot, any one boat was notgoing to be noticed by history.PT 109 operated into an area of Pacific waters and small islands mainlycontrolled by the Japanese. One of Kennedy's first missions was to providecovering fire onto shore and extricate some stranded Americans. The boatremained under enemy fire until the rescue was complete, notwithstandingcasualties both to crew and those rescued.On PT 109's final mission, during darkness and limited visibility (radarwasnot yet on most PT boats), a Japanese destroyer, perhaps unwittingly,slicesthrough PT 109, half of which sinks while the other half capsizes, but notbefore JFK and surviving crew members make an arduous swim to shore, takingalong their wounded---and shoes. Aerial reconnaissance later sights thewreckage and reports "no survivors."How the PT 109 crew is finally saved results partly from good luck andpartly from daring, ingenuity, exhausting swims, and a refusal to give up.Yes, this is also a feel-good movie!(The movie also acknowledges the part played and risks taken by "coastwatchers," isolated individuals who infiltrated islands inJapanese-controlled areas, maintained lookouts from high ground, andradioedback critical information on enemy movements.)
I first saw this film during it's initial theatrical release and haveseen it several times since. This a good movie but at 2 hours and 20minutes it runs a little long. This could have been made more conciseand more adventurous and should have come in at 90 minutes and it wouldhave been a better movie. Director Leslie Martinson only made ninemostly forgettable films in his long directorial career that was mostlyin television. This was his best film. He was a much sought aftertelevision director and directed some of the most popular televisionseries from the early 50's through the mid 80's. This was the last filmin the long career of producer Bryan Foy. Foy was a producer anddirector from the 1920's and began producing full-time in the 1930'sspecializing in mainly B-movies. A great cinematographer here in RobertSurtees who had photographed Ben Hur, Oklahoma, quo Vidas and would goon to photograph The Graduate, The Summer of 42, The Last Picture Showand The Sting among his many films. A good editor on this film too inFolmar Blangsted who edited Rio Bravo and The Court Martial of BillyMitchell and would go on to edit The Summer of 42 and ironicallyCamelot among his many films. This is the story of the naval career offuture US President John F. Kennedy as a lieutenant in WWII. This isadapted from the best selling book PT 109 John F. Kennedy in WWII whichwas inspired by a 1944 article in the New Yorker magazine calledSurvival by John Hersey. The PT 109 story of the patrol boat in theSouth Pacific captained by Lt. John F. Kennedy that was cut in half ina collision with a Japanese destroyer was a big part of the Kennedystory. During his 1961 Inagural parade a full size replica float of theboat was featured in the parade route with all of the original crewmembers on the float as a surprise to the new president. He kept thecoconut shell that he had written a message on encased in class in hisOval Office along with a model replica of a PT boat. Warren Beattyapparently was Kennedy's first choice to portray him in this film whichwould have made sense as when this was filmed in the summer of 1962 inthe Florida Keys, Beatty was 25 years old, exactly the same age asKennedy was in 1943 when the film's setting takes place. Beattyreportedly turned down the role and Kennedy's second choice was CliffRobertson who at 36 years old when production was done on this film wasa full 10 years older and quite a few pounds heavier than Kennedy wasin 1943. Also in the cast are Robert Culp, Norman Fell, James Gregory,Ty Hardin and Robert Blake. Look for future Star Trekker George Takeion the Japaneses destroyer. Character actor Andrew Duggan narrates.This film has more of a look and feel of a made-for television moviebut it's definitely worth a watch. I would give it a 7.0 out of 10.
I remember seeing this movie in the sixties, and have seen it severaltimes over the years. It is entertaining, and very positive in it'sportrayal of a young JFK. It is more of a love letter to JFK fromHollywood than a authentic retelling of history, however. This was donewhen the United States was in the midst of a romance with the new"Camelot", and accordingly much artistic license was taken at theexpense of a authentic and unbiased depiction of the episode. Perhapsthe film was meant to capture more of the spirit of the time than toportray strictly the hard facts of the event. In any case, it is stillan enjoyable movie and is worth watching.
This movie has some great characters, some nice action, humor, and isreally enjoyable to watch. The fact that it's based on real lifeincidents from JFK's time in the Navy makes it that much better. Thereare some nice touches that show that the boat wasn't the best in thefleet and JFK wasn't shown as a Superman. One of my favorite movielines is from this movie. The boat has been sunk, several men are hurtand JFK gives a little speech to try to raise everyone's spirits andconcludes his positive spin by saying the "odds are with us". RobertCulp very irritated says "We are trapped behind enemy lines, no food,no medical supplies, no one knows where we are, Japanese patrols areall around us, how can you stand there and say the odds are with us??"JFK says "I guess it's a character flaw".The 60s and 70s would have been so much better for everyone if JFK had8 years in the White House.