The Pied Piper of Saipan - Movie Reviews

By Scott Parrino 15 Jul 2008 0

The salient fact is clear: Marine PFC Guy ?Gabby? Gabaldon talked between 1,500 and 2,000 Japanese civilians and soldiers into surrendering on Saipan in 1944.The question is: how did so many Japanese, who preferred death to surrender everywhere else in the Pacific, throw down their arms and hold up their hands to one man. Two movies depict his exploits. Hell to Eternity, made in 1960, and East L.A. Marine: The Untold True Story of Guy Gabaldon, a documentary put together in 2005. Do either one of these very different films yield insight into the primary question?


Hollywood Glitz

In Hell to Eternity, a meaningless title riding the popularity of From Here to Eternity and To Hell and Back, Gabaldon appears in 1935 as a WASPish-looking ?Angel with a Dirty Face? taken in by a middle-class Japanese family that includes a young George Takai. He learns the Japanese language and culture while teaching the parents some English. After Pearl Harbor, the family was interned and a bitter Gabby, morphed into a definitely tall WASP Jeffery Hunter, refused to volunteer. He was drafted but was rejected because of a punctured eardrum. After a while, the USMC took him because of his Japanese language skills. Bootcamp had mandatory male bonding with a tough DI, played by David Jansen. While waiting in Honolulu, Gabby got lucky in an over-long scene that would nave been rated ?R? today. Then, off to Saipan.

The big battle scenes on Saipan are pure schlock: Marines using Pershing tanks, the Japanese using American 105 mm howitzers, grenades have the power of 80 mm mortar rounds, daylight Banzai charges across open ground to be met by Marines leaving their automatic weapons and a good defensive position to countercharge without bayonets. After recovering from the obligatory ?You?re scared, I?m scared, we?re all scared? scene on the beachhead, Gabaldon proves to be a fighter.

The scenes of small patrols rooting the enemy out of caves are better. One of these, eerily reminiscent of the famous photo of the napalmed little girl in Vietnam, has a wounded Japanese child coming out of a grenaded cave. Gabby sees her, is touched and talks the rest of the people in the cave to come out. His captain encourages him to do more of this and, for a few days, Gabby gets many civilians and emaciated, leaderless soldiers to surrender. However, he is struck by the ?They got Joe!? syndrome when his best buddy is slaughtered with a sword. He goes out on lone forays and mercilessly kills any Japanese. A sharp talk from his captain, a letter from ?Mama-san? and seeing Japanese civilians jump from a cliff into the sea may have calmed him down but he has one last miracle in him: he captures the Japanese commanding general single-handedly.  After a long discourse on morality and honor, Gabby convinces the general to order his troops to give up. The general then commits seppiku like this movie?s director should have. The film ends with Gabaldon leading an endless column of prisoners back ala Sgt. York.

Hell to Eternity?s absurd ending destroys any credibility it may have had. Overlooking the combat gaffs, none of the Japanese dialogue is subtitled to we don?t know what Gabaldon actually said to get Japanese troops to give up. We also come away with an ambiguous feeling about Gabaldon. Can a man go from saint to homicidal maniac back to saint so quickly? The movie was supposed to be entertainment, but a movie based on a real, living individual should make sense. This flick seems like a Grade B movie with stars who were on the way up. Justice is not done to Gabaldon.



Log in to join the discussion.

Related Posts from Wargamer