Film & TV

Rewind, Review, and Re-Rate: ‘A Walk in the Sun’: A Thought-Provoking World War II Drama

TIMEDecember 3, 2021

Not Rated | 1h 57min | Drama, War | 1945

Many World War II films from the 1940s and ’50s—at least those set in the overseas theaters of war—follow a pattern: focusing on external events with little insight into what the main characters are thinking and feeling. With his “Walk in the Sun,” director Lewis Milestone (“All Quiet on the Western Front,” “Of Mice and Men”) offers up a different kind of war movie.

Released in 1945, just after World War II ended, the focus is on one of the many U.S. Army platoons charged with the initial amphibious assault on Italy (the 1943 Allied Invasion of Italy).

The opening scenes include an unusual tapestry of filmmaking styles. It begins with each of the platoon’s main characters being introduced via turning pages of a storybook, with brief descriptions of them delivered through excellent narration supplied by Burgess Meredith.

platoon discussing strategy during WWII
The platoon discusses strategy, in “A Walk in the Sun.” (20th Century Fox)

Next, we’re thrust with the platoon into a Higgins boat (the iconic landing craft seen at the beginning of “Saving Private Ryan”) as the men approach the Salerno beach in the early morning darkness.

The men engage in all kinds of banter—the type you’d expect from men of differing slices of American life. Some talk about being back home, while others wonder what will happen once they hit the beaches. Still others distance themselves from the possibility of death by discussing where on their bodies they’d prefer to get hit by enemy fire in order to receive a Purple Heart.

This realistic dialogue is at odds with the spontaneous, jarring interjections of baritone ballads, as well as the unusual stillness of the boat ride through supposedly choppy seas.

The beach landing itself is rather uneventful and, as the men dig in to await further orders, they banter back and forth some more. This time, however, much of their talk and other interactions give us insights into not only the wishes, fears, dreams, and idiosyncrasies of each of the characters but also hints as to their morale and place in the overall pecking order.

For example, since their young lieutenant got part of his face blown off by an enemy shell back on their Higgins boat, a senior NCO named Sgt. Eddie Porter (Herbert Rudley) is tasked with leading the beach assault. However, although he acts confidently in front of the men, he frequently pulls the quietly cool, calm, and collected Sgt. Bill Tyne (Dana Andrews) to the side in order to ask for advice.

Dana Andrews as Sgt. Bill Tyne
Sgt. Bill Tyne (Dana Andrews), in “A Walk in the Sun.” (20th Century Fox)

As the men remain under cover on the beach, they try to anticipate where enemy counterattacks will come from—mainly in the form of lightning-fast air-to-ground strafing runs by enemy planes, bombings, or blistering torrents of bullets by dug-in machine gun nests.

As the platoon makes its way off of the beach, some of the characters meet their ends during the various threats arrayed against them.

The men move inland in order to carry out their next objective, which is to assault and occupy a German-held farmhouse on the fringes of Salerno, and the tension steadily ratchets up. Due to the sense of inevitable combat, the first cracks appear in Sgt. Porter’s sanity. Will he be able to conquer his fears and lead his men to accomplish their objective?

What Would I Do?

As a military veteran myself, I really enjoyed the realistic banter among the men, which ranged from making fun of each other to waxing philosophical, as well as opening up about their trepidations. The film paints these soldiers with multidimensional brushes, as opposed to a one-size-fits-all approach. This greatly humanizes the men and gives the film some unique what-would-I-do- in-their-shoes moments.

young Lloyd Brides in A Walk in the Sun
A young Lloyd Bridges as Sgt. Ward, in “A Walk in the Sun.” (20th Century Fox)

The ensemble cast is truly impressive and includes Richard Conte, George Tyne, John Ireland, Lloyd Bridges, Sterling Holloway, Norman Lloyd, and Herbert Rudley. The aforementioned leading man Dana Andrews steals most of the scenes he’s in, even when he’s not talking. He fits his “cool as a cucumber” role perfectly, although he does get some great expository dialogue as well.

Overall, “A Walk in the Sun” is a unique World War II film that is both thought-provoking and compelling to watch from scene to scene. Its interest is maintained more through dialogue than from the barrels of soldiers’ rifles.

‘A Walk in the Sun’
Director: Lewis Milestone
Starring: Dana Andrews, Richard Conte, George Tyne
Not Rated
Running Time: 1 hour, 57 minutes
Release Date: Dec. 3, 1945
Rated: 3.5 stars out of 5

Ian Kane
Ian Kane is an U.S. Army veteran, author, filmmaker, and actor. He is dedicated to the development and production of innovative, thought-provoking, character-driven films and books of the highest quality. You can check out his health blog at IanKaneHealthNut.com