In Harms Way 1965

John Brosnan in his excellent book,Movie Magic (McDonald and Janes 1974), quotes from an interview Andrew Sarris conducted with the film’s director Otto Preminger in Hollywood voices, where he claims;

“I had originally hired a famous expert for these models. You know, they usually make them with ships about two to three feet long. When I saw the beginning of his work, which was quite expensive, I threw the whole thing away because it didn’t seem to be right. And then I proceeded to build ships. I did it myself after the picture was finished. I decided to direct myself without any specialists, and we built ships that were 35 to 55 feet long so that when we photographed them the detail was very much like on the big ships. And we didn’t shoot any of these miniatures in a tank. We shot the night miniatures on a lake in Mexico, because we needed the straits with mountains in the background. We shot the day battles in the gulf of Mexico. I needed a real horizon, you know, and I think that makes a lot of difference.”

The Director astride one of his miniatures

As John Brosnan points out the “expert” in question and the supervisor credited on the film is Laurence Butler a man of very great experience in the visual effects field in general and in the filming of model ship sequences, having many previous credits to prove it. He would be highly unlikely to be employing ” 2 or 3 foot long models” and this seems somewhat of an exaggeration to make for good copy. An article on TCM attributes John Wayne complaining to the director about the poor quality of the miniatures. Wikipedia mentions that Kirk Douglas was unhappy with the miniature work and offered to get the visual effects people involved with Paths of Glory to do a better job at his expense. This seems a rather odd claim as there is no miniature work (as far as I know) in Paths of Glory at all.

What ever the truth, the fact is that in many films with visual effects there are some scenes that work really well and some that don’t quite meet the mark.

For the most part who ever was responsible for the miniature work in the finished film, did a pretty decent job. The real horizon certainly helps and the miniatures work very well particularly in the day for night scenes when they are mostly silhouettes.

The most outstanding aspect is the sheer number and size of the explosions peppered throughout the miniature ships, there is a real sense of chaos, though sometimes it is hard to follow who is firing and who is getting hit.

The one thing the miniatures lack is a weathering of all the painted surfaces, they all appear too smooth and clean to be convincing. The lack of the slight puckering concavity of the hull plates that you see on full size ships where all the frames, bulkheads and stringers leave their mark on the outer hull surface, is a bit of a giveaway in model ships. Granted that is a very difficult detail to model but it can be simulated with painting the effect of the shading you get across the surface.

Example showing the subtle dimpling of welded steel hull plates revealing the ship's sub structure.

In Harms way was one of the first Hollywood films to have its credit sequence at the end of the picture rather than at the beginning as was the usual practice at the time.

12 thoughts on “In Harms Way 1965

  1. This is one of my all time favorite movies….. Real men having to do tough jobs in service to their country… It was never rated very highly, but in my book it is 5 stars…. We need more men like were portrayed in this film… This film restores faith and pride in America that is lacking today….

  2. Most to the models had no real detail and sat way too high out of the water. The PT boats looked good except the men stationed on the caged machine guns were standing way too high and weren’t inside the cages. The tin can looked good though.

  3. A great movie! Classic for all times. Yes the boats could of had more detail painted onto them…let’s not judge 1965 special effects with the computer generated images of today. Acting by the ensemble cast is outstanding.

  4. In 1965 (when I was a child) I first heard about “IN HARMS WAY”, while on a trip to Springfield, Mo., to visit relatives. It was a radio advertisement, later I saw TV ads, but what really got my attention was Composer Jerry Goldsmith music, it made me stop in my tracks (it was just after breakfast) and I tried to absorb and remember as much of the tunes of the musical score that my brain could asorb. It was also the theme music for KVOO-TV’s 6 O’clock and 10 O’clock News, in my hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma, during 1965-68. I saw the movie and loved it, but wondered why they released the film in black and white, instead of the Technicolor print that it was filmed in and the Super Panavision 70mm widescreen process that was originally used. The film was supposed to be a Roadshow presentation with a 3-5 minute Entre’, Intermission and Exit music. But Paramount got cold feet and decided to release it in b&w and just 35mm Panavision. It was also rumored that the film was originally planned to be projected in Cinerama! Somewhere in the Paramount film vault is all the missing elements to restore it back to it’s original planned Roadshow Presentation. Anyway there were about 20-25 minutes of filmed scenes that were cut out, when the roadshow idea was dropped. Ask Kirk Douglas, he can tell you. I worked in Hollywood and was flying back on the same jet airliner as Mr. Douglas (I believe that the film was “THE CHOSEN” or “HOLOCAUST 2000”) and I was flying in the coach section and Mr. Douglas was flying in first class. I went up to discuss some production problems and he (being the nice gentleman that he is) insisted that I fly in first class with him the rest of the way back to the states. He related the problems that arised in the making of “IN HARM’S WAY”. Both he and John Wayne offered to forfeit their salaries in an effort to persuade the powers that be at Paramount to continue their plans for a Roadshow release. There are musical cues that Mr. Goldsmith composed, that were deleted and never used. BMG Victor, Inc., released about 30:18 minutes of the soundtrack score
    on vinyl LP (RCA Victor Records), unfortunately they left off some 50 minutes of music that was in the film, not to mention all of the music cues for the deleted scenes that were left out! An example is the cue “One Way Ticket” (1:45 minutes). Intrada Special Collection has released the score on CD, but most of it is the same cues as was on the LP release – except they have added three more cues to their release, but none of the battle action cues have been included! When is one of the record companies going to get the idea to release the entire score on CD? And when is Sony/MGM going to search thru their vaults and find the rest of the action music cues to “THE SATAN BUG” (only about 30-35 minutes of the score has been found) and the entire musical score for “HOUR OF THE GUN” is presumed to be lost??? I would gladly shell out a few more bucks to get the restored roadshow version of this 1965 Paramount release. If only film historians could convince Paramount Pictures to do such a restoration. But Mr. Goldsmith said in one of his last interviews that he had a copy of every musical soundtrack score that he ever composed and conducted locked-up in one of Los Angeles’s bank’s safety deposit vaults. I have consulted with many record companies about using Mr. Goldsmith’s private collection to replace his supposedly “lost” studio recordings of these scores and other’s such as the original recording session tapes for “THE SALAMANDER” which was thought lost forever , has now resurfaced in Cinecitta Studio’s music vaults, but they all insist that there is no such private collection duplicates of all his scores. In fact they say that no such interview ever occurred! Perhaps someday all of Mr. Goldsmith’s supposedly “lost” film music scores will be found when the price is right. After all money makes the film & record industries operate! I am a firm believer that the studio’s work under a counter-productive system of guessing and gambling with artistic conception.

    • Fascinating stuff. Thanks for this. I’ve seen In Harm’s Way twice, once at its initial release in theatres, then on DVD.

      Always thought “what could have been,” around the maritime action. Knew there was something “amateur” about much (although not all) the miniature work. I concur with John Wayne and the website author–should have re-inserted better miniature action…the movie would have been TWICE the feature it was.

  5. Aside from some of the obvious mistakes while using some of the real fleet from 1965, they did a decent job of hiding a lot of the post war changes on the ships themselves. One of the more glaring mistakes was using the same sailor calling General Quarters on Torres Cruiser as well as the Cassidy while at Pearl harbor. It was the same southern drawl sailor on the 1MC for both ships….no biggie. Did anyone else pick that up?

  6. This movie turned me into a ship modeler at 10 yrs of age while I was more focused on cars and tanks. I built all the battleships at Pearl and did my own attack reenactment, complete with a bad Wayne impression in my back yard. When I employed real pyrotechnics my mom nearly spoiled the ending. As bad as the miniatures were it was great inspiration as weathering techniques became a staple for me.

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