Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 27, 2019)
While I was well aware of Frank Sinatra’s career as a film actor, not until 1965’s None But the Brave landed on my door did I realize he’d ever done more than that. For Brave, not only did Sinatra star in the flick, but also he took on the directorial reins for the first time in his career.
And the last time, too, as Sinatra never stepped behind the camera again. I don’t know why Old Blue Eyes didn’t direct another film, but that aspect of Brave makes it an interesting curiosity, if nothing else.
Set during World War II, the film takes us to an unnamed, useless island in the Solomon Archipelago. The Japanese put a platoon there to “defend” it, but now they’re essentially forgotten and stranded there. To rectify their plight, they plan to build a boat and escape.
In the midst of this, a US Marine transport plane gets shot down and crashes on the tiny island. Initially they believe the island contains no inhabitants, but they soon find evidence that Japanese soldiers reside there. This leads to a contest for authority between flight officer Captain Bourke (Clint Walker) and platoon leader 2nd Lt. Blair (Tommy Sands).
While those Americans butt heads, the two sides of the war also battle each other. Many of their efforts deal with control of the boat built by the Japanese.
The Americans see it as their best way to get off the island, so they pursue it as well. We follow the various conflicts as well as the unusual way Chief Pharmacist Mate Maloney (Sinatra) becomes involved after negotiations with Japanese Lt. Kuroki (Tatsuya Mihashi)
It’s astounding to watch Brave and think that WWII ended only 20 years earlier. That’s not a vast period of time, but the difference in the 1945 treatment of Japanese and the 1965 viewpoint seems enormous.
In 1945, Japanese were portrayed as vicious, buck-toothed sub-humans. No one at that time would be able to envision an approach to them that took a much more sympathetic touch a mere 20 years hence.
The recognition of the ways attitudes change over time becomes one of the few genuinely interesting aspects of Brave. As a singer, Sinatra was a legend. As an actor, he was quite good. As a director? Ehh.
At least that’s the impression I derive from the generally dull Brave, and the film’s main problem stems from the way Sinatra tells its tale. Brave boasts a pretty intriguing concept in the way it depicts the relationships between the warring soldiers, but it never does much to invest in the personalities beyond a superficial level.
This becomes more obvious when the flick tries harder to develop its themes. We know little about Kiroki and Bourke – the main protagonists – but suddenly the film pulls flashbacks out of its pocket.
Obviously these occur in an attempt at greater depth, but they don’t work. They feel like tardy bits of exposition that do more to call attention to the movie’s problems than they do to solve them.
At least Mihashi and Walker attempt to provide believable personalities for their characters. Sinatra seems like he’s on cruise control as the boozy Maloney, so his performance would feel more at home in a Rat Pack flick than it does here.
Sands offers the worst work of the bunch, though. As the gung ho Lt. Blair, he plays the part straight out of Gomer Pyle.
Sands’ Blair is ridiculously cartoony, and his scenes suffer due to his choices. Honestly, Sands looks so silly that his performance could easily be seen as the inspiration for Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump.
The “Japs are people, too!” theme remains arguably the most interesting aspect of Brave, though Sinatra tries too hard to make the result a 1960s-style plea for peace. The flick ends with the tagline “nobody ever wins”, a message that seems weird for a story about WWII.
Granted, the battles that occur in the film are meaningless, and I sure won’t contend that war is a good thing. But are we supposed to leave with the thought that WWII was a pointless battle?
I’m not quite sure what Sinatra wants us to take from the message of Brave beyond simplistic “all men are brothers” ideas and the view that war sucks. Okay… and? Brave isn’t a bad film, but it’s one that meanders too much and lacks the drive to become involving.