In addition to Bataan being one of the finest World War II films ever done, it also marked the final transformation of Robert Taylor from romantic leading man to tough action star. After this one Taylor, NEVER got cast in any powder puff roles.
He’s a tough, believable army sergeant who’s in command of a squad that’s been cobbled together from remnants of other squads and given a suicide rear guard mission to hold off the Japanese from taking and crossing a key bridge. Some of the other men of his squad are Lloyd Nolan, Thomas Mitchell, Robert Walker, Barry Nelson, Desi Arnaz. There’s an army pilot with a plane to be repaired played by George Murphy and when Captain Lee Bowman is killed Taylor is in command.
So they hold the Japanese off, the Battle of Bataan in microcosm, hoping for aid that never came because the United States had no aid to give at that point. In the tradition of The Alamo, they all go down, one at a time.
Of the cast I’d single out Lloyd Nolan and Desi Arnaz. Nolan is another army veteran, a hardbitten hardcase almost a mirror image of Taylor. Their scenes have some real bite to them. But Lloyd Nolan was never bad in anything he ever did.
Desi Arnaz is quite a revelation. His accent is pretty thick, he never got to be a Latin Lover leading man like Fernando Lamas or Ricardo Montalban did. In fact that accent was part of his whole shtick with his wife later on in I Love Lucy. But Arnaz shows her he was capable of being far more than the patient but sometimes exasperated Ricky Ricardo. Too bad he never got more opportunities like Bataan.
No derring do heroics in Bataan. These are ordinary people of the greatest generation doing a job that had to be done.