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Film / Sands of Iwo Jima

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A 1949 war film directed by Allan Dwan that follows a United States Marine Corps rifle squad, led by Sgt. Stryker (John Wayne), through training and execution of two amphibious invasions in the Pacific theater of World War II: Tarawa and Iwo Jima.

The movie stars John Agar, Adele Mara, Forrest Tucker, Wally Cassell, James Brown, and Richard Webb.

It was released on December 28, 1949.

Compare Flags of Our Fathers,Letters from Iwo Jima, the mid-2000s films depicting the same battle from both sides, and The Pacific, the 2010 miniseries which depicts this battle during its eighth episode.

Tropes for the film

  • Artistic License – Military: Marine Corps sergeants do not strike or physically abuse their men, as Stryker does with Pvt. Choynski and later with Pfc. Thomas. US Marine Corps regulations specifically forbid noncommissioned officers from striking an enlisted man.
  • Bloodless Carnage: As you would expect in a 1940s-era movie, there's very little blood even when soldiers get hit by machine-gun fire or stabbed with bayonets.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Stryker is unceremoniously killed during the Battle of Iwo Jima, with the other Marines briefly mourning his loss. However, the Battle of Iwo Jima itself, and by extension, the War in the Pacific, will inevitably be won by the Americans, with the Iwo Jima flag raising establishing this.
  • Character Catchphrase: During training, Sgt. Stryker always shouts "Saddle up!" when it's time for the squad to move out.
  • Court-martialed: Implied in Stryker's backstory: he was a Sergeant Major when Thomas knew him before, but by the time of the movie he's only a plain Sergeant, which is a much lower rank. It's strongly implied that he was busted by a court-martial for heavy drinking.
  • Cut Himself Shaving: Two marines explain away their fighting as being hand-to-hand combat training.
  • Downer Ending: A rare example of such in a war film of that vintage. Sergeant Stryker dies an essentially meaningless death, shot by a Japanese sniper. He never gets to reconcile with his ex-wife, or meet his son and tell the boy all the things he wanted to say but never could.
  • Elites Are More Glamorous: even in WW2, the Marines were perceived as elite forces, a cut above the Army.
  • The '40s: Takes place during World War II in the Pacific Theatre.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Decisively averted. Like so many other deaths in war, Stryker's is meaningless. He doesn't die doing anything heroic; he's hit by a Japanese sniper while he and his squad are taking a momentary rest.
  • Iwo Jima Pose: The iconic flag raising features prominently on the movie's poster and is reenacted at the end of the film. Notably, the Marines of Stryker's squad don't raise the flag themselves; they are, however, close enough to witness the event.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Sgt. Stryker. When one of his trainees, Pvt Choynski, can't get the hang of the bayonet course, Stryker finds an unorthodox way to teach him, rather than bouncing the man out of his squad. Later, Stryker gives a substantial amount of money (it's implied that it's his entire bankroll, equaling several months' pay) to a bargirl, to help her buy food for her infant son.
  • Jungle Warfare: A notable aversion, despite being set in the Pacific Theater. Tarawa is too small of an island to have thick jungle, and all of Iwo Jima's vegetation has been burned down thanks to months of Allied air attacks and naval bombardment.
  • Right Behind Me: Just as Conway is snarking about Stryker's leadership skills, Stryker enters the tent behind him.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Conway tries to do this to rescue the wounded Corporal Bass on Tarawa, but Stryker stops him at gunpoint.
  • Semper Fi: The main characters are the members of a USMC rifle squad. The film was made with Marine Corps support, and is generally one of the most favorable portrayals of the Marine Corps ever put on film.
  • Sergeant Rock: John Stryker, as played by John Wayne.
  • Single Mom Stripper: Sgt. Stryker (Wayne) is disgusted by the bargirl he meets while on leave — until he finds out she has a baby. (It's implied she's in the business to support her son.) Stryker dandles the boy for a while, gives the woman money (implied to be his whole accumulated pay, or a significant fraction of it), and leaves.
  • Stock Footage: Several of the battle scenes on both Tarawa and Iwo Jima are interspersed with actual combat footage taken During the War. The most notable of these are the launching of carrier-based aircraft off the flight decks of American aircraft carriers, and of course the Iwo Jima Pose at the end, which is the actual event depicted in the famous photo.
  • Storming the Beaches: Both the landings at Tarawa and later Iwo Jima are shown in full detail, with the US Marines having to fight their way onto and off the beaches while under intense Japanese gunfire.
  • War Is Hell: very definitely, especially given that a lot of the battle scenes are genuine combat footage.
  • Wartime Wedding: Pfc. Conway falls in love with, and marries, a Hawaiian girl.