In Harm's Way is a 1965 epic film starring John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Patricia Neal, Tom Tryon, Paula Prentiss, Brandon De Wilde, Jill Haworth, Burgess Meredith, and Henry Fonda, produced and directed by Otto Preminger, and distributed by Paramount Pictures. The screenplay was written by Wendell Mayes based on the novel by James Bassett. The movie dramatically recounts the lives of several naval officers, their wives or their love interests while based out of Hawaii as the US involvement in World War II begins. The title of the film is taken from a quote from American Revolutionary naval hero John Paul Jones: "I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast, for I intend to go in harm's way."
John Wayne stars as U.S. Navy Captain Rockwell "Rock" Torrey, a divorced "second generation Navy" son of a Chief Petty Officer and an Annapolis graduate career officer, who is removed from command of his cruiser for "throwing away the book" when pursuing the enemy and then being torpedoed by a Japanese submarine shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. After several months of desk duty ashore and recuperation from a broken arm he suffered in the attack on his cruiser, he is promoted to Rear Admiral and given a crucial mission requiring the same sort of guts and gallantry. Though it makes use of the same heroic persona that Wayne displayed in his Westerns, this persona is very much restrained under Otto Preminger's direction. We learn more of the character's human qualities: his estrangement from his son, an Ensign in the Naval Reserve (played by Brandon De Wilde), and his romance with a Navy Nurse Corps Lieutenant (played by Patricia Neal), which brings out his yearning for a stable emotional anchor in his life. The Wayne/Neal relationship forms the emotional crux of the movie, and the two stars give sensitive performances.
There are sub-plots involving characters played by Kirk Douglas and Tom Tryon, who offer differing portraits of two other career naval officers associated with Wayne's command. Douglas portrays Commander, later Captain, Paul Eddington, a wayward sort of career officer who has resigned as a Naval Aviator and returned to the Surface Navy because of an unhappy marriage. Tryon portrays Lieutenant, junior grade, later Lieutenant and Lieutenant Commander William "Mack" McConnell, a conventional type of young officer only a few years removed from the Naval Academy, with a characteristic Navy wife (played by Paula Prentiss) who is ever solicitous and faithful.
The film presents an unglorified and realistic picture of the American Navy and its officers, and its sprawling narrative is typical of Preminger's works in which he examined institutions and the people who run them (such as the American Congress and the Presidency in Advise and Consent, the Catholic Church in The Cardinal and the British Intelligence Service in The Human Factor).
The film was shot in black-and-white by Loyal Griggs, who composed his scenes in the scope format often using deep focus (Griggs was nominated for a Best Cinematographer Academy Award for his work). Jerry Goldsmith's musical score is also notable, as is the work of Saul Bass in the credit titles sequence (this sequence actually comes at the very end of the film, an interesting departure from the norm in a major Hollywood production at the time).
The film received extensive cooperation from the US Navy. This included the use of the in the role of the straw bottom cruiser referred to only as the "old swayback" and an accompanying destroyer, , that took on the role USS Cassiday. Other US Navy ships that participated include destroyers , , USS Philip, , , submarine and attack transport . The climactic battle with the Japanese fleet was staged mostly with model ships. Kirk Douglas thought the special effects poor and complained bitterly to both the director and the studio and offered to restage the scenes at his own expense using the special effects people who worked with him on Paths of Glory.