Sunday, March 1, 2009

Luck of the Irish

Since St. Patrick's Day is this month, I should offer up at least a few Irish-themed posts, right? Well, here's one for you: a little-known, overlooked b&w film that uses "luck of the Irish" as a catchphrase.

It's called Go for Broke!, and it's a film about the 442nd, the all-Japanese American army regiment of World War II that was the most highly decorated unit of its size in U.S. military history -- multiple Purple Hearts per man, and so forth. This heroic regiment was made up of men from Hawaii and from the internment camps, and they were most famous for rescuing the "Lost Battalion" -- a somewhat controversial mission, in which a whole regiment was sent to rescue a hundred trapped men.

The film itself is surprisingly good, actually, with a lot of funny and heartwarming scenes and a message of tolerance and overcoming prejudice. It reminded me quite a bit of the more famous film Stalag 17, about a bunker of diverse POWs in Nazi Germany. Naturally, there are some un-PC elements as well, like the focus on joking about the struggles of the short Japanese Americans, while blithely ignoring the ones who are as tall as their commanding officer, played by Van Johnson, the versatile leading man who died this year. Many of the soldiers were played by real-life veterans of the 442, which just makes it even more satisfying.

"Go for broke!" is their motto, and apparently they were the ones who made it famous; they also use a number of Japanese phrases, and there's a truly hilarious scene when they start speaking Japanese on the communication lines at the front, throwing the Nazis into total confusion. As for "luck of the Irish"? Well, in what is practically a staple of Japanese American lit or film, there's a character named Ohara.

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