Merrill's Marauders (film)

Merrill's Marauders is a 1962 Technicolor war film, photographed in CinemaScope, and directed and co-written by Samuel Fuller. It is based on the exploits of the long range penetration jungle warfare unit of the same name in the Burma Campaign, culminating in the Siege of Myitkyina.

Merrill's Marauders
Original film poster
Directed bySamuel Fuller
Produced byMilton Sperling (United States Pictures Productions)
Written bySamuel Fuller
Milton Sperling
Based onThe Marauders
1959 book
by Charlton Ogburn Jr
StarringJeff Chandler
Ty Hardin
Andrew Duggan
Claude Akins
Peter Brown
Will Hutchins
John Hoyt
Samuel V. Wilson
Music byHoward Jackson
Franz Waxman (uncredited score from Objective, Burma!)
American Patrol by F. W. Meacham
CinematographyWilliam H. Clothier
Edited byFolmar Blangsted
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • June 13, 1962 (1962-06-13)
Running time
98 min.
CountryUnited States

The source is the non-fiction book The Marauders, written by Charlton Ogburn Jr., a communications officer who served with Merrill's Marauders. Filmed on location in the Philippines, the economical historical epic film stars Jeff Chandler (in his final role) as Frank Merrill and several actors from the Warner Brothers Television stock company who were then the lead actors in American television shows.


The film begins with off-screen narration over black-and-white historical footage of the World War II Burmese campaign, including mention of all nationalities of Allied forces who participated. The film then segues into Technicolor as we observe Lt. Stockton’s (Ty Hardin) platoon moving through the jungle toward their first objective, the Japanese-held town of Walawbum. After Stockton radios Gen. Merrill (Jeff Chandler) that they are nearing their goal, he and the rest of the brigade carry out a successful raid.

Afterwards, General Joseph Stilwell (John Hoyt) arrives in Walawbum to order Merrill on another objective, the railroad center of Shaduzup, and ultimately the strategic airstrip at Myitkyina. With reluctance, Merrill later summons Stockton to brief him on their next mission and the unit continues their march through hellish swamps before taking Shaduzup from the enemy.

The brigade continues their mission up steep mountains for several days and nights before digging in just outside Myitkyina. As night falls, the unit endures a massive artillery barrage. The dawn then brings a Japanese banzai attack, which Merrill’s men successfully repel. Then, while desperately rallying what is left of his unit to move on to the base at Myitkyina, the general suddenly collapses from a heart attack. The men, led by Stockton, slowly rise up and trudge onward toward Myitkyina as an incredulous "Doc" (Andrew Duggan) cradles Merrill in his arms. In fact, it is Doc’s off-screen narration we hear next as he informs us that Myitkyina was indeed taken.




After buying the film rights to The Marauders in 1959, producer Milton Sperling and his United States Pictures Productions made an economical (slightly over 1 million US dollars)[1] epic film in the Philippines, with 1200 soldiers from the Armed Forces of the Philippines, American soldiers of the 1st U.S. Army Special Forces Group at Okinawa and Clark Air Force Base, and cast the leading roles with several Warner Brothers Television contract stars who were then the leading men of popular programs but would not be paid extra salary, three stuntmen (Chuck Roberson, Jack Williams and Chuck Hicks), two Filipino film stars and the film's technical advisor. Due to bad weather, Fuller shot six days over the allotted 41-day shooting schedule.[1]

The company's name, United States Pictures Productions, gave the Philippine government and the film crews the impression that they were working with a branch of the United States Government and they enthusiastically co-operated with the producer.

Sperling approached the experienced Samuel Fuller to write and direct The Marauders (the working title) in early 1961. Fuller was then attempting to have Warner Bros. finance and make his dream project, The Big Red One, and initially refused Sperling's offer. Then, Jack L. Warner summoned Fuller and told him that Merrill's Marauders would be a dry run for his The Big Red One.[2]

For the lead role, Fuller wanted Gary Cooper, who refused it because of ill-health (he died soon afterwards). Fuller was impressed with former Universal Pictures contract star Jeff Chandler and cast him.[2]

Samuel Fuller and Milton Sperling simplify, but follow the events and narrative of Ogburn's historical account. However, they use the character structure of Denis and Terry Sanders screenplay for The Naked and the Dead; an earnest young lieutenant "Stock" in command of a military intelligence and reconnaissance platoon is a mediator between his men and a fatherly Brigadier General Frank Merrill. The screenplay also features a grave medical officer "Doc" continually briefing Merrill (and the audience) on the physical and psychological condition of the men and on Merrill himself.

Lt. Stock and Doc are a Greek Chorus that explains decisions, morale, and conditions to the audience. Unlike the characters in The Naked and the Dead who continually have flashbacks and viciously hate each other, the Marauders are professional veterans who respect each other. They gradually deteriorate when the one mission becomes two, then three, then an endless one, and a beat-the-clock narrative in capturing an airstrip before the monsoon grounds aircraft. The audience sees the effects on the men of not only enemy action, but hunger, tropical diseases, disorientation, sleep deprivation, and breakdown (physical, moral, mental). The soldiers continue, demonstrating superb combat leadership, professionalism, sacrifice, and endurance.


Merrill's Marauders was photographed by William H. Clothier, who used a trick from his work on The Alamo: silence precedes and follows the loud battle scenes. Fuller also eschewed sound effects for the sound of blanks. The U.S. Army was upset at the mood of and events in the film, particularly scenes in the Shaduzup maze of G.I.s accidentally killing other G.I.s, and had the scenes deleted. The original Shadazup maze scene was a single take with panning across the battle instead of cutting to close-ups of who was shooting whom. The studio told Fuller it looked "too artistic" and had a second unit director re-shoot some of the scenes (only one scene appeared in the final print),[2] and also changed the original ending to feature soldiers on dress parade, which angered Fuller; he fought the studio; they dropped plans to film The Big Red One.

During the film, Jeff Chandler, who had back problems, injured himself playing baseball with some of the American soldiers working on the film.[3] Despite the pain, Chandler had injections and continued filming;[4] his pain is noticeable. On returning to the U.S., he died under anesthesia during back surgery.

Merrills's Marauders was critically and financially successful, and was the final Warner Bros. film made in Cinemascope. The film was illustrated in a movie tie-in Dell Comics American comic book. Eighteen years after this film, Sam Fuller made another war film, The Big Red One, this time based on his own combat experiences in Wartime Europe.

Stock footage and music

Another example of the economical production of the film was using extensive stock footage battle scenes from Battle Cry in the attack at Walawbum. Warner Bros. also used bits of Max Steiner's score for Operation Pacific and Franz Waxman's score from Objective, Burma! that was also used in Warner's Up Periscope (1959). The 1885 tune American Patrol appears in not only the final parade scene but in bits throughout the film that either indicates that the film was scored after the addition of the changed ending or that American Patrol may have been the original title music rather than Howard Jackson's title theme.

See also


  1. Dombrowski, Lisa (2008). The Films of Samuel Fuller: If You Die, I'll Kill You!. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press. p. 142. ISBN 978-0-8195-6866-3.
  2. Fuller, Samuel (2002). A Third Face: My Tale of Writing, Fighting, and Filmmaking. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-375-40165-2.
  4. Jeff Chandler Has Spine Injury New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 17 Apr 1961: 35.
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