Objective, Burma!

Objective, Burma! is a 1945 American war film that is loosely based on the six-month raid by Merrill's Marauders in the Burma Campaign during the Second World War. Directed by Raoul Walsh and starring Errol Flynn, the film was made by Warner Bros. immediately after the raid.

Objective, Burma!
Original film poster
Directed byRaoul Walsh
Produced byJerry Wald
Written byAlvah Bessie (story)
Screenplay byRanald MacDougall
Lester Cole
StarringErrol Flynn
James Brown
Narrated byTruman Bradley
Music byFranz Waxman
CinematographyJames Wong Howe
Edited byGeorge Amy
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • January 26, 1945 (1945-01-26) (New York City)[1]
  • February 17, 1945 (1945-02-17) (USA)
Running time
142 min.
CountryUnited States
Box office$3,961,000[2]
2,635,192 admissions (France)[3]


A group of United States Army paratroopers led by Captain Nelson are dropped into Burma to locate and destroy a camouflaged Japanese Army radar station that is detecting Allied aircraft flying into China. For their mission, they are assigned Gurkha guides, a Chinese Army Captain and an older war correspondent whose character is used to explain various procedures to the audience.

The mission is an overwhelming success as the 36-man team quickly take out the station and its personnel. But when the airborne troops arrive at an old airstrip to be taken back to their base, they find the Japanese waiting for them at their rendezvous site. Captain Nelson makes the hard decision to call off the rescue planes, and hike out on foot.

To reduce the likelihood of detection, the group then splits up into two smaller units to meet up at a deserted Burmese village. But when Nelson arrives at the meeting place, he finds that the other team had been captured, tortured and mutilated by the Japanese. Only Lt. Jacobs survives, and he too dies after telling Nelson what had happened. The surviving soldiers are then attacked and are forced again to retreat into the jungle. The men must then cross the swamps in their attempt to make it back to safety through enemy-occupied jungle.

Fighting an almost constant rearguard action, Nelson's paratroopers also succeed as decoys leading Japanese troops away from the site of the British 1944 aerial invasion of Burma.


Uncredited Cast



Jerry Wald later claimed he got the idea for doing a film set in Burma in Christmas 1943, feeling this particular theatre of the war would soon be active, and hoping the movie could be made and released before then.[4]

Lester Cole says the original story was written by Alvah Bessie who wrote a "dozen or so" pages before being pulled off the project by Wald and assigned to something else.[5] The job of writing the story and screenplay was given to Cole and a new writer for film, Ranald MacDougall. MacDougall had been a creator and co-writer of the CBS radio series The Man Behind the Gun that was awarded a 1942 Peabody Award.[6] He had been contracted to Warner Brothers, with this his second film after uncredited work on Pride of the Marines. "Ranald was a pleasure to work with," wrote Cole later, "bright, eager to learn, a facile writer of dialogue: we got along famously."[7]

In his memoirs, Cole claims Wald was inspired by a book about an attempted British invasion of Burma called Merrill's Marauders and he decided to change the troops from being British to American.[8] However Merrill's Marauders was an American unit.

The film was announced in January 1944, with Wald and Walsh attached. Errol Flynn was already being discussed as the star.[9] Franchot Tone was mentioned as a possible co star.[10]


Filming began in April 1944.[11] By this stage the Allied campaign had already started in Burma, meaning Wald was unable to do a Casablanca style cashing in on the film's release.[4]

Cole says Walsh had "contempt for writers" but that Wald made him stick to the script.[12]

The film was made with authentic World War II American military material, aircraft and gliders, due to their availability.[13] Producer Jerry Wald acknowledged that the plot bore a significant similarity to the 1940 film Northwest Passage.[14]

Walsh said Flynn "was on his good behaviour because he was writing a book when I was not using him. Between being gung ho and typing his life story he had no time for anything more than a half a dozen drinks, which for him was almost total abstention."[15]


Exteriors were shot at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden, California. Filming began on May 1, 1944 and was scheduled for 60 days. But shooting required more than 40 extra days due to bad weather and constant script changes.

The movie also contains a large amount of actual combat footage filmed by U.S. Army Signal Corps cameramen in the China-Burma-India theatre[16] as well as New Guinea.[17]



Reviews of Objective, Burma! were generally favorable, although it was commonly faulted as being too long. The New York Times wrote: "This is without question one of the best war films yet made in Hollywood. There are no phony heroics by Errol Flynn or any of the other members of a uniformly excellent cast. These boys conduct themselves like real soldiers and even the newspaper correspondent is a credit to the craft. The Warners have erred only in the film's excessive length. It runs approximately two hours and twenty minutes, or roughly thirty minutes more than appears to be absolutely necessary."[18]

Variety noted: "The film has considerable movement, particularly in the early reels and the tactics of the paratroopers are authentic in their painstaking detail. However, while the scripters have in the main achieved their purpose of heightening the action, there are scenes in the final reels that could have been edited more closely."[19]

Harrison's Reports wrote: "Very good! It ranks with the best of the war melodramas yet produced ... While the action holds one's interest all the way through, a cut of ten to fifteen minutes in the running time would not affect its dramatic punch."[20] Film Daily wrote: "The picture impresses with its air of authenticity and the vivid realism that has gone into the telling of its story, and it possesses almost unremitting action crowded with the starkest of drama ... The primary fault of the film is that it is dragged out beyond all reason. There is much repetitious material that could be cut out to the improvement of the film."[21]

Box Office

Objective, Burma! was one of the most popular movies of 1945 in France.[3]

According to Warner Bros records, the film earned $2,117,000 domestically and $1,844,000 foreign. It was the studio's sixth most popular fil of the year, after Hollywood Canteen, To Have and Have Not, Arsenic and Old Lace, God Is My Co-Pilot and Christmas in Connecticut.[2]


Even though it was based on the exploits of Merrill's Marauders, Objective Burma was withdrawn from release in the United Kingdom after it infuriated British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and drew protests about the Americanization of an almost entirely British, Indian, and Commonwealth conflict.[22][23] An editorial in The Times said:

It is essential both for the enemy and the Allies to understand how it came about that the war was won ... nations should know and appreciate the efforts other countries than their own made to the common cause.

Objective, Burma! was not put on general release in the United Kingdom until 1952 when it was shown with an accompanying apology. The movie was also banned in Singapore although it was seen in Burma and India.[24][25]

There were also objections to Errol Flynn playing the hero as he had stayed in Hollywood during the war, unlike actors like David Niven or James Stewart.[26][27] Flynn, however, had tried to enlist but had been declared medically unfit for military service. His studio suppressed the news of his medical problems to preserve his public image.


The film was nominated for three Academy Awards in 1945:

Cole felt that Bessie did not deserve his credit on the film for story, saying he only contributed some pages, and felt he and MacDougall should have had it. However he decided not to challenge the credit because Bessie was a friend. Cole was disappointed however when Bessie went on to earn an Oscar nomination.[28]



  1. "Objective, Burma!". American Film Institute. Retrieved March 10, 2016.
  2. Warner Bros financial information in The William Shaefer Ledger. See Appendix 1, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, (1995) 15:sup1, 1-31 p. 25 DOI: 10.1080/01439689508604551
  3. "French box office information 1945." Box Office Story. Retrieved: November 25, 2015.
  4. Stanley, Fred. "Out of the Hollywood hopper: MGM's mMusical Ssplurge; O & J hit the jackpot, Other items." The New York Times, May 7, 1944, p. X3.
  5. Cole p 206
  6. Dunning 1998, pp. 430–431.
  7. Cole p 207
  8. Cole p 207
  9. "Special to The New York Times: Screen News here and in Hollywood; Cary Grnt to star in farce at RKO; 'Song of Bernadette' opens today at Rivoli." The New York Times, January 26, 1944, p. 23.
  10. Hopper, Hedda. "Looking at Hollywood." Chicago Daily Tribune, April 14, 1944, p. 20.
  11. "Special to The New York Times: Screen News here and in Hollywood; M-G-M to co-star Garson and Tracy; Three theatres to show premieres today." The New York Times, April 25, 1944, p. 16.
  12. Cole p 207
  13. Cusskelly, Ron. "Limping Lizzie- Movie star." The Lockheed Files. Retrieved: May 5, 2013.
  14. Holston 1994, p. 84.
  15. Walsh, Raoul (1974). Each man in his time; the life story of a director. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. p. 365.
  16. Heenan, T/Sgt Arthur. " I-B Signal Corps Shots In 'Objective, Burma!': Myitkyina operations presented." Archived 2011-07-23 at the Wayback Machine Delhi, India: India-Burma Theater Roundup, Vol. III, No. 31. Reg. No. L5015, April 12, 1945.
  17. "Waxman: Objective Burma." Archived 2011-07-16 at the Wayback Machine ClassicsOnline. Retrieved: May 5, 2013.
  18. "Movie Review: Objective, Burma!". The New York Times. January 27, 1945. Retrieved March 10, 2016.
  19. "Film Reviews". Variety. New York: Variety, Inc.: 10 January 31, 1945.
  20. "'Objective Burma' with Errol Flynn". Harrison's Reports: 14. January 27, 1945.
  21. "Reviews". Film Daily. New York: Wid's Films and Film Folk, Inc.: 4 January 29, 1945.
  22. "British ban Objective Burma." Army News (Darwin, NT: 1941–1946), September 27, 1945, p. 1. via National Library of Australia. Retrieved: March 25, 2012.
  23. Warners suspend 'Burma' in Britain: Film criticized by Public on grounds that it ignored the Fourteenth Army." The New York Times, September 26, 1945, p. 27.
  24. "Film to be banned at Singapore." The Canberra Times, January 17, 1948. via National Library of Australia. Retrieved: March 25, 2012.
  25. Thomas et al. 1969, p. 140.
  26. Hobbes 2003
  27. " 'Great Escape' makers turned facts into fiction." The Times, March 25, 2009.
  28. Cole p 208



  • Dunning, John. On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old Time Radio. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1998. ISBN 978-0-19507-6-783.
  • Hobbes, Nicholas. Essential Militaria: Facts, Legends, and Curiosities About Warfare Through the Ages. London: Atlantic Books, 2003. ISBN 978-1-84354-229-2.
  • Holston, Kim R. The English-Speaking Cinema: An Illustrated History, 1927–1993. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 1994. ISBN 978-0-89950-8-580.
  • Thomas, Tony, Rudy Behlmer and Clifford McCarty. The Films of Errol Flynn. Sacramento, California: Citadel Press, 1969.
  1. Cole, Lester (1981). Hollywood Red : the autobiography of Lester Cole. Ramparts Press.
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