Tony Mastroianni Review Collection
"PT -109" at Hipp Done With Vigor
Cleveland Press July 17, 1963
This is less a historical document than it is a satisfying action story.
The film is based on the wartime experiences of President Kennedy, then a PT-boat commander in the Pacific.
Cliff Robertson, who portrays the young Jack Kennedy, bears little physical resemblance to the man and he imitates his speech mannerisms not at all.
The part, as written and acted, offers little depth. But what does emerge is the portrait of a pleasant, dedicated young man who can act with decision in a crisis and who has a streak of humor in him.
There is no attempt at any insight into his philosophy, and this is just as well in a movie that is brought off as a straight adventure story.
Since this is the story of a living -- and very important -- person, the producers have refrained from melodramatics nor have they dragged in a phony romance. This may hurt it at the box office, but more war movies might copy the format.
Plenty of Material
There is still a good deal of story material in the movie, beginning with the young officer's first assignment at getting a rundown PT boat into shape, the first brush with the enemy in rescuing a marine patrol and the eventual action which brings about the destruction of the vessel.
Especially effective are the scenes as the Japanese destroyer cuts the plywood boat in two and men are hurled into a sea covered with flaming fuel, then the long swim to a small island with Kennedy towing an injured man by using a strap between his teeth.
Direction and camera work are such that no viewer should have any trouble following the action.
Heart of Gold
Lesser characters are one dimensional although not due to the acting. At least one stock type is presented in the part of the hardhearted officer with the heart of gold. This is well done by James Gregory.
Altogether, this is a film done with a fairly high degree of integrity. At one or two points the script writers did give in to the notion that they were dealing with a man who has a date with destiny, but not often enough to be annoying.
"Mr. Kennedy, if you'll try this, you'll try anything," one character says to him.
It's a little difficult to forget that we're watching a president-to-be. And it doesn't hurt the film one bit.