Gregory Peck gives his all in an excellent performance as General Douglas MACARTHUR, but saddled with a TV-Movie size budget, the film around him surrenders to mediocrity.
The film was intended to be created in 1970 as Universal's response to 20th Century Fox's mega hit, "Patton".
Seven years later, it hit screens with a good screenplay by Hal Barwood and Matthew Robbins (Dragonslayer, The Sugarland Express) and Peck's committed, towering performance, but little else.
The film follows MacArthur's military career through WWII and the Korean War. Like Patton, MacArthur had zero regard for politics but was a genius as a strategist. His commitment to his soldiers and the people of the countries he was fighting for are legendary.
When he proposes the strategy for the pivotal Inchon battle in the Korean War, President Truman (Ed Flanders from "Exorcist III") asks his advisers what they think of MacArthur's plan. Their comments of DARING... BRILLIANT... DANGEROUS ...describe MacArthur's entire career.
The dialogue and structure of Robbins and Barwood's screenplay is strong, but it feels sabotaged by a low budget that uses actual war footage and Universal back lots in place of location footage. The legendary Albert Whitlock provides plenty of brilliant matte paintings that give the battle scenes scale in plenty of pre-CGI glory, but those moments are followed by a low rent cast stumbling around obvious sets.
No one is helped by director Joseph Sargent. He fills the big screen with way too many close ups. It's as if he forgot he was trying to fill a widescreen this time around. Sargent is best known for one of the worst films of all time that he helmed a decade later, the craptastic "Jaws The Revenge". I guess by comparison, this is Sargent's "Gone With the Wind".
Jerry Goldsmith provides a stirring music score, much more traditional and far removed from the ground breaking music for "Patton", but still effective.
At the center of every scene is Peck (The Guns of Navarone, The Omen). Peck has said that he approached the film not liking MacArthur, but grew to admire him. Peck was disappointed in the quality of the production but called this one of his best roles in retrospect. There is no denying the emotional gravitas Peck delivers in his final role call at West Point. It's stirring.
It's too bad the film doesn't live up to that moment.
While "Patton"remains a film classic more than 50 years after its release, MACARTHUR is like that old soldier that never dies, it just fades away from your memory as soon as the final credits roll.
MACARTHUR gets a C.
(Yes Gilligan's Island fans, that IS the Professor Russell Johnson as Admiral King in an early scene!)