Entertainment Magazine

Pt 109

Posted on the 02 June 2016 by Christopher Saunders
PT 109One would expect PT 109 (1963), an authorized biopic of John F. Kennedy's WWII exploits, to be an overblown vanity project. One would be right. Leslie H. Martinson directs an artless paean to the 35th President, more interested in burnishing its subject than entertaining viewers.
Lieutenant John F. Kennedy (Cliff Robertson) arrives in the South Pacific, taking command of PT 109, a rickety torpedo boat. Kennedy infuses discipline into a scurvy crew, spars with Commander Richie (James Gregory) and proves himself fearless in battle. Crunch time comes when a Japanese destroyer rams Kennedy's boat, leaving the future President and his crew stranded on a deserted island.
PT 109 received oversight from President Kennedy, who handpicked Cliff Robertson (Warren Beatty having declined) along with director Martinson. No surprise that Kennedy's a swell guy, firm in command but beloved by his men, even declining transfer to the States. The real JFK was an arrogant, impetuous youngster who proved his mettle under fire; film JFK is an instantly immaculate officer sans character development. This sinks PT 109 from the start, scuttling any drama.
Television director Martinson manages serviceable battle action: air raids, boat chases, a suspenseful scene where the PT runs out of gas during a raid. But Richard L. Breen's script is a dud: besides exalting Kennedy, it inundates us with wheezy jokes about peanut butter sandwiches and pin-ups. Only in the last hour, when Kennedy and friends are shipwrecked, does PT 109 generate interest. Even then, character dynamics are so mechanical it's hard to care what happens.
Cliff Robertson's JFK impression amounts to hair dye and a puckish grin. He's an adequate protagonist if not a convincing Kennedy, 20 years too old besides. Ty Hardin, Kennedy's XO, became a Spaghetti Western star and right-wing pundit. James Gregory plays the tough-minded CO; Robert Blake, Robert Culp and Norman Fell are among the crew. Michael Pate (for once an Aussie rather than an Indian) and Errol John play his rescuers.
PT 109 might appeal to surviving Camelot worshipers and undemanding war movie buffs. Other viewers will cringe at this 140 minute exercise in presidential narcissism.

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