Film Review: The Story of G.I. Joe (1945)

The film The Story of G.I. Joe is an American war film starring Burgess Meredith and Robert Mitchum. The film was directed by William Wellman and is portrayed as a tribute to infantrymen of American military that operated during the Second World War, G.I. Joe being a typical characterization of the class of soldiers. The film draws heavily from factual narratives of the war, most notably from the dispatches of Ernie Pyle, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. The focus of the film is the 18th Infantry’s C Company is engaged in combat in Italy and Tunisia. Pyle (played convincingly by Burgess Meredith) is the embedded journalist within this Company. But the shared habiting space makes it a personal experience for Pyle and to this extent his journalism takes on a humanitarian hue as opposed to being merely patriotic. This essay will argue that, of the numerous merits attached to the film, it’s showcasing of the bold, humane and forthright journalism of the legendary Ernie Pyle is not only its standout feature but also accounts for its enduring appeal.

True to the journalistic ethic of accuracy and balance, the film makes no attempt to ‘manufacture’ heroism in the war setting. Instead, it fits the narrative to Pyle’s reportage, which includes unsavory and un-heroic aspects of the Second World War. True to this theme, “Pyle was later killed in a foxhole on a remote Pacific island as he pursued his career of covering the troops after victory was won in Europe. Pyle wrote of the common “dogfaces,” not the brass hats. He is a hero who should be known to every journalism student.” (Booker, 1999, p.14)

But a cursory look at the state of embedded journalism today (most visibly in the War on Terror operations) betrays the falling standards of journalism in America. Today the reporter comes across as a biased stakeholder in the side he belongs, which is a far cry from the courage and ethic espoused by Ernie Pyle. More importantly, what The Story of G.I. Joe underscores is that

“motion pictures can provide helpful assistance in journalism history classes through a number of ways: as a reflection of how journalists and journalism are portrayed in the mass culture; as a means to measure the role that journalism plays in significant events; and, perhaps most important, as a device by which to assess the ethical role of journalism as reflected by the decisions and actions of the people portrayed.” (Holsinger & Schofield, 1992, p.44)

The Story of G.I. Joe can also be said to be unique for the level of realism it carries. The product is not just made for commercial purposes, but for artistic and documentary goals. It also served as a vehicle of propaganda to gather support for the war from the American public. The relatively late release of the film (released after the dust settled in the European theatre) is perhaps why it portrays combat in unglamorous terms,

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