Monday, 30 April 2012

In Harms Way 1965

John Brosnan in his excellent book,Movie Magic (McDonald and Janes 1974), quotes from an interview Andrew Sarris conducted with the film's director Otto Preminger in Hollywood voices, where he claims;

"I had originally hired a famous expert for these models. You know, they usually make them with ships about two to three feet long. When I saw the beginning of his work, which was quite expensive, I threw the whole thing away because it didn't seem to be right. And then I proceeded to build ships. I did it myself after the picture was finished. I decided to direct myself without any specialists, and we built ships that were 35 to 55 feet long so that when we photographed them the detail was very much like on the big ships. And we didn't shoot any of these miniatures in a tank. We shot the night miniatures on a lake in Mexico, because we needed the straits with mountains in the background. We shot the day battles in the gulf of Mexico. I needed a real horizon, you know, and I think that makes a lot of difference."

The Director astride one of his miniatures

As John Brosnan points out the "expert" in question and the supervisor credited on the film is Laurence Butler a man of very great experience in the visual effects field in general and in the filming of model ship sequences, having many previous credits to prove it. He would be highly unlikely to be employing " 2 or 3 foot long models" and this seems somewhat of an exaggeration to make for good copy. An article on TCM attributes John Wayne complaining to the director about the poor quality of the miniatures. Wikipedia mentions that Kirk Douglas was unhappy with the miniature work and offered to get the visual effects people involved with Paths of Glory to do a better job at his expense. This seems a rather odd claim as there is no miniature work (as far as I know) in Paths of Glory at all.

What ever the truth, the fact is that in many films with visual effects there are some scenes that work really well and some that don't quite meet the mark.

For the most part who ever was responsible for the miniature work in the finished film, did a pretty decent job. The real horizon certainly helps and the miniatures work very well particularly in the day for night scenes when they are mostly silhouettes.

The most outstanding aspect is the sheer number and size of the explosions peppered throughout the miniature ships, there is a real sense of chaos, though sometimes it is hard to follow who is firing and who is getting hit.

The one thing the miniatures lack is a weathering of all the painted surfaces, they all appear too smooth and clean to be convincing. The lack of the slight puckering concavity of the hull plates that you see on full size ships where all the frames, bulkheads and stringers leave their mark on the outer hull surface, is a bit of a giveaway in model ships. Granted that is a very difficult detail to model but it can be simulated with painting the effect of the shading you get across the surface.

Example showing the subtle dimpling of welded steel hull plates revealing the ship's sub structure


In Harms way was one of the first Hollywood films to have its credit sequence at the end of the picture rather than at the beginning as was the usual practice at the time.



  1. This is one of my all time favorite movies..... Real men having to do tough jobs in service to their country... It was never rated very highly, but in my book it is 5 stars.... We need more men like were portrayed in this film... This film restores faith and pride in America that is lacking today....

  2. Most to the models had no real detail and sat way too high out of the water. The PT boats looked good except the men stationed on the caged machine guns were standing way too high and weren't inside the cages. The tin can looked good though.

  3. Great movie. just watched it free on Amazon Prime.

  4. A great movie! Classic for all times. Yes the boats could of had more detail painted onto them...let's not judge 1965 special effects with the computer generated images of today. Acting by the ensemble cast is outstanding.

  5. Great movie...always has been and always will be. Classic actors and actresses. For the day, technology was pretty darn good.

  6. Wow thanks for a great story. Really some good info on an Epic film in its day....Cheers

  7. spot good as they were the Cruisers were way to high out of the water.................

  8. Aside from some of the obvious mistakes while using some of the real fleet from 1965, they did a decent job of hiding a lot of the post war changes on the ships themselves. One of the more glaring mistakes was using the same sailor calling General Quarters on Torres Cruiser as well as the Cassidy while at Pearl harbor. It was the same southern drawl sailor on the 1MC for both ships….no biggie. Did anyone else pick that up?

  9. Kirk Douglas said the models ruined the end of the movie because they looked so fake.

  10. This movie turned me into a ship modeler at 10 yrs of age while I was more focused on cars and tanks. I built all the battleships at Pearl and did my own attack reenactment, complete with a bad Wayne impression in my back yard. When I employed real pyrotechnics my mom nearly spoiled the ending. As bad as the miniatures were it was great inspiration as weathering techniques became a staple for me.

  11. Fascinating stuff. Thanks for this. I've seen In Harm's Way twice, once at its initial release in theatres, then on DVD.

    Always thought "what could have been," around the maritime action. Knew there was something "amateur" about much (although not all) the miniature work. I concur with John Wayne and the website author--should have re-inserted better miniature action...the movie would have been TWICE the feature it was.

  12. William G Britton19 April 2018 at 18:05


  13. The miniature work in PATHS OF GLORY is when they look through their observation telescopes at the 'Ant-Hill'. The site of the German fortifications and trenchworks.

  14. I agree that the ships showed no indents in the hull plates, this isn't from the frames on the inside of the ship, but from decades of chipping hammers in dry dock and make work in port. I think I still have red lead under my fingernails...

  15. Indeed it was a great movie and the Special Effects were great for the time. No BS involved such as the later movie "Battleship" where they take the Missouri out of museum watch and just fire her up.. ridiculous.


  16. With regard to the model US Navy PT boats used in the film:

    Profiles in History "Hollywood Auction 96" December 11-14, 2018

    Using their pdf catalog:

    On page 279:

    "1022. P.T. boat filming miniature from In Harm's Way. (Paramount, 1965) Impressive World War II-era P.T. filming miniature constructed of wood, metal and fiberglass components, measuring 120 in. long x 32 in. wide x 24
    in. tall. From the collection of Southern California hot rod legend Stan Betz, who restored the piece years ago. Exhibits some cracks and chips in the paint and the steering wheel is detached. $3,000 - $5,000"

    Entry includes image of model and film still.


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