American soldiers fight a last-ditch battle to delay the Japanese invasion of the Philippines for three months in early 1942.
U.S. soldiers in the Philippines take cover from attacking Japanese planes. Sergeant Bill Dane (Robert Taylor) reports to Captain Henry Lassiter (Lee Bowman) and is told to defend a bridge. Bill meets his men and says they will blow up a bridge and keep the Japanese from rebuilding it. Bill has more experience there, and Lassiter defers to him. Wesley Eeps (Kenneth Spencer) prepares the explosives. Bill tells Corporal Barney Todd (Lloyd Nolan) he reminds him of a corporal convicted of murder who lost him a promotion by escaping. They blow up the bridge. Lassiter is killed by a sniper. Sailor Leonard Puckett (Robert Walker) makes a cross, and Bill gives him the helmet. Pilot Lt. Steve Bentley (George Murphy) says he will take orders from Bill, who announces no more volunteering; he will give orders. Matowski (Barry Nelson) climbs a tree and is killed. Bill and Todd advance with grenades and throw them at a truck on the bridge. Coming back, Todd is wounded, and Bill helps him.
Filipino Salazar (Alex Havier) goes for help without orders. One of their men is found killed by a sword. Felix Ramirez (Desi Arnaz) has malaria. Planes attack them. Sam Malloy shoots down a plane but is killed. They see Salazar hanging dead. Ramirez confesses in Latin and dies. Steve says his plane may fly and can take the men; but Bill selects only ill medic Matthew Hardy (Phillip Terry) and the sailor, who wants to stay to kill a Jap. Todd objects to no avail. Steve starts his engine but is shot. Bill uses a grenade on the machine gun. Steve takes off alone and crashes into the bridge. Sick Hardy is killed.
Five men left shoot approaching Japanese, use grenades and bayonets. Corporal Jake Feingold (Thomas Mitchell) is shot, and Eeps is killed. Bill runs out of bullets. He, Todd, and Leonard killed many. Bill is with Jake as he dies. Todd treats Leonard's wounded arm. Bill asks Todd to write Leonard's letter to his mother. Leonard cries, and Bill helps finish the letter, explaining why they are fighting there. Leonard turns on the radio, hears a call to surrender, and is shot dead. Bill and Todd check the Japanese dead, and Todd is stabbed in the back. Bill sees him die. Bill digs graves and waits in his own. In the final scene the Japanese attack him, and he shoots at them.
This portrayal of American soldiers sacrificing their
lives early in war is intended to motivate others to join the
fight against aggressive Japanese imperialism. Fighting together,
Bill learns to forget Todd's criminal past. Yet this drama also
realistically depicts the nihilistic violence of war and its brutal