John Wayne Movie Review – I Cover The War!

I Cover the War! (1936) Universal, Dir: Arthur Lubin b/w, 65m

Cast: John Wayne, Gwen Gaze, Don Barclay, Charles Brokaw, James Bush, Pat Somerset

“I Cover the War!” is a contemporary comedy stroke melodrama featuring John Wayne and Don Barclay as two intrepid newsreel men, Bob Adams and Elmer “Slug” Davis, working for a company based in London.

Lobby card of "I Cover The War! with John Wayne

Back from an assignment in what looks like the Spanish Civil War going by the stock footage, their boss sends them off to Samari, a place located near the border with Iraq and ruled by the Brits who are obviously still holding on to their ever-shrinking empire.

Bob and Slug’s mission, which they are forced to accept or get fired, is to capture footage of the Arab leader Muffadhi, played by Charles Brokaw, a damned shifty cove of a Johnny Foreigner if ever there was.

On the plane to Samari Bob’s pet monkey “Wide Angle” wanders down the aisle to complain no one’s brought him any peanuts yet and settles on the lap of Pamela Howard, played by Gwen Gaze.

Bob and Pam are obviously enamoured with each other from the get go, Pam on her way to visit both her uncle and her fiancé.

This being set in the 1930s you’re allowed to smoke on a plane, and even if you’re not I wouldn’t want to be the one to tell JW to stub his fag out. Would you?

Meanwhile, Bob’s younger brother Don, played by James Bush, turns up in London to meet his older bro, only to be told by Harris, boss of the newsreel company, that Bob’s off to Samari.

Don helpfully asks on behalf of the audience how to get there and is informed via the medium of obvious exposition “by plane to Damascus then over the desert by car”. 

The boys and Pam eventually arrive in Samari, a place teaming with Hollywood Arab’s who walk the streets of the casbah to the accompaniment of typical Middle Eastern-like music looping permanently in the background.

Pam is greeted by her uncle, Col. Hugh Armitage, played by Major Sam Harris who also serves as a technical adviser on the making of “I Cover the War!”. Also waiting to meet Pam is her fiancé, Archie, who is so obviously a dweeb, and British at that, it’s a fair bet Bob is going to make a beeline for Pam quicker than you can say “scram, loser”.

Don turns up in Samari to tell Bob he’s dropped out of medical college in order to be a cameraman just like his big brudder.

Despite wanting to punch Don’s lights out for skipping college, which isn’t surprising seeing as Bob’s been paying the fees, he suggests Don sticks around just so that he can see for himself what a dead end job it is being a cameraman.

Speaking of violence, it’s already about a third of the way through the film and Wayne hasn’t punched anybody yet. Poor show, as the Major might have said.

Bob and Slug follow Archie and the Colonel out on patrol and film the aftermath of an ambush which proves that the villainous Muffadhi has managed to arm his men with machine guns.

Archie then confiscates Bob’s newsreel footage to ensure that information isn’t revealed to the wrong people, stating “it will better orf in the safe at headquarters”.

Archie then goes the whole hog and takes away all of the passes from the newsreel contingency, including another camera team consisting of Graham and Parker who on the surface appear to be vying with Bob and Slug to capture the best action sequences on film.

Bob “burns” his pass before Archie can get it, but Don can see it’s not the real thing. We then discover that Graham and Parker are actually running guns for Muffadhi, but as they don’t have their passes they’re unable to travel anywhere. 

Their situation is resolved when Don nicks his brothers pass for a promise of a job with the two gun running swine who he then accompanies to Muffadhi’s camp, unaware that he’s been given a proper job by Bob’s London boss.

Whilst all this is going on Bob makes a play for Archie’s squeeze Pam, who responds with unabated enthusiasm, much to Archie’s chagrin as he secretly catches them canoodling in the moonlight. 

The pace starts to pick up a bit from this point with Wide Angle finding a microphone in Bob’s room planted by the gun runners, Bob finally throwing a punch in the direction of his brother even before he realises Don “borrowed” his pass, whilst Graham and Parker’s contact to Muffadhi retires them from their gun running duties by having them murdered,

Bob and Slug are lured to Muffadhi’s camp by the mysterious contact who then reveals that he’s actually the Arab leader himself.

Muffadhi then announces to his “guests” that he’s off to wipe out the British but then shows his more thoughtful side by posing for Bob and Slug like the arrant showman he so obviously is.

Muffadhi leads his men into battle against Archie and the Colonel, leaving Bob and Slug to trick their guards into thinking they’re helping them make a film.

They then drive off to warn the British column but both of them sustain bullet wounds which kind of slows them down a bit.

In what is quite an interesting plot twist they record a message on film about Muffahdi’s intentions before they pass out from their wounds just as they reach safety.

Once the film is developed and Bob’s message is discovered Muffahdi and his followers are bombed into oblivion from the air, saving what is left of the British column.

All’s well that ends well with Bob doing what most Americans did in the 1940s by walking away with somebody else’s girlfriend, Archie doing the honourable thing and all that don’t you know and giving up on a bad thing. Plus ca change, as they say in Paris France.

“I Cover the War!” has its moments with the interplay between Bob and Slug particularly entertaining but the story is a bit over-convoluted at times.

Wayne is at this point starting to show promise as a credible romantic lead which bodes well for his breakthrough film, “Stagecoach” a few years later. File under “worth taking a look at” if you’ve not seen it before.

Maybe you would like to read more of John Wayne’s movies of the 1930s.

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Steve is a film scholar of note, gaining both an MA in film studies and a Ph.D. for his thesis on the silent films of John Ford. Steve, a scriptwriter and published novelist, provides much of the content you see here and is a dedicated aficionado and longtime fan of John Wayne, John Ford and Western films in general.

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