‘Gung Ho!’: The Story of Carlson’s Makin Island Raiders (1943)


Gung Ho! (full title: Gung Ho!: The Story of Carlson’s Makin Island Raiders) is a 1943 American war film directed by Ray Enright and starring Randolph Scott. The story is based somewhat on the real-life World War II Makin Island raid led by Lieutenant Colonel Evans Carlson’s 2nd Marine Raider Battalion.


A tough Greek lieutenant announces that the United States Marine Corps is seeking volunteers for a hazardous mission and special unit. Sergeant “Transport” Anderof meets the commander of the unit, Lieutenant Colonel Thorwald, with whom he has served while stationed in China. Thorwald explains that he left the Corps to serve with the Chinese Red Army fighting the Japanese during the Second Sino-Japanese War to learn their methods and has decided to form a unit using the qualities of Gung Ho or “work together”.

Among the volunteers for the unit are a hillbilly who, when asked whether he can kill someone, responds that he already has. Other volunteers are an ordained minister keeping his vocation a secret; “Pig Iron”, a boxer from a background of poverty and hard work; a young and small street kid who is initially rejected by Naish but wins him over; a Filipino wishing to avenge his sister (who was left behind in Manila and may have been raped or killed by the Japanese) who teaches the Raiders knife fighting; an embittered Marine who had a brother killed at Pearl Harbour; a veteran of the Spanish Civil War who sees the war as a continuation of the fight against fascism; and a Marine who honestly admits, “I just don’t like Japs”.

Those who make it through the training are sent to Hawaii for further jungle warfare training, where they witness the damage of the attack on Pearl Harbour. In Hawaii they hear a radio bulletin announcing the Battle of Guadalcanal. The Marines are ordered to board two submarines destined for a commando raid on a Japanese-held island.

After a claustrophobic voyage, the Raiders invade the island from rubber boats. The Marine landing is met by fire from snipers hiding in palm trees. The Marines dispose of them, attack the Japanese headquarters, wipe out the garrison, destroy installations with explosives, then board the submarines for their return home.


  • Randolph Scott as Colonel Thorwald.
  • Alan Curtis as Private John Harbison.
  • Noah Beery Jr. as Corporal Kurt Richter.
  • J. Carrol Naish as Lieutenant C.J. Cristoforos.
  • Sam Levene as Pilot Sergeant Leo’Transport’ Andreof.
  • David Bruce as Larry O’Ryan.
  • Richard Lane as Captain Dunphy.
  • Walter Sande as Gunner McBride.
  • Louis Jean Heydt as Lieutenant Roland Browning.
  • Robert Mitchum as Private ‘Pig-Iron’ Matthews.
  • Rod Cameron as Private Rube Tedrow.
  • Grace McDonald as Kathleen Corrigan.
  • Milburn Stone as Commander Blake.
  • Peter Coe as Private Kozzarowski.
  • Harold Landon as Private Frankie Montana.
  • Chet Huntley as Narrator.


When producer Walter Wanger acquired the rights to the Makin Island raid and Lieutenant W.S LeFrançois’ story, the United States Navy film liaison Lieutenant Albert J Bolton insisted that neither Carlson nor his executive officer James Roosevelt be singled out. The screenplay depicted a fictional Lieutenant Colonel Thorwald with no executive officer. The screenplay did include a character played by J. Carrol Naish, a Raider lieutenant of Greek extraction based on Marine Raider Lieutenant John Apergis as well as Gunnery Sergeant Victor “Transport” Maghakian who served in the raid and survived the war. Though many incidents in the film did not occur in the real Makin Island raid, Carlson wrote of his being pleased with the film to Wanger.

Like many other films about the United States Marine Corps, the movie was filmed at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego and Camp Pendleton with Marine extras and technical advisors including Carlson, Maghakian and Lieutenant Wilfred Sylvio LeFrancois with all three men being awarded the Navy Cross on the actual raid. The Japanese were played by Chinese and Filipino extras.


The fast-moving film is a template for many war films and other adventure or western films where a group of professional killers and misfits in polite society are handpicked by an inspiring leader, trained to perfection, then use their initiative and skills in marksmanship, combat and knife fighting on an enemy who greatly outnumber them.

Thorwald/Carlson lectures throughout the film that the Japanese have no initiative and cannot think for themselves or deviate from a plan; thus unexpected action pays off. This is demonstrated in several scenes where a Marine defeats his opponent in unarmed combat by spitting tobacco in his eyes, a small but fast runner strips down to his trousers and quickly zig-zags through enemy fire to hurl hand grenades at a machine-gun nest, Marines destroy a Japanese pillbox and its occupants by squashing both with a road construction steamroller, and a speechless Robert Mitchum who has been shot in the throat and is unable to give warning, kills a Japanese infiltrator attempting to kill the battalion surgeon (Milburn Stone) by throwing his knife in the Japanese soldier’s back. The climax of the film has the Raiders painting a giant American flag on the roof of a building, then luring the counterattacking Japanese to the area where their own air force bombs and strafes them.

In contrast to the Japanese and the rest of the American military, Thorwald orders that his officers wear no rank insignia and have no special privileges. He tells his Raiders, “I will eat what you eat and sleep where you sleep” and participate in the same training. Thorwald’s Marines participate in “Gung Ho Sessions” where they discuss the unit’s plans and each man participates without regard to rank.


Box Office

The movie was a big hit and earned profits of $577,460.

It recorded admissions in France of 748,212 when released there in 1945.


The film was re-released in the early 1950s by Realart Pictures who gave Robert Mitchum second billing on the posters.

The film has often been shown to recruits and Marines of the United States Marine Corps.


  • In the early 1960s Louis Marx and Company came out with a “Gung Ho Commando Outfit” for children.
  • Director Ray Enright fought in the US Army Signal Corps during World War I.
  • Utilises real combat footage.
  • The film’s title, “Gung Ho”, is a Chinese expression that means “To Work in Harmony” – “Gung” translates as “to work” and “Ho” as “harmony”.
    • The phrase became the motto of the 2nd Marine Battalion and eventually worked its way into the American vernacular.

Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s):
    • Ray Enright.
  • Producer(s):
    • Walter Wanger … producer.
  • Writer(s):
    • Lucien Hubbard … (screenplay).
    • W.S. LeFrançois … (based on the factual story “GUNG HO” by) (as Lt. W.S. LeFrancois U.S.M.C.).
    • Joseph Hoffman … (additional dialogue).
  • Music:
    • Frank Skinner.
  • Cinematography:
    • Milton R. Krasner … director of photography (as Milton Krasner).
  • Editor(s):
    • Milton Carruth.
  • Production:
    • Walter Wanger Productions (as Walter Wanger Presents).
  • Distributor(s):
    • Universal Pictures (1943) (USA) (theatrical) (as Universal Pictures Corporation).
    • Empire Universal Films (1943) (Canada) (theatrical).
    • General Film Distributors (GFD) (1944) (UK) (theatrical).
    • Universal Film (1945) (Sweden) (theatrical).
    • Film Classics (1948) (USA) (theatrical) (re-release for Realart Pictures).
    • Kamera Film Aktieselskap (1949) (Norway) (theatrical).
    • Hygo Television Films (1955) (USA) (TV) (syndication).
    • Screen Gems (1956) (USA) (TV).
    • Favorit-Filmverleih (1958) (Austria) (theatrical).
    • Lehmacher Filmverleih (1958) (West Germany) (theatrical).
    • NTA Home Entertainment (1984) (USA) (VHS).
    • Hal Roach Studios Film Classics (1985) (USA) (VHS).
    • Hal Roach Studios (1985) (USA) (VHS).
    • Republic Pictures Home Video (1986) (USA) (VHS).
    • MCA/Universal Home Video (1992) (USA) (VHS).
    • VCI Home Video (2000) (USA) (VHS).
    • Reel Media International (2004) (World-wide) (video).
    • Alpha Video Distributors (2005) (USA) (DVD).
    • Reel Media International (2007) (World-wide) (DVD).
    • Film Detective (2015) (USA) (DVD).
    • PolarFilm (2020) (Germany) (DVD).
    • YouTube (2020) (USA) (video) (streaming) (colourised).
  • Release Date: 20 December 1943 (US).
  • Rating: PG.
  • Running Time: 98 minutes.
  • Country: US.
  • Language: English.

Video Link(s)

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