Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Ambush Bay

Jacques Bain Pearl (1923-1992), better known as Jack Pearl, was a talented author that thrived on writing movie and television novelizations. Along with novelizations of “Funny Girl” (1968), “Our Man Flint” (1966) and “The Yellow Rolls-Royce” (1964), Pearl also wrote a number of successful stand-alone titles and a well-received science-fiction series called “The Space Eagle” (1967). After reading his novel tie-in of the “Dirty Dozen” styled television show “Garrison's Guerrillas” (1967), I was curious about another of his film novelizations, “Ambush Bay” (1962).

The film was released by United Artists and featured a cast starring Mickey Rooney, James Mitchum and Hugh O' Brian, who accepted the role after Charleston Heston declined it. The film was directed by Ron Winston, a Michigan native who spent most of his career working on television series' like “Hawaii Five-O”, “Branded” and “The Twilight Zone”. The film was shot on location in the Philippines, an important factor considering all of the action is centralized in that region.

Pearl's book introduces us to nine battle-scarred U.S. Marines and a goofy Air Force radio-man who is vital to the narrative. The mission is to penetrate enemy lines in Mindanao, a rural landscape in the Philippines. Once there, the group must locate a U.S. intelligence officer who  has been submerged in the Japanese military as a spy. General MacArthur has scheduled a full invasion of a portion of the island, yet the U.S. has received chatter that the Japanese may already know about the invasion and have planted sophisticated mines along their heavily fortified coastal position. The secret agent has key details on where the Japanese have planned for the assault. If the men can rendezvous with the spy, they can obtain the information and then radio it to MacArthur so he can prepare an alternate strategy if needed.

I struggled in the book's opening chapter with the number of characters. However, my confusion quickly subsided as most of the team is killed in furious jungle firefights. The book's main character is Private First Class Air Crewman radio specialist Jim Grenier, a young soldier who is taunted by the hardened Marines. Grenier is just six-months into his military career having spent his entire life on a chicken farm. Grenier's sole purpose is to stay clear of the fighting and protect the radio at all costs. Unfortunately, with the team's ranks thinning, the inexperienced rookie is forced into the fight.

Pearl is a great storyteller and despite working from a script, I imagine he's adding dynamic details to make the two-dimensional characters come alive for the reader. The unbalanced relationship between Grenier and the iron-fisted Sergeant Corey is the novel's first half focus, yet as the novel progresses, the two men become closer allies. While Pearl spends a great deal of time on gunplay, the book's second half presents an entirely different mission. I won't spoil the fun, but I was surprised when the spy was eventually revealed. It's this change of pace that elevated the entertainment factor for me.

Despite the film's lukewarm reviews, Jack Pearl's novel was an entertaining blend of action, adventure and humanity that should please genre fans. As a Signet paperback, hopefully you can locate a used copy somewhere.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

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