They Were Expendable is the greatest American film of the Second World War, made by America's greatest director, John Ford, who himself saw action from the Battle of Midway through D-day. Yet it's been oddly neglected. Or perhaps not so oddly: for as the matter-of-fact title implies, the film commemorates a period, from the eve of Pearl Harbor up to the impending fall of Bataan, when the Japanese conquest of the Pacific was in full cry and U.S. forces were fighting a desperate holding action. Although stirring movies had been made about these early days (Wake Island, Bataan, Air Force), they were gung ho in their resolve to see the tables turned. They Were Expendable, however, which was made when Allied victory was all but assured, is profoundly elegiac, with the patient grandeur of a tragic poem.