'Never Surrender: The Ed Ramsey Story': Film Review

A fascinating story that's not so well told.

Josh Brolin narrates this documentary about the U.S. Army officer who led the last horse cavalry charge in American military history.

Great lives don't necessarily make for great movies, as demonstrated by Steven C. Barber and Matthew Hausle's documentary about American World War II military hero Ed Ramsey. Although it contains many fascinating elements, Never Surrender: The Ed Ramsey Story emerges as a hagiographic and frustratingly self-indulgent exercise. That the subject's widow is the film's executive producer gives you an indication of its lack of objectivity.

There's no doubt that Ramsey led a colorful and noteworthy life. Born in 1917, his mother was a dermatologist, a rare profession for a woman in those days, and his sister was a U.S. Mail pilot who later served in World War II. His father hung himself after being arrested for domestic abuse, and Ramsey's troubled teenage years were mainly concerned with "moonshine and girls."

His life changed when his mother enrolled him in the Oklahoma Military Academy, which he was persuaded to attend because of his love of horses. In 1941, he enlisted in the U.S. Military and jumped at the chance to serve in the 26th Cavalry Regiment, based in the Philippines, when he learned that it had the best polo team in the Army. The region's tropical climate and plethora of beautiful, exotic women also were major draws.

Several weeks after the Japanese invasion of the region, Ramsey secured his place in the history books by leading the last cavalry charge in American military history. After the fall of Bataan, he became a leader of the Filipino resistance, eventually leading a force of some 40,000 men under extremely grueling conditions. The fighting lasted for four years, after which he was personally awarded the Distinguished Service Cross by Gen. Douglas MacArthur. After losing half his body weight and suffering from malaria and dysentery, it took Ramsey over a year to recover. One of the film's more harrowing episodes details the surgery to remove his appendix that he endured without anesthesia.

Ramsey later went on to a successful business career, representing the Hughes Aircraft company in Japan and playing a major role in launching the satellite that broadcast live coverage from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

Previously recounted in the 1990 memoir Lieutenant Ramsey's War, the action-packed story certainly deserves documentary treatment. But this effort narrated by Josh Brolin — featuring interviews with Ramsey (who died in 2013); family members, including his widow and son; and military historians and colleagues — tries too hard to be comprehensive. Stuffed with inconsequential tangents and irrelevant details, it ironically reduces the dramatic impact of its subject's impressive achievements.

Production: Vanilla Fire Productions
Directors: Steven C. Barber, Matthew Hausle
Producers: Robert Farrell, Matthew Hausle, Tamara Henry
Executive producer: Raquel Ramirez Ramsey
Editor: John Travers

Not rated, 75 minutes