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Review: Tribute to World War II hero in documentary ‘Never Surrender: The Ed Ramsey Story’

A still from the documentary "Never Surrender: The Ed Ramsey Story."
(Vanilla Fire Productions)

An evident labor of love that could have benefited from a sharper thematic focus, “Never Surrender: The Ed Ramsey Story” pays tribute to the late WWII hero who earned a place in military lore for having led the last cavalry charge in U.S. military history.

Illinois-born Ramsey, who died in 2013 at the age of 95, had found himself in charge of the elite 26th Calvary Regiment in the Philippines, where he was leading a “Gunga Din”-type existence playing polo with other officers until Japanese troops marched through Manila.

He subsequently led his storied offensive in the Philippine jungle, and in 1942 he joined the Filipino resistance, ultimately commanding more than 40,000 guerrilla fighters and enduring severe malnutrition and a slew of tropical diseases.

It’s potent stuff, but the film, directed by Steven C. Barber and Matt Hausle with sporadic narration by Josh Brolin, casts an unnecessarily wide net, spending needless time going over the finer points of polo and Ramsey’s post-war career with the Hughes Aircraft Co.

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Hausle assembles the obligatory line-up of talking heads, from historians and retired military personnel, family members (especially his widow, second wife Dr. Raquel Ramirez Ramsey, who’s tellingly the film’s executive producer) and excerpts featuring Ramsey himself, filmed in 2003 and 2012.

Oddly missing, however, is a presence from the families of those Filipino war vets on behalf of whom Ramsey would tirelessly lobby Congress to restore the benefits promised them.

In its present form, Ramsey’s story leaves you wanting more — and less.

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‘Never Surrender: The Ed Ramsey Story’

Not rated.

Running time: 1 hour, 16 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills

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