Robert Mitchum plays the skin-disease afflicted Vice Admiral William F. ‘Bull’ Halsey, ("some drunken correspondent," in Halsey's words, changed "Bill" Halsey to "Bull") who, or more than three fourths of the film is ‘indisposed’, as in real life, with advanced dermatitis, laid up in Hawaii. Admiral Chester Nimitz (played by Henry Fonda) is the man of the hour, in-charge of all the planning, in place of William Halsey.
At the helm of affairs for the Japanese is head strategist Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto (played by Toshiro Mifune) who conceived the Midway plan. He intended to send in 4 carriers, 2 battleships, 3 cruisers, and 12 destroyers, and five thousand troops to secure the Atoll from American Marines. He was killed after the Americans decoded the Midway plan, as his plane was shot down. This incident shook up the Japanese and their morale took a beating.
Prominent in the US Navy's cryptographic and intelligence operations, Commander Joseph Rochefort (Hal Holbrook) was the first officer to uncover the Japs plan to attack Midway Atoll, despite JN-25b being “super enciphered.” Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher (Robert Webber) was the Officer in Tactical Command, with the US carriers Enterprise and Hornet, and repairs a third Yorktown. Under his command, the three US carriers sank the enemy carriers- Akagi, Kaga, and Soryu. He was later promoted to Vice Admiral.
The film is more a docudrama, and digresses somewhat with the imaginary second thread: Captain Matt Garth (Charlton Heston) is a naval officer who is responsible for strategizing operations in the War; however, he is fighting a war on the home front as well - with his son Ensign Thomas (played by Edward Albert), who is a pilot, in love with a Japanese girl, Haruko Sakura (played by Christina Kokubo) born to immigrants. These three are fictional leads in the film along with a handful of others; the rest are all based on real characters. Captain Garth uses his influence and contacts to rescue the interned girl and her parents, a practice normal in America at the time for Japanese immigrants. The girl and her parents are freed; Haruko is by Thomas’ side when he is wounded in action. Captain Matt Garth is killed in action when his plane crashes.
With stellar performances by all actors, the movie is undeniably a classic war film. Despite the slow pick up, given the documentary style filming, the movie picks pace with almost astral dogfights, larger–than-life celluloid depiction of the operations, given their massive scale. In actual the battle resulted in 3,057 Japanese deaths, a sad fate for Japan and herculean victory for the USA.