THE REAL GLORY nonchalantly offers the kind of benevolent condescention that’s the lighter side of racism in its Stand Back And Let The White Man Show You How storyline that this time around has superstitious Filipinos as the beneficiaries of Good Will (advice, medicine, firepower). Using the ‘Moro Rebellion’ in 1906 as its linchpin, it manages to deftly sidestep the Philippine ‘Insurrection’ that helped pave the way for it.*
Army doctor Gary Cooper joins brother officers David Niven and Broderick Crawford in attempts to stamp out cholera and train the local ‘Philippine Constabulary’ to repel raids by Muslim guerrillas/pirates/ longtime residents. Fanatics rampage, ‘loyal’ locals are scared goofy, bloodshed ensues.
Directed apace by Henry Hathaway, its jingoistic foolishness that was embarrassing in 1939 when it came out (landing #34 during that packed year) let alone in what-we-hope are more racially/culturally enlightened times (the word ‘hope’ included for irony, if you’re paying any attention to your fellow citizens).
As an action piece, it’s okay, though some of the wild stunts during the climactic mop-up are pretty dang ridiculous. Brod Crawford was once young (!), at 28 here, still merely husky and not yet prone to roaring his lines like an angry hippo. Niven, at 29, was stuck playing catch-up as second-lead ‘pal’ to leading men, in this case the ever-stalwart Gary, who was riding an unbroken string of hits. Cooper’s skills aren’t taxed much here in 96 minutes of hokum, with Reginald Owen, Andrea Leeds, Kay Johnson, Vladimir Sokoloff and as many Californian-Filipinos as they could entice to be extras.
* For an in-depth take on how this seemingly innocuous Hollywood action flick strikes most of the wrong notes, read “American Tropics: Articulating Filipino America”.by Allan Isaac. The Moro Rebellion lasted years, and was just part of an on-again/off-again tussle between tribes, faiths and those caught between that has sliced wounds across the southern Philippines for centuries. It continues today, with the added mauling of terrorist associated groups like Abu Sayef, and one notable bunch, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front—MILF (laugh, I always do–but from a distance: they’re not kidding).
- Another thing of questionable mirth-value is the blatant Yankee co-opting of the Philippines nascent liberation struggle against Spain, which resulted in years of ‘pacification’, 4200 American deaths–and hundreds of thousands among the Filipinos. Not fodder for feel-good films.
- For decades this was the only film to deal (tangentially) with America’s First Vietnam (some would designate the Seminole War). Not having enough cheer-factor to snare crowds, there have been scarce a handful since–the 1958 John Agar programmer Cavalry Command (which I bet not even Agar watched) and lately (way-lately) the great John Sayles Amigo, which sank like a stone in 2010.
- It took an even harsher occupier, Imperial Japan, to bring some actual blood- brotherhood between the islands and the States, cue plenty of WW2 sagas set in that intoxicating, friendly, woes-beset archipelago. Mahal ko ang Pilipinas.