WHAT PRICE GLORY was the #1 hit movie of 1926, taken from the long-running play by Maxwell Anderson and Laurence Stallings. Directed by Raoul Walsh, the profane comedy-drama about two career US Marines and their roughhouse rivalry was one of the lauded World War 1 movies of the era, joining epics The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse, The Big Parade, Wings, All Quiet On The Western Front and Hell’s Angels in giving late-silent/early-sound audiences a glimmer of the scale and waste of “The Great War”. Stars Victor McLaglen and Edmund Lowe reprised their characters of ‘Captain Flagg’ and ‘Sgt. Quirt’ in three sequels. Helping out Walsh with some 2nd-unit action footage was John Ford. Twenty-six years and a couple wars later, Ford took the helm directing the 1952 remake. Garnished by Technicolor, James Cagney and Dan Dailey are the allied adversaries in 1918 France, fighting against Germans in the trenches when not fighting over an innkeepers daughter in a nearby village.
Pugnacious Captain Flagg (Cagney,52) and rule-averse fellow lifer ‘Sgt. Quirt’ (Dailey, 36) have quarrels that go way back; they’re currently squabbling over the affections of ‘Charmaine’ (Corinne Calvet, 27) who’s angling for a husband: may the best man knock the other one out first. Actual combat gives them temporary breaks, as they shepherd their company through the meat grinder of The Front.
At first reconceived as a musical (which lured Cagney and fellow hoofer Dailey), that daft idea was scrapped by Ford, who was in a particularly nettlesome mood during the shoot, offending screenwriters Henry & Phoebe Ephron, who had to remove much of the sting from the original to get past censors: part of the fun of the silent was lip-reading the profanity in the text. Having returned from making This Is Korea!, a bristling documentary supporting that grim and unpopular conflict, Ford shied away from ‘Glory‘s antiwar sentiments and focused on the horseplay. The stagy sets and color camerawork further dampen reality. Along with baiting the writers and his producer, Ford was on Calvet’s case and viciously laid into 22-year-old frosh Robert Wagner.
Calvet’s okay (another interesting personality Hollywood wasted); Dailey, an acquired taste, does what’s required; the best work in the supporting cast comes from William Demarest. What makes the movie work to the extent that it does is the undiminished energy put over by Cagney. He’s twenty years too old for the role, but still game as hell. *
Critics dismiss the film (it’s lower-case Ford for certain), which dug up a gross of $5,600,000, ranking # 52 in ’52. Overlong at 111 minutes, with Craig Hill, Marisa Pavan, Casey Adams (Max Showalter), James Gleason (amusing), Henri Letondal, Jack Pennick, Harry Morgan, Paul Fix, Henry Kulky, Sean McClory, and Tom Tyler.
* Memo from Fox commander Darryl F. Zanuck to producer Sol Siegel: “How the hell are we going to get Calvet’s legs into this show? Her body was a big asset in On the Riviera. Is there any conceivable way we can think to get her in shorts, or something of this sort? Perhaps we can design a sort of peasant costume with a split in the front.”