Friday, July 13, 2018

FEATURE FRIDAY: WHAT PRICE GLORY (1952)

    It's difficult to imagine in this uptight, politically-correct era that there was a time when Americans could actually laugh in the face of danger and enjoy life even through the most trying of circumstances. Films of the mid-20th Century often reflected this attitude; and legendary director John Ford portrayed it better than anyone else. Ford was to film what Norman Rockwell was to art; the spirit of what America was (and can be again) permeated his work.

     And circumstances didn't get much more difficult than being in a Marine Corps rifle company on the Western Front during WW1. What Price Glory, a remake of a 1926 film, shows Americans living, loving, and fighting in their own way. Captain Flagg (played by James Cagney) has a big problem on his hands. He has a handful of battle-hardened veterans and a train-load of green recruits who need to be whipped into shape before the next offensive. And this against a military bureaucracy unwilling to hear excuses.

     So he sends for the best top-sergeant he knows, Sgt. Quirt (played by Dan Daly). Flagg and Quirt have fought together before---between themselves as much as with the enemy. The two seem to have had a history of falling in love with the same girl. In this case, it's the lovely daughter of the local innkeeper, Charmaine (played by the effusively cute Corrine Calvet). It's Marine vs. Marine vs. the Germans...who will win? 

     Ah...for the days when the Marine Corps were the backbone of the American military and not a bunch of limp-wristed pansies. We may well ask ourselves What Price Glory when we see how one of our most iconic military institutions has degenerated after 100 years. 

     But those reflections aside, the movie is a very good one. Battle-action overshadows all the ancillary stories because---no matter how we cope---we live in a world where life and death circumscribe everything. Only love is eternal; as both men realize in battle when their thoughts turn to Charmaine. 

    What Price Glory was a hit among the general population; although from contemporary critics, reviews were more mixed. The film was released toward the end of the Korean War, and many found its message uplifting among some of the gloomier media reports of that conflict. 

     Critics, on the other hand, measured the film against the highly popular 1926 version: and their coverage forced John Ford to bill the film as an 'updated version' instead of a 'remake'. The earlier was a blockbuster hit and---in 2018 dollars---grossed around $30 million its first year. It was still in syndication and even spawned a radio program during the 1940's. 

     Still, the updated version was a good one and really a better one than the original in many ways. My own opinion was that the 1952 version had a storyline that was much easier to follow; and Cagney and Daly played the parts convincingly. Charmaine was played by Delores Del Rio in 1926; and as much a babe as she was, was more suited to exotic, mysterious-woman parts. Corrine Calvet is hard to forget once you've seen her. 

     This one gets ✪✪✪✪ four stars. It's not a conventional war film, but maybe closer to reality than people think.

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