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What Price Glory

What Price Glory
1952 / Color / 1:37 flat full frame / 109 111 min. / Street Date May 25, 2004 / 14.98
Starring James Cagney, Corinne Calvet, Dan Dailey, William Demarest, Robert Wagner, Marisa Pavan, Harry Morgan
Cinematography Joseph MacDonald
Production Designer George W. Davis, Lyle R. Wheeler
Film Editor Dorothy Spencer
Original Music Alfred Newman
Written by Henry Ephron and Phoebe Ephron from a play by Maxwell Anderson and Laurence Stallings
Produced by Sol C. Siegel
Directed by John Ford

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

All John Ford movies aren't gems, and the chemistry in this one just can't reproduce the gutsy, lusty devil-may-care attitude of the original Raoul Walsh silent film. An odd match of service hi-jinks contrasted with the muddy trench struggle of WW1, the comedy is too forced and the fighting too idealized. James Cagney seems distracted, and his opposite number Dan Dailey is missing what little charm he had.


Rollicking Captain Flagg (James Cagney) is top kick in an army unit scheduled to move to the front. His new first sergeant Quirt (Dan Dailey) shows up, and they reignite their legendary antagonisms and rivalries that culminate in a competition for the hand of a local French girl Charmaine (Corinne Calvet). The other soldiers practically have to put the war on hold for these two to settle their differences. Meanwhile, green recruit Pvt. Lewisohn (Robert Wagner) falls head over heels for the beautiful young Nicole Bouchard (Marisa Pavan).

War is Hell but this chestnut of a play is one of the original service comedies that seeks to entertain by showing the nutsy madness among the ranks in the lightest terms possible. They've always been around but came to be fully recognized with 50s shows like Operation Mad Ball, Kiss them for Me and The Horizontal Lieutenant. Perhaps the best one is another play adaptation, Mister Roberts.

Sickness prevented John Ford from filming all of Mister Roberts, which still bears the mark of his over-the-top slapstick comedy, the booze 'n brawl humor that's either the highlight or the nadir of his westerns and cavalry pictures, depending on one's temperament. But he's totally in charge of What Price Glory (a title that really begs for a question-mark) and it just seems that he hasn't much to add to the ritualized clowning about. According to this film, the French trenches were filled with doughboys who behaved like Irish louts in a John Ford film.

Shot in Ford's classic style, the picture looks uncomfortably old-fashioned. The nicely designed interior battlefield sets are far too pretty to support Ford's frequent reaching for sentimental effects; when key characters die in the trenches, the tone doesn't seem serious enough. Meanwhile, life back at headquarters is a constant trip to the cafe to hear Corrinne Calvet sing. In contrast to Ford's traditional women, she's almost devoid of character and not even given the respect of Fordian primitive belles in the South Seas and elsewhere. French saloon girls are just loose, and that's that. Marisa Pavan's schoolgirl is idealized into nonexistence - when she gets the bad news about her Yankee sweetie she just nods and exits, as if Ford wished the subplot would just go away. It's stock stuff, and not very memorable.

If there were more chemistry between Ford, Cagney and Dailey, this might have amounted to something, but there's no evidence of any particular inspiration afoot.

Ford fans will find tangential harmonies in the nicely managed ensemble of familiar players. William Demarest, Harry Morgan, Casey Adams and James Gleason don't get too much to do, but Ford stalwart Jack Pennick has more business than usual to show off his endearingly pug-ugly face. Ford must have liked Tom Tyler, as the actor shows up in most of his work as well. Fresh Fox ingenue lead Robert Wagner comes off well, as Ford makes sure the studio will be happy by letting him smile charmingly before making a quick exit in the third act.

Fox's DVD of What Price Glory looks just about perfect, allowing us to admire the handsome art direction. The Technicolor is good for a Fox film, and the materials have been well preserved. John Ford completists will be happy to have this in their collections, while waiting for not-likely titles such as The Sun Shines Bright or Steamboat 'Round the Bend.

The cover artwork contrasts a determined Cagney with a colorful battlefield image.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, What Price Glory rates:
Movie: Good -
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: none
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: May 22, 2004

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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