Two American soldiers are captured by the Germans on the Western Front during World War One and escape a POW camp only to stumble into further life-threatening adventures when they come across an Arabian king's daughter while on the lam.
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Americans Sgt. Peter O'Gaffney and one of his soldiers, privileged "pretty boy" W. Daingerfield Phelps III (who is always drawing caricatures), are captured and interred at a POW camp in Northern Germany near the end of WWI. Their relationship has always been an antagonistic one based on what Phelps sees as O'Gaffney pushing him around. O'Gaffney's rank is despite being wanted by the police back home as a con man. It is because of these differences that their resulting friendship at camp is so unlikely, the friendship based on both having the nerve to attempt to escape. On a snow covered day, they do manage to escape, in part by stealing white robes to camouflage themselves against the snow. In their adventures and misadventures on the outside in trying to get to safety, those adventures which include being mistaken for Arab prisoners, they find themselves as stowaways on board a cargo ship headed to Arabia. It is there that they meet a beautiful Arab woman named Mirza, who they save ... Written by
Amusing WWI buddy comedy, building on WHAT PRICE GLORY?
The tremendous popularity of WHAT PRICE GLORY? -a WWI tale of warring "buddies" by the names of Quirt and Flagg - was so great that it resulted in spin-off sequels and this separate but equal take on the theme. This was Lewis Milestone's first important film and oddly enough, it was a comedy (Milestone is not known as a comedy director). It was a blatant rip off of the previous film - same theme- warring "buddies" having escapades in WWI (escape from a prisoner of war camp, escape from a deportation attempt, rescue of an Arabian princess).
The results are amusing and entertaining with Louis Wolheim showing an adept comedy flair (as he would prove to also be a fine dramatic actor- he deserved an Oscar nom at least for his supporting work in ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT). William Boyd would appear in four Academy-recognized films in the two year period of 1927-28 (TWO ARABIAN KNIGHTS, THE LEATHERNECK, THE COP, SKYSCRAPER)and proves an able romantic foil for Wolheim.
The opening amusing foxhole sequence parallels Milestone's harrowing foxhole scene in his dramatic ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT. There's a great overhead shot of a circle of firearms pointed into the hole that reminds one of a Busby Berkeley kaleidoscope dance sequence. There is an unusual and lengthy sequence of male nudity as men are being herded into a delousing station. There's a fun parallel duet of pickpocketing. Both men endure much water - a winter stream, two dunks in the bay, a tub. There are some well composed overhead shots on a sailing vessel. There's a slightly naughty visual joke related to "wetting the floor." Another risqué moment occurs when Wolheim mistakenly attempts to milk a male goat. There's an involved and suspenseful escape involving wriggling under an electrically wired fence. And what is that last shot all about with the Arab standing in the doorway?????
The film, which has existed as negative and print elements in the vaults of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas/Reno for 75 years was restored by UCLA and Flicker Alley and shown for the first time on television on a special Turner Classic Movie segment in December, 2004.
The second half of the film shows spotty but often severe nitrate deterioration, making the film in many spots practically unviewable. It is lucky the decomposition was caught in time.
The film won for Milestone an Oscar for Best Comedy Direction. It is unlikely that it was deserved. That year we had Ted Wilde's direction of Harold Lloyd's SPEEDY -another nominee in the category, as well as Chaplin's THE CIRCUS (for which he won a special Oscar), not to mention Buster Keaton and his masterpiece, THE GENERAL. If anyone deserved an Oscar for Comedy Direction that year it was Keaton.
All in all, an amusing but not great comedy.
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