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Gregory La Cava
This film has an interesting beginning. It has a map of the US as it existed in 1860, and then zooms in on the deep south and shows farming there, then zooms in on Ohio and shows a farmer farming there, shows the lead up to the Civil War, and then goes back to the map with the edges of the old Confederacy ablaze. Then there is an odd close up of a mute General Grant writing a letter about how he hopes that the war will be over in August. Maybe it was the general's heavy drinking or optimistic thinking, but the war did not end until April 1865. No explanation is ever given for this short scene.
That is as about as violent as this film gets. Gary Cooper plays Captain James Brayden who joins up with his Union troops but has his four day leave abruptly cancelled. He decides to take his leave anyways as he desperately wants to see his girl, Elizabeth, played by an unrecognizable Virginia Bruce before her MGM days. Brayden risks his career only to see and hear his girl betraying him with another man, a stocky older fellow whom she says she really loves. Since this fellow looks like a 40ish version of Mr. Potato Head, I can only assume he is rich or Elizabeth has insanity in her family.
Brayden rides back to the Union camp, where he has a rather mild punishment meted out to him for being AWOL, given his past exemplary record. Brayden suggests an alternative. His bunk mate is a young guy with everything to live for whose assignment is to cross into Confederate territory and be captured as a spy with the Confederate troops lifting deliberately misleading information from him. Of course, this also means he will be shot as a spy. Braden asks that he take the younger man's place in the assignment. Coop doesn't really get to show too much depth here, but the idea is that he now distrusts all women and feels like he has nothing to live for.
The best part of the film is the Virginia plantation where Brayden shows up, dressed as a Confederate soldier who is lost, trying to get to Spotsylvania. Other Confederate troops are encamped there, having a ball - literally. Apparently they didn't get the memo that the Union troops had sacked every plantation around central Virginia by 1864, because this looks like Tara in "Gone With the Wind" in 1860.
Meanwhile, Brayden is constantly either trying to get captured by dropping stuff that only a Union solder would have - stuff that says USA for example, but no dice. Nobody suspects a thing. Then he tries to just plain get shot by playing up to the daughter of the plantation owner (Mary Brian as Barbara Calhoun) who has the hots for him, and then insulting her, and rubbing it in the face of her trigger happy beau (Phillips Holmes). Again, Coop just can't seem to get suspected, captured, or killed.
When Brayden finally is suspected as a spy, as the Confederate soldiers chase him around the house, Barbara keeps saving him and hiding him, despite Brayden's protests. How will this all work out? Watch and find out.
Because the cinematographer here either neglected to or could not do close ups, it is really hard to get a feel for what Coop or Mary Brian are feeling during the emotional or the humorous parts of the film. I'd say this film doesn't measure up on any scale to the previous year's "The Virginian" with the same two leads - Coop and Mary Brian - and seems like it was made quickly and rather carelessly just to cash in on the chemistry they showed in that film. I'd give it a very mild recommendation to a general audience, but maybe a little stronger of a recommendation to those of you interested in the early talkies.
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