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You'll either love it or hate it. John Mills probably hated it, playing a
decidedly secondary role as British straight man to Wallace Ford's
eccentrically comic Yankee soldier who has somehow found his way into the
British army. Ford's wise-cracking character steals every scene and the
only question is whether he'll also steal John Mills' girl.
From its outset the movie tries to achieve too much - it wants to be a comedy, a romance, a serious drama and a military propaganda piece. It's hard to strike the right balance between so many competing objectives and the inevitable result is that it does not achieve distinction in any ofthem.
Just one of the numerous imbalances in the movie is the inclusion of too many lengthy items of newsreel footage showing ranks of military horsemen and precision marching foot soldiers training in Britain in the late 1930s. These skills seem woefully unsuitable for the imminent mechanized blitzkrieg about to engulf Europe as the movie was being made. It's sad confirmation of the adage that every army is only prepared to fight its previous war.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I am writing this after watching only nine minutes of this film -- !!
-- but I'm already so excited! What a fabulous storyteller is this
Raoul Walsh, and he does it with such ease. The first nine minutes are
a veritable compendium of storytelling technique: the cuts are fast
(average shot length 3 seconds), and yet in the midst of it are
efficient, meaningful re-framings, dolly shots, pans, etc. And the
verve! Opening shot: standard Times Square at night, then another, then
a third (I think), finally to medium shot of Wallace Ford striking a
match on the ass of a chorus girl! -- on a poster; then: the chorus
girl in question, on stage, doing her number. It's wise-ass,
straightforward and charmingly naive all at once. OK, back to the
...later, having watched the rest:
which turns out to be terrific. Walsh really thinks visually, and especially in terms of action: he RHYMES visually: there is an scene early on where Wallace Ford, escaping frantically from the police, tumbles head first into a window and to safety. Striking enough, but there is a strong payoff at the end: Ford, as lonely advance guard to his regiment, arrives at the besieged Chinese city where Anna Lee (his love and also John Mills's) is captive in the embassy -- and tumbles into the window. The fugitive and the hero perform the same action -- thus telling us that it's the same man, but made greater by circumstances. When Mills arrives at the head of the regiment, Lee is relieved as only a woman in love can be, kisses him: reaction shot: Ford, realizing; Ford then (within seconds) sacrifices himself. It's amazingly efficient, and yet not unfeeling. And the death scene, while brief, would not be unworthy of John M. Stahl (who would, no doubt, have slowed it down a good deal). Quite a picture. And if you're American you'll never see it. Fortunately, the French have a much greater interest in our patrimony than we have, and this is available (in a box set with "The Revolt of Mamie Stover") on Region 2 DVD, with a short appreciation by a French critic (laudatory and interesting, but in French only, no English subtitles). Well worth seeing! (though only 8 out of 10, since the "romance" aspect is -- until the excellent conclusion -- pretty routine).
Jimmy Tracey (Wallace Ford) is a small-time gangster from New York who
finds himself mixed up in a murder, becomes a suspect, and goes on the
run with the victim's wallet which contains his passport and a ticket
for a trip to England by ship. Assuming the identity of the deceased,
Jimmy Dean from Winnipeg, Tracey ships to England where he's met at
customs by Dean's long lost childhood buddies, Corporal Dawson (John
Mills) and his sweetheart Miss Briggs (Anna Lee), daughter of a
Sergeant who was close to Dean's father. They all take Tracey to be
Dean and he's pushed into enlisting in the army. A rivalry for the girl
soon develops between the two fellows, tempered by a growing sense of
comradeship; and a variety of diversions arise, including a boxing
match and the re-appearance of Tracey's nightclub singer girlfriend
from New York (Grace Bradley). Then the boys ship out to China, along
with Miss Briggs and her Sergeant daddy, and face rampaging 'bandits'
in some substantial battle scenes.
British production company Gaumont Pictures hired Raoul Walsh to direct O.H.M.S ('On Her Majesty's Service', renamed You're in the Army for the US) and together they cooked up a workman-like picture which, though not a bad film, offers little sense of character development or real dramatic progression, but rather comes across as a sequence of slightly disjointed episodes, some of which are entertaining, and others a bit dull. The film begins and ends well, and has a lot going for it, but it loses its way in the middle, veering all over the place, and at only 87 minutes it feels too long. Among the excess matter is a series of drawn out military pageantry and training scenes which feel awkward, especially removed from the context of the film's pre-WWII release date (the film was cut to 71 minutes for US release and I'm guessing much of this material was trimmed then). Ford does OK as a sort of poor man's Cagney - tough, confident, ambitious, lusty, coarse, but a regular guy despite his failings, even getting in a little song and dance routine - but he's nowhere near Cagney for charm, and looks strangely tired and unhappy for much of the film. Mills wears a keen, boyish spirit; Lee plays it independent but a bit naive; Bradley is sassy, streetwise and fun (the more interesting of the two girls but sadly her part is small). But, like I say, all in all it's not really a bad film. I've been harder on it than I could have been in an attempt at objectivity. It'd make a good first half of a double bill with The Fighting 69th released a few years later and starring Cagney and Pat O'Brian, with Cagney playing a more charismatic, but similarly reluctant and undisciplined newly recruited soldier.
GB under the command of Michael Balcon as production head decided to aim its productions at the American market.Unfortunately as this film shows it would have missed its mark by a mile.As Rachel Low in her estimable book on British Film Production in the 30s says,either they shows actors of insufficient stature or those who were of sufficient stature didn't come up to the mark.Wallace Ford is after all an amiable enough actor but by no stretch of the imagination was he a star.So there was little likelihood that he would draw the customers in the states.Even employing Raoul Walsh as director is nullified by the longueurs of the first half when clearly as a quid pro quo to the army we see drilling and marching and bands playing so that the film grinds to a halt.Ironically at the end the British Army are shown as all conquering in the Asian conflict whereas a few years later they were routed by the Japanese army.It is little surprise that shortly after this film was made Gaumont British closed down their production arm and Shepherds Bush studios and was eventually sold off t rank.A sad end to a misguided dream.
Wallace Ford is a small-time crook in New York who has to flee to Great
Britain. Once there, through a series of misunderstandings, he finds
himself a recruit in the British Army, vying for the affection of
Sergeant-Major Frank Cellier's daughter, Anna Lee, with John Mills.
Mills was near the start of his long career in which he played many any
army man, starting as a raw recruit in the previous year's REGAL
CAVALCADE. He would be promoted out of the ranks during the Second
World War and reach the rank of Field Marshall in 1969's OH WHAT A
LOVELY WAR, amidst nearly three quarters of a century in which he was a
bulwark of British film actors.
This service comedy is a fairly standard affair, although a good deal of pleasure is available. Ford sings and dances, as does gorgeous Grace Bradley as a show girl. There's an exciting battle sequence and editor Charles Saunders offers some fine montage work of British soldiers training and on parade. Director Raoul Walsh, on a working vacation from the U.S. knew how to mix comedy and savagery and, within the limits of late-1930s delicacy, he does so ably.
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