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Derrick De Marney,
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John Kent (Monte Blue') wins the Olympic decathlon but is disqualified on a charge of professionalism. William Stevens (Kenneth Harlan), the second-place finisher, is awarded the title and ... See full summary »
In the 1930's, a lot of movies were released about well-off scalawags with hearts of gold. The population, groaning under weight of the Depression, loved to see depictions of glamorous and wealthy people that showed they were `just like us.' Partly, these movies undermined the class resentment that might otherwise have grown during hard times, partly they held out the promise to everyman that one day he, too, could share in the good life.
By the time `The Duke of West Point' came along, however, this sort of thing was getting pretty old hat. What's interesting about it, however, is that it is the `Duke's' very otherness that makes him stand out as the star, not his common-placeness. The titular `Duke' is actually an American raised in England and schooled at Cambridge who goes to West Point out of family tradition. He speaks like an Englishman and has a variety of bizarre idiosyncrasies, but has an infuriating tendency to always get his own way, a characteristic that makes upperclassmen resent him. In spite of his relatively slight build, he also happens to be an outstanding athlete, apparently able to master any sport in seconds.
All this sets him up to be an insufferable snob, and he is, really. But he does have the ubiquitous heart of gold, and the audience largely sees him through the eyes of his everyman American roommates (played by Richard Carlson and Tom Browne), who he will go to any length to support, even at potential disgrace to himself. There is a curious ambiguity when he receives his comeuppance, at the hands of almost the entire school (apart from those loyal roommates): Yes, he deserves it, and he needs to be taught a lesson, but, no, he isn't such a bad guy as all that.
In the end, I found it hard to root for the Duke. He breaks rules for the fun of it, acts like he is doing the American military a favor by attending its finest institution and woos the one girl within miles of the campus. I also found it hard to watch all those endless sporting events - I have no real interest in ice hockey, football or `ruggers,' although I suppose in the days before television a sports fan would have been thrilled to see a sporting event shot so professionally. This film is an interesting relic of a bygone age, and little more.
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