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"The Fighting 69th" is a First World War regiment of mostly New York-Irish soldiers. Amongst a cocky crew, perhaps the cockiest is Jerry Plunkett, a scrappy fellow who looks out only for himself. The officers and non-coms of the regiment do their best to instill discipline in Plunkett, and the chaplain, Father Duffy, tries to make Plunkett see the greater good, all to no avail. Behind the lines or in the trenches, Plunkett acts selfishly and cowardly, eventually costing the lives of many of his fellow soldiers. A final act of cowardice leads to terrible consequences, but Plunkett sees in them a chance to redeem himself...if only he can. Written by
Jim Beaver <email@example.com>
It's 1917 and the United States is entering the Great War in Europe with guns blazing. Many young men (and, this being Hollywood, several decades from draft age) are recruited. Our boy from Brooklyn, wise-guy James Cagney (as Jerry Plunkett), looks like trouble from the beginning. He joins the mostly Irish Catholic "Fighting 49th" regiment. When the going gets tough, Mr. Cagney gets going literally. As the fighting starts, Cagney realizes a man could get killed. He is no help on the battlefield, but kindly soldier priest Pat O'Brien (as Francis Duffy) provides cover for Cagney. Eventually, the cowardly Cagney's luck runs out and he must either find Christ and fight, lest he lose his spot in Heaven or on Earth...
This is an entertaining war story, with real characters giving he fictionalized Cagney story some substance. It promotes unity in the war effort and includes more realism than many propaganda films specifically, the instances of US soldiers dying during battle is not minimized.
Cagney is engaging in the lead. His main support comes from Mr. O'Brien, who effectively manages the unholy wedding of Christianity and War. Of the many others in the cast, only a few get much script action. The best supporting part goes to Alan Hale (as "Big Mike" Wynn), who shows Cagney how to handle a mortar in a pinch. Apparently, Cagney was excused on mortar day, during training, but he's fortunately a quick study. Also getting a fair amount of screen time are stalwart George Brent (as "Wild Bill"' Donovan) and assimilated Sammy Cohan (as "Mike Murphy"). Good hokum from Warner Bros.
****** The Fighting 69th (1/26/40) William Keighley ~ James Cagney, Pat O'Brien, Alan Hale, George Brent
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