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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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Famous regiment gets the stock company treatment from Warner Bros...
'The Fighting 69th' gets a lot of mileage out of every cliche you've ever seen in a war film. It's hokey corn from start to end--and yet, despite the fact that you've seen it all before--it's an enjoyable enough experience because of its stellar cast of Warner stock players.
James Cagney is the mug from Brooklyn who is nasty to one and all, described by one character as "the man they'd rather riddle with bullets than the Germans." Pat O'Brien is the true-life character of Father Duffy who has a major job on his hands trying to reform Cagney in time for the fadeout. Sensitive Jeffrey Lynn is Joyce Kilmer, the poet. Gruff Alan Hale is a tough sergeant. And just about every male contract player from William Lundigan to Frank McHugh to Dennis Morgan is present to depict the stereotyped characters that fill the screen.
As hokey as it is, it does a graphic job of showing what war is like under combat fire. The combat scenes are skillfully done, with shells and grenades and bombs making trenches hell and buildings collapse, all in very realistic fashion.
Cagney is his usual pugnacious self and his reform at the end is a little too abruptly handled. But the film is a brisk 80 minutes, as shown on TCM, and fairly entertaining if you can forgive the corn. Surprisingly, it is directed by William Keighley, whose sluggish work on "The Adventures of Robin Hood" caused him to be replaced by Michael Curtiz to give the film more punch. And yet, "The Fighting 69th" is anything but sluggish. A brisk, entertaining little war film.
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