In 1918 France, Captain Flagg commands a disreputable company of Marines; his new top sergeant is his old friendly enemy, Quirt. The two men become rivals for the favors of fair innkeeper's daughter Charmaine, but the rivalry goes into reverse when Charmaine proves to be angling for a husband. When the company is ordered to the front, this comedy interlude gives way to the grim realities of war.Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
Jack Pennick was also in the 1926 version. See more »
When Flagg and Quirt crawl through the lines in search of prisoners, Flagg picks up a German helmet and places it on his head. In the next sequence he is bare headed but he wears it in the farm house. See more »
What about those three men who were supposed to go up to Le Mans to get the Croix de Guerre?
Oh, yeah. Yes, yes. All right, get 'em out of the guardhouse and have 'em take a bath and send 'em over with an MP escort.
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In the mid-1920s, when What Price Glory? debuted as a play and was filmed for the first time, there was a popular anti-war mood, and cultural works attacking the First World War proliferated. In the early-1950s, with World War Two a recent memory and the Korean war still going on, war movies of every kind were at the height of their popularity, but there was no way they could be openly anti-militaristic. Hence, when Fox Studios decided to resurrect the classic story in 1952 it was largely a comical and de-politicised affair.
With a screenplay by Henry and Phoebe Ephron, this version of What Price Glory? uses virtually none of Maxwell Anderson's original dialogue. The job of direction was handed to John Ford, who was known for staging extended improvisations, creating little vignettes of military life with comical drunkenness and good-natured fistfights. In What Price Glory? this is done to the extent that it actually overshadows any semblance of plot. And not just the anti-war business; the romantic subplots seem weak and disjointed as well.
That's not to say there aren't some good things about this picture. The Technicolor cinematography by Joe MacDonald is often breathtaking, giving a haunting quality to the mist-shrouded battlegrounds. Ford was as always a good visual director, often using stark contrasts in depth to bring different ideas to our attention in the one shot. For example, as the troops march off to the front, a mass of drab browns and greys, we see Corinne Calvet in a bold red, white and blue dress – a human flag and a reminder of what the men are leaving behind them. And James Cagney is good fun in one of his purely comic roles.
But there is little else to recommend about this What Price Glory? Various scenes look to have been filmed with an emphasis on pathos, but they don't work within the structure of the whole thing. When a young Robert Wagner makes the central speech in which the words of the title are spoken, it seems barely to relate to the rest of the picture. And it's not the mixing of comedy with the realities of war per se that makes it fall apart – after all this is the basis of such classics as The Big Parade and MASH – it's just that the balance is wrong. It simply fails to take the war seriously enough, and the "serious" moments seem like flimsy little inserts. Of course, if it had been a tight and hard-hitting anti-war drama, it would most likely have fallen foul of the censors and/or stifled the careers of its creative team. As it was, this vague mish-mash of bar songs and army jokes was conveniently inoffensive.
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