Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Fighting 69th: a film review

The Fighting 69th
(1940 - Warner Brothers - 90 minutes). Starring James Cagney, Patrick O'Brien, and George Brent.

I watched this film as a part of my commitment for the World War I reading challenge at War Through the Generations. It is part of a DVD set (James Cagney: The Signature Collection) and it is the first I have watched from the set.

This movie is a film about events in World War I produced by Warner Brothers in 1940, at a time that the second World War was escalating in Europe. I found this movie to be a confusing mix of propaganda, humor, and depictions of the grim realities of war. Since it features a real regiment, with some characters who really fought in the war, it does give us a picture of that time.

The movie starts with a group of new recruits (to the 69th Infantry Regiment) arriving at a base; it  takes us through the training process, establishing relationships between various members of the Squadron.  Jerry Plunkett (Cagney) is just one of the recruits; he is a misfit who has a chip on his shoulder and just wants to get into battle as soon as possible. Once they reach the front, he finds the realities of battle overwhelming.  Several of the characters in the movie were real people, including Father Francis P. Duffy, Major "Wild Bill" Donovan, and  Sergeant Joyce Kilmer (the poet). Father Duffy, a major character in the movie, was a highly decorated cleric in the U.S. Army.

I approached this movie with expectations of liking it... a lot. James Cagney is one of my favorite actors, although I lean toward the movies where he dances.  I knew a movie produced in 1940 would probably be a propaganda piece, and I was prepared for that slant. I was not prepared for the religious overtones. The movie was just too heavy-handed in that area for me.  As my husband said, it is a movie of its time.

For the most part, the acting was just OK, although James Cagney did well in his role, despite playing a very unappealing character. From what I know of World War I, it seems that the scenes in the trenches are fairly realistic and portray the horror of the that war.  I had never heard of the Irish heritage unit, the 69th Infantry Regiment.

From the article on Wikipedia:
The outbreak of World War I saw a resurrection of the old spirit of the 69th. Doubled in size by new War Department regulations, its ranks were filled with Irish-Americans and New Yorkers detailed from other regiments, and it was sent over to France in October 1917 as part of the 42nd "Rainbow" Division of the American Expeditionary Force. All National Guard regiments received new "100 series" regimental numbers at that time. The 69th was renumbered the 165th Infantry Regiment, but retained its Irish symbolism and spirit...
This site has detailed information about the regiment, from the Civil War up to today:

1 comment:

Anna said...

Sounds like an interesting, though not great WWI movie. I must admit that I haven't yet watched any films about WWI. You're review will be featured on War Through the Generations on May 30. Thanks for participating!