“What Price Glory?” was based on
a play by Maxwell Anderson and Laurence Stallings. It is mainly set in the Western Front of WWI. Both movies are credited with creating the
buddy film. They also created one of the enduring war movie clichés - the battling rivals in love and war. This is appropriately known as the Quirt/Flagg trope.
The Raoul Walsh silent version
begins in China where Flagg (Victor McLaglan) is sweet on a prostitute named
Mabel. He gets into a knock down fight
with his big rival Quirt (Edmund Lowe).
The film then jumps to the Philippines where Quirt steals Flagg’s
Filipino girl friend. This is supposed
to be hilarious and maybe it was in the Twenties.
Now that we know that Quirt and
Flagg are frenemies who are always after the same girl we are off to the
Western Front in 1917. Flagg is now a
Captain in command of a company stationed in a French village. Flagg is billeted at the local tavern where
he begins to woo the saucy owner’s daughter Charmaine (Delores Del Rio). Because this is technically a war movie, the
company gets sent to the front for some action.
They attack across no man’s land in a pretty good set piece with plenty
of explosions. To make sure the audience
does not enjoy the war Flagg says:
“There’s something rotten about a world that’s got to be wet down every
thirty years with the blood of boys like those.”
Okay, with that out of the way,
it’s back to the village for more wooing.
Guess who shows up to complicate the romance? Flagg goes off on a ten day pass to wine and
wench thus leaving Quirt to move in on Charmaine. She is receptive because he’s a U.S. Marine
and they are pretty interchangeable.
When Flagg returns he is confronted by Charmaine’s father who demands
that the Marine who “wrecked” his daughter get hitched to her and throw in 500
francs. He is referring to Quirt and
Flagg is guffawing as the mayor is called in to officiate the wedding.
Close call as Charmaine doesn’t cotton to being sold. Bugles!
Time for another combat interlude.
|Quirt, Charmaine, and Flagg|
This time it’s a night
attack. Explosions go off like a pack of
firecrackers as our heroes cross no man’s land.
The action is fast-paced and dynamic.
There are deaths, including the “momma’s boy” who dies in Flagg’s
arms. Lt. Kiper rants about the futility
of war and asks “what price glory now?”
I won’t ruin the ending for
you. I know you will want to watch the
movie to find out who gets Charmaine, but since I mentioned that this was the
first buddy film you can bet Quirt and Flagg go marching off hand in hand.
|#$%^&*! (subtitled: You are a big poop head!)|
This is a typical silent film in
that the acting is hammy and the soundtrack is incessant. McLaglan is actually pretty good and Del Rio
is spicy (thank goodness we did not have to hear her Mexican accent). The rest of the cast grossly overacts. They have one character who must have thought
he was the Jim Carrey of his day. His
big schtick is doing raspberries. His
constant mugging is supposed to be hilarious, but comes off as desperately
creepy. The humor is basically slap
stick with what passed for witty lines.
Like: “why don’t you blow your brains out?” One reason why the movie is famous is because
McLaglan and Lowe were actually swearing at each other which resulted in
complaints from lipreaders. How quaint! Someone needs to put out an updated version
with accurate subtitles. Apparently
noone had problems with the number of ass shots thrown in. We see each significant female’s derriere
before we get to know their face.
The movie is more of a romance than
a war movie. The two combat scenes are
adequate, but are thrown in to break the monotony of the romance. The company spends no time in the trenches. They go off twice to cross no man’s land and
then it’s home to the village for wining and wenching. War is Hell – is what the movie is trying to
say, ineffectively. The romance is lame
and I did not care who got the girl. The
two main characters are not to root for.
As far as competition with “The Big Parade”, get serious!
The 1952 version was directed by
John Ford and stars Jimmy Cagney (Flagg) and Dan Dailey (Quirt). The plot is essentially the same, but there
is a lot more physical humor and some songs.
The movie actually has a credit for “dances staged by”. As a war movie lover, I can tell you that you
never want to see that at the beginning of a war movie! Nor do you want to endure songs being sung by
characters. The combat is periphery
again and unrealistic. Ford does not
seem to have his heart in the action scenes.
He does have Quirt and Flagg going into no man’s land together
(helmetless) and arguing in conveniently placed shell craters. The movie has a weird vibe by mixing humor
and drama less than deftly.
|Charmaine and Quirt|
Cagney and Dailey must have been
told they were making a silent movie because they do some serious
scene-chewing. Cagney is basically
playing Cagney. It is an embarrassing
performance. There is no chemistry
between the leads. Corinne Calvet is
lovely as Charmaine, but cannot act. We
also get a very young Robert Wagner as Pvt. Lewisohn.
The 1926 version is not a good
war movie. It is overrated as
entertainment, but deserves credit for introducing the Quirt/Flagg trope that
will reappear in many future movies – not just war movies, by the way. The remake is inferior although the fact that
it is in sound probably makes it more watchable for most viewers. I would not recommend either.
|Cagney as Flagg|
grades: 1926 =
C- 1952 = D