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With: James Cagney, Corinne Calvet, Dan Dailey, William Demarest, Craig Hill, Robert Wagner, Marisa Pavan, Casey Adams, James Gleason, Wally Vernon, Henri Letondal, Fred Libby, Ray Hyke, Paul Fix, Harry Morgan, James Lilburn, Dan Borzage, Bill Henry, Henry Kulky, Jack Pennick, Stanley Johnson, Ann Codee, Tom Tyler, Olga Andre, Barry Norton, Luis Alberni, Torben Meyer, Alfred Zeisler, George Bruggeman, Scott Forbes, Sean McClory, Charles B. Fitzsimons, Louis Mercier, Mickey Simpson
Written by: Henry Ephron, Phoebe Ephron, based on a play by Maxwell Anderson, Laurence Stallings
Directed by: John Ford
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 109
Date: 07/25/1952

What Price Glory (1952)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Brawl In

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I keep a database of directors with a checklist of films I've seen, but when I came to tick off 1952's What Price Glory, I found that I never included it under my John Ford entry. Likewise, very few of my reference books bothered to mention it at all, much less provide any kind of comment. Only Joseph McBride's recent biography on Ford dedicated more than a page to it.

Based on a Max Anderson play that had already been turned into a successful 1926 silent film by Ford's colleague Raoul Walsh, What Price Glory peeved everyone involved with it. Producer Daryl F. Zanuck intended it as a musical -- the DVD comes with a teaser trailer that promises "13 new songs" -- but Ford hated the songs and refused to shoot most of them. In addition, he wanted his usual cast, John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara, but Zanuck insisted on James Cagney and newcomer Corinne Calvet.

Set during World War I in a French village, the story centers on the bickering between Captain Flagg (Cagney) and Sergeant Quirt (Dan Dailey). Their rivalry grows when they each fall in love with a lovely French barmaid (Calvet).

Ford was mostly terrible at comedy, and he has no idea how to pitch the squabblings between the two actors -- not to mention that Dailey is far below Cagney's level. Worse, the film has a ridiculous subplot about a young American soldier (Robert Wagner) falling for a French girl from a convent school (Marisa Pavan); the movie grinds to a halt when these two are on screen.

In addition, the color cinematography by Joe MacDonald is just dreadful; it only emphasizes the cheap-looking sets and goes off into horrid dark shades, making everything look tired and dirty. Fox's new DVD doesn't do anything to correct the film's look. Strangely, Ford's The Quiet Man, which came out the same year, featured beautiful cinematography, by Winton C. Hoch.

For all this, What Price Glory still has some redeeming features. Cagney is at his energetic best and almost single-handedly keeps the thing moving. And though Ford didn't like her, Calvet is very charming as the barmaid. Ford's breezy pacing makes up for his heavy-handed handling of the comedy.

You'd have to be a die-hard John Ford or war movie fan to want to buy this, even at the decent price tag of $14.98. But it's certainly worth a rental.

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