Monday, June 8, 2009

What a Film: The Fighting 69th Review

Even though on this movie poster, it says Dennis Morgan underneath Pat O' Brien, his role is actually very small.

First off before I write about the movie, I wanted to apologize for not being on lately. I've been so sick lately and I'm trying my hardest to feel better, I'm hoping that I'll begin to really feel better soon. So anyway, a couple of weeks ago I watched the amazing 1940 film "The Fighting 69th" starring James Cagney, Pat O' Brien, George Brent, Jeffrey Lynn, Alan Hale, Frank McHugh, Dennis Morgan, Dick Foran, and William Lundigan. With an all-star, you can't expect anything less than perfection and that's exactly what you get.

The Cast of The Fighting 69th

Alan Hale and Jimmy Cagney

The film centers around James Cagney's portrayal of Private Jerry Plunkett and him entering into The Fighting 69th. The Fighting 69th was a real army unit that consisted mainly of Irishmen from America. Today it is more welcoming than just having Irishmen included. Each character was based on a real person and all played them so well. Pat O' Brien plays Father Duffy who is basically the patriarch of the unit and he is always there for the men, when they need someone to talk to. Though his character isn't as interesting as Pat's or James', George Brent's character Major 'Wild Bill' Donovan keeps the men in line but he has a great dislike towards Private Plunkett. Why you may ask, because while Major Donovan is strong and unafraid, Private Plunkett doesn't take anything seriously and never has the nerve to fight, when it's time to fight. He freezes up and is unable to show a more courageous side that will impress the unit. He puts up this front of basically being a know-it-all, not afraid of anything type of guy until they are actually all there fighting. He then becomes a coward and that's what angers Major Donovan so much. Another character that is absolutely annoyed with Private Plunnkett is Alan Hale's character Sergeant 'Big Mike' Wynn, who has no hope for the Private until nearly the end of the film. Then you begin to see a side of Private Plunkett, that wasn't there before. He grows up and learns that being coward during the war won't get you very far, it'll only hurt you in the long run.

One of the most fascinating scenes in the movie, is when you see Private Plunkett really change into a better man. Even though, Private Plunkett had made several mistakes throughout the film, you are able to see that he is really trying to be something more. During the film, for me anyway I had a love/hate relationship with the character. One minute, he was Mr.Big Shot and the next he's terrified and wants to go home. As the film progresses, even though Private Plunkett is already a man, he finally matures into one.

James Cagney and Jeffrey Lynn on break

So it almost seems like I'm ignoring my favorite actor, Jeffrey Lynn but I'm not. Jeffrey Lynn plays poet Sergeant Joyce Kilmer who is the local celebrity around the base. A cute scene is when Dennis Morgan's character Lieutenant Oliver Ames asks for his autograph and without hesitation, Sergeant Kilmer writes it out for him. The way Jeffrey portrays the character of Joyce Kilmer, is very relaxing to watch. He is a man who has a soothing and calm personality and Jeffrey plays the part magnificently. I had only wished that he could have been in the film more than what he was in for.

The best scene in the entire film is at the end, when Father Duffy is saying a pray and on the side of him, are all of the soldiers that were killed in the war. It is a beautiful tribute that seriously brought tears to my eyes. It was an amazing ending to an amazing film.

Besides the above mentioned, other great performances were made by Dennis Morgan, Frank McHugh, Alan Hale, Dick Foran, and William Lundigan. Without those men in this film, the film wouldn't have been nearly as good.

Well I hope you get a chance to check this movie out because it is definitely a watch. I've seen this film twice already and I could probably watch it over and over, if I had the time. It is a truly remarkable film!


Anonymous said...

All the best to getting well soon.

Matt Kane said...

My grandfather fought in the Rainbow Division of the Fighting 69th. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Purple Heart, among other honors. He was all about soldiers getting their due recognition. But he didn't like anything about "The Fighting 69th." The film focuses almost exclusively on a soldier who cost numerous American casualties. The film's title suggests that the Fighting 69th and its numerous heroes including Joyce Kilmer, who joined the Regiment with a wife and 4 children at home, would be portrayed for their fearless venture into hell. Instead Cagney's cowardly character is the film's star. Jerry Plunkett's transformation was inspiring but still minuscule compared to the bravery of soldiers such as my grandfather who raised their hands to be chosen to retrieve the injured from the battlefield.
Matthew J. Kane III