Wednesday, September 18, 2013

West Pointless Story

A friend who is getting into tap dancing was in town, so of course we wanted to see some James Cagney. People who think of him as a movie gangster don't always realize what a great dancer he was. The problem is, we've seen all his best stuff (I particularly like Footlight Parade) over and over. Solution: The West Point Story (1950) directed byRoy Del Ruth, which none of us had ever heard of.

It goes something like this: Cagney is an irascible director, reduced to doing nightclub shows. His assistant, Virginia Mayo, wants him to do something better, and an old partner and enemy, Roland Winters, wants him to direct a show at West Point. The idea is to lure Winters' nephew, Gordon MacRae, away from the service and onto Broadway. In the end, they bring in Doris Day as a ringer for the traditionally all-male show.

Now, most of the story doesn't make any sense. Cagney hates the army, but agrees to live as a cadet while putting on the show - does West Point really work like that? And if they could get a woman into the show, why didn't they think of that before? But never mind.

The best thing about West Point Story is Cagney, of course. He doesn't dance much, but he does some great jumping up and down when he gets angry. He has a number at the end for reasons that don't really hold up, but we appreciate it.

The second best part is the pervading sense of homoeroticism, with the cadets in drag playing female roles (Alan Hale, Jr!), and the rest of the young men standing "proudly erect". I know these kinds of jokes are juvenile, but I dare you to resist.

All in all, not very well known and for good reason.

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