Sunday, June 5, 2016

Ford Theater

I'm cheating a little bit by including When Willie Comes Marching Home/Up the River (1950/1930) in my blog - I didn't get it from Netflix, I bought it from the cut-out DVD bin at the 7-11. Still, they were on my Netflix queue...

Both were directed by John Ford. Up the River is an oddball prison flick. Humphrey Bogart is a prison trustie who falls in love with a woman prisoner as he processes her in. When he is paroled, he gets caught up in a financial fraud, and it takes two of his friends from the joint, Spenser Tracy and William Hymer, to get him out of it. They need to escape from prison, then get back in before the big prison baseball game.

It's all a bit of a muddle, but it is interesting to see a young Bogey as a mostly innocent noble naif.

When Willie Comes Marching Home is also a bit of a mess, but a fun one. It stars Dan Dailey as an ordinary guy in an ordinary town. When the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, he is the first to volunteer, making him a hometown hero. But when he is stationed stateside in that same hometown, people start to get tired of him hanging around. They want him fighting overseas. He wants to fight overseas. But Uncle Sam needs him at home, training gunners.

The first three acts are fine - there's a bit of a Preston Sturges, Hail the Conquering Hero/Miracle of Morgan's Creek feel. Remember that the war is fought at home, too - that sort of thing. Dailey's induction and basic training have a nice documentary feel, which is not surprising considering Ford's WWII documentary work.

But in the fourth act, Dailey gets a sudden chance to fight overseas, but he has to leave immediately. He fouls up and gets stuck in occupied France, meets up with a beautiful fighter, and is sent back with valuable intelligence - after being plied with booze in a make-believe wedding. His trip back to London and Washington involves no sleep and more booze to keep him going, and he winds up back in his hometown just 4 days after he left, drunk and exhausted. And do his friends and family believe that he is now a hero?

People say that Ford has no touch for comedy, and that's fair. But the slow, lazy pace of the first part, then the sudden jolt of acceleration, is very bracing. You're thrown into a new movie, and it is quite exhilarating, and a special kind of funny.

Neither of these movies are "classics", except in the sense that they are black-and-white movies made by a recognized master. River is a nice chance to see young Bogart and Tracy. And Willie is just plain fun.

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