A cocky recruit in the 69th Regiment during WWI becomes a hero and loses his life in the process.
You'd have to be the world's biggest grouch to dislike a movie like The Fighting 69th
. For starters it's got James Cagney as a smart-aleck from Brooklyn--can't go wrong there, can you?--and then you've got Pat O'Brien second-billed in a sentimentally iconic role as Father Duffy, the beloved and much-decorated real-life chaplain of the legendary Irish-American army regiment of World War I. The time is 1918, on the battlefields of France, but this is a 1940 Warner Brothers production, so you can bet there's plenty of blarney, bravery, and roughneck action as the Fighting 69th prepares to engage German forces in WWI's final offensive, the Battle of the Argonne. Up to that point, Jimmy Plunkett (Cagney) has proven less than worthy of fighting in the fearsome 69th. He's a Brooklyn punk with plenty of false bravado, but when bullets are flying and grenades are falling, he's nothin' but a yellow-bellied crybaby, making the kind of mistakes that get people killed--in this case, many of his closest comrades. He's eventually forced to find his courage, and does so with honor to spare. In classic Warner Bros. fashion, the wartime sentiment is ladled on so heavily that cynics may gag or burst out laughing, but the supporting cast is fantastic (especially Alan Hale Sr. and George Brent as quintessential Fightin' Irish heroes), and William Keighley directs with such energetic enthusiasm toward the material that you can't help but be swept up in the action. It's flag-waving fun, and Cagney's a constant pleasure, even as he's quivering in his boots.
Available separately or as part of the James Cagney Signature Collection, The Fighting 69th has been given the red-carpet treatment by Warner Bros., with a bevy of "Warner Night at the Movies" DVD bonus features from 1940, including a vintage newsreel, short subjects, two cartoons (including "The Fighting 69½th"), movie trailers and an audio-only radio adaptation of The Fighting 69th starring Pat O'Brien, Robert Preston and Ralph Bellamy. With all this stuff on one DVD, what's not to like? --Jeff Shannon