Published on September 10th, 2008 | by Chris1
The Fighting 69th (1940)
Alright, let me just start by saying that I'm not a big fan of James Cagney, and I'm not really sure why. Maybe its just because every role I've seen him in has just been either flat and uninteresting, or just downright annoying. Like his portrayal of the misfit Private Plunkett in 1940's The Fighting 69th.
The Fighting 69th purports to be a tribute to a Father Duffy, who was a chaplain attached to the newly formed 42nd Infantry, aka "The Rainbow Division", and formerly part of the New York 69th Infantry, as the Army started getting away from the practice of having these regional divisions and moved to more mixed and diverse units.
But that's neither here nor there, as the film actually turns out to be a chronicle of the misdeeds of Plunkett, a selfish, arrogant, and quite frankly dickhead Irishman who just reeks attitude. A role Cagney was made for? Quite possibly, but man, I just can't take it.
His attitude and selfish unthinking nature follows him to France, where time and time again, he manages to do something either incredibly stupid or chickenshit which gets more men killed. But enter Father Duffy, who has aims of turning Plunkett into a responsible soldier after all.
While awaiting execution after his last royal screwup which got yet more men killed, he's able to escape, but after another close call on the battlefield, he somehow gets religion and proceeds to help take out a German machine gun nest and clear the wires before himself getting killed.
I really don't know why I didn't like this film so much. Maybe its because of Cagney, maybe its just the way the role and the story was written... but it just gets to be, well, for lack of a better word, annoying. George Brent, Pat O'Brien and Alan Hale are decent. And for some reason we are introduced to Poet turned Sergeant Joyce Kilmer (Jeffrey Lynn)... who Plunkett manages to get killed as well, only adding to the weight of his F---ups.
And then at the end there's this big tribute to Father Duffy. A noble sentiment, but I really can't see how it all comes together. I mean, Plunkett's screwups far outweigh his final "heroic" act in my book, and I... well, I just thought it was lame. Is it supposed to be funny? It's not. Is it supposed to instill some sort of patriotic feelings? It doesn't.
On the bright side, the DVD for The Fighting 69th has a great set of "before the film" extras, which I actually enjoyed more. Such as the trailer for the Edward G. Robinson and Bogart film "Brother Orchid", a newsreel "London Can Take It" (which was a little too optimistic for my tastes), a great cheeseball government short encouraging young folks to get into the aviation field, and of course a cartoon, this time "Pilgrim Porky." Too bad things went downhill once the opening credits rolled.
The Fighting 69th just left a sour taste in my mouth, and me scratching my noggin.
Summary: I'm not a big fan of James Cagney, and I'm not really sure why. Maybe its just because every role I've seen him in has just been either flat and uninteresting, or just downright annoying. Like his portrayal of the misfit Private Plunkett in 1940's The Fighting 69th.