A Movie A Day: THE REAL GLORY (1939) Fact is you're afraid to live. That's much worse than being afraid to die.
Published at: Sept. 16, 2008, 8:10 p.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
We jump from an ailing, dubbed and a year from death David Niven in yesterday’s 1982 TRAIL OF THE PINK PANTHER to today’s young, fully voiced and energetic Niven for today’s AMAD, 1939’s THE REAL GLORY.
Set in the Philippines in 1906 this flick tells a story that has echoed throughout history and is especially loud in today’s political climate.
You have an American outfit protecting the inhabitants of a key island from radical extremists living in the forest, using their violent reputation and customs to “terrorize” the people of this country. They are held at bay by the Americans there, but the time has come for the higher ups to decide if they will stay indefinitely or if the locals have been trained thoroughly enough to exit without there being a bloodbath.
The film opens with arguments on boths sides, but the decision is made to pull out the main military, leaving only a small group of dedicated soldiers to train the local army.
Among these men is Dr. Canavan, played by Gary Cooper, to keep them alive. You also have David Niven whose character goes by the completely awesome and appropriate name of Liet. McCool.
If you’re wondering why Niven’s playing an American soldier, you won’t be the first. He’s British through and through. So is Reginald Owen, playing the strict and proper Captain Hartley. Neither men could be more British in demeanor or attitude and the movie never addresses this, so you either roll with it or don’t.
I did and dug the hell out of this flick. It’s part war story, part adventure story and part romance.
Gary Cooper is all aw shucks charm, but with an Indiana Jones-like adventurous spirit to back it up. He takes on a commander as scared as the locals, trying to get him to see sense, that there’s a problem that no amount of drilling will overcome.
They’re scared and until you can remove that fear, they’ll never be able to defend themselves. Cooper and his mates go out of their way to nip that problem in the bud, which causes a lot of friction with Captain Hartley.
Hartley’s daughter, Linda (played by Andrea Leeds) is brought into the picture and there’s a subplot involving our three heroes (Cooper, Niven and Broderick Crawford) try to woo her. It’s a little out of place and feels tacked on to me.
Now, it did add some humor to the movie, which I liked, but the romance never went anywhere and Leeds’ character is about as boring as she can be. She doesn’t stand up to her father, she doesn’t stand up FOR her father, she has no real reason to be in the story other to have a pretty face for Cooper to kiss.
The villains, a tribe called the Moro (who later became allies of the US during WW2, interestingly enough), are pretty black and white baddies, but a very interesting element is just kind of glossed over in the film. Many of the local tribesmen are Moro, but aren’t affiliated with those in the jungle sending in assassins to pick the Americans off one by one, paving the way for their slaughter of the natives.
It would have been really interesting to focus more on those who were Moro, but opposed the radical element of their beliefs in the jungle. Cooper’s boy-servant is as close as we get to exploring that element.
The second half of the film has the Moro damming the river, causing Cholera to sweep through the town, which forces our guys to leave their fortified camp in order to destroy the dam and get running water back to the people.
This is the adventure side of the movie and my favorite part. Cooper dons a bandolier of shotgun shells and grabs ol’ shotty to head into the jungle, complete with adventurer hat and attire.
There’s a great chase scene where Cooper is being pursued by angry Moros across a flimsy rope bridge. They aren’t “movie chase” far away, but right on his ass. In one long shot, Cooper gets to the end of the rope bridge (still standing on it, by the way), turns, fires his shotgun down, obliterating it, sending it falling apart and the Moros down into the ravine below. In one long lens shot.
The final attack on the fort is classic, too, if only for the use of dynamite. You don’t want to mess with Gary Cooper with a pocketful of dynamite, my friends.
Henry Hathaway (TRUE GRIT and upcoming AMAD Kiss of Death) directed this flick and his work is fine, but I’d like to point out the cinematographer, one Rudolph Mate. Mate’s work is very good in the film and he also has some roots in this column, having directed one of my favorites of the 100+ we’ve covered so far, D.O.A. It’s fascinating to see his work in this context, at least it is for me.
Final Thoughts: If this film were a little more well known, we would have seen a remake already. There’s enough political parallels to make it feel important and enough swaggering adventure to make it fun. If they had made Andrea Leeds more than just “woman in movie” it would be pretty damn near perfect for a fun little adventure tale. The siege at the end is really epic, a lot more so than I expected. When the Moros whipped out the human catapults I was completely taken. The final product is a damn, damn good movie that didn’t come close to losing my attention.