"Is that drip still here?"
H. Bala | Carson - hey, we have an IKEA store! - CA USA | 12/12/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Here we go with two of John Ford's oldies but goodies. First, WHEN WILLIE COMES MARCHING HOME:
The great John Ford, in his time, managed to direct a passel of very good war pictures (They Were Expendable, The Wings of Eagles, The Lost Patrol - Authentic Region 1 DVD from Warner Brothers starring Victor McLaglen, Boris Karloff, Wallace Ford, Reginald Denny & Directed by JOHN FORD, etc.), not to mention several acclaimed WW2 documentaries. But, here and there, he's also helmed one or two wartime comedies. While 1950's WHEN WILLIE COMES MARCHING HOME isn't his best comedy about WW2 (that title falls to Mister Roberts), it's still a hilarious film. Apparently, for whatever it's worth, this was one of Lucille Ball's favorite movies.
Most people have never heard of this film. I recently stumbled across it, while flippin' channels. It was on cable television's TCM network and, for the next 82 minutes, I just sat there and laughed myself silly. WHEN WILLIE COMES MARCHING HOME is somewhat reminiscent of Preston Sturges' HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO, same tone, same sensibilities. Dan Dailey, who plays the lead role, also provides voice-over narration.
Plot SPOILERS now.
During World War 2, Willie Kluggs (Dailey) becomes the first native of Punxatawney, West Virginia to enlist in the U.S. Army, and, as such, he gets a big send-off from his tiny town. But, after boot camp, Willie is surprisingly posted at the new air base in his hometown. So, then, expected to ship out any day now for active combat, he's thrown a big shindig by the citizens of Punxatawney. However, as days and weeks and months go by and Willie continues to languish at the home front while others risk their lives, Punxatawney begins to cool towards him. Soon enough, Willie becomes the hometown laughingstock. Even his sweetheart and his parents begin to doubt him (his dad caustically asks: "You here again?"). Doesn't help that Willie keeps rapidly advancing in rank while perceived to be not doing much. He's embarassed and desperately craves overseas assignment, but his commanding officer insists that he's too invaluable at home as a gunnery instructor. Finally,Willie does get a chance to prove his mettle. But does anyone still believe in him?
The first half of the film has several funny moments as Willie copes with Punxatawney's gradual disillusionment of him. Then John Ford switches gears for a sec as Willie is catapulted in an adventure in Nazi-occupied France, where things get serious. But then the comedy returns as a supremely exhausted and sick as a dog Willie Kluggs attempts to get some rest as he journeys home, only to be hilariously thwarted by the military, who insist on debriefing him over and over. Whoever said the hair of the dog will cure what ails ya has never seen this flick.
This often neglected movie is apparently loosely based on the military experiences of some bloke named Sy Gomberg. Which, I guess, goes to show that real life sometimes really does trump fiction. This really is a chuckle-fest, beginning to end. John Ford never really directed too many straight-out comedies, his forte lying more in westerns and dramas. But he did better than good with this one. He certainly wrung an entertaining performance out of Dan Dailey, who was never one of my preferred song and dance men. Here, Dailey's a very sympathetic character and even manages to sneak in two amiable songs. William Demarest is a hell of a character actor, and he does his thing here as Willie's dad. Meanwhile, Corinne Calvet stands out in her too few moments onscreen as the sexy French resistance fighter. Not too surprising that Willie's bland girlfriend Marge - as played by the bland Colleen Townsend - pales in comparison.
Something interesting. Underneath the humor John Ford strives to get a point across. It's slyly and gently done, but he touches a bit on the topic of patriotism and how it could sometimes turn into hypocrisy - witness the town's various reactions towards Willie, who at turns is a hero, then a drip, then a hero again. But, really, Willie's nature never alters - it's all about the town's fluid perception of him. Something to think about. Or not.
UP THE RIVER is the companion film to WHEN WILLIE COMES MARCHING HOME in this dvd. Released in 1930, UP THE RIVER might be a piece of fluff, but it is historically significant fluff. For one thing, John Ford directed it, and UP THE RIVER is, in fact, one of his earlier talkies. It also marks Spencer Tracy's feature film debut and Humphrey Bogart's second film appearance. What's more, this is the only movie to ever star these two iconic actors together. Which is disappointing when you think about it, as Tracy and Bogie were such great lifelong chums.
Back to the film. The light-as-a-feather plot involves two inmates, Saint Louis and Dannemora Dan (Tracy and Warren Hymer), escaping prison to help out a friend and former inmate (Bogie), who's being blackmailed.
Originally intended to be a prison drama (but then the BIG HOUSE beat 'em to it), UP THE RIVER instead became a prison comedy. No sweat, though, as Ford's rugged type of humor certainly works well in these penitentiary environs. There's quite a bit of song-and-dance routines packed in here, and some baseball shenanigans, and there's even a knife throwing exhibition. I've never seen so many well-behaved, good natured ex-cons...
Even this early in his career Spencer Tracy's effortlessly natural acting style comes across, and it doesn't take but a moment to realize that this guy was going places. Bogie, on the other hand, hadn't yet found his way and, furthermore, was saddled with the generic romantic role. This was definitely way before Bogie would stamp out his own hardboiled cinematic persona, so it's no surprise that his role of Steve comes off as a bit wishy washy and unremarkable. Oh, he's not awful; he's just not yet the Bogie we know and love.
UP THE RIVER will tickle the funny bone at times, but may also bore and irritate you. The musical interludes do not impress at all. It's a lightweight prison comedy, so don't go looking here for serious insights into our penitentiary system. But, from a cinematic point of view, there's an element of fascination involved, with both Bogie and Tracy here. One wonders what it would've been like, to see these two playing off each other at the height of their ferocious skills. Instead, we get UP THE RIVER. Which, even as creaky and dated as it is, does have its good bits. That Saint Louis fella, he's quite a charmer.
Lastly, here's a tip for those who'd like to check out some of John Ford's other comedy films (and can afford it): Out there is a dvd set titled John Ford's American Comedies (Steamboat Around the Bend / Judge Priest / Doctor Bull / When Willie Comes Marching Home / Up the River / What Price Glory), which not only collects WHEN WILLIE COMES MARCHING HOME and UP THE RIVER, but also WHAT PRICE GLORY (which reunites Dailey, Demarest, and Calvet, with James Cagney starring). Happy viewing."
Rare and Worthwhile
Jim Davidson | Berkeley, CA | 12/18/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I first saw "Up the River" at a tiny repertory cinema in San Francisco in the late 1970s. Since then, it's been largely unavailable, so it's good to see it back in circulation. TCM aired the film for the first time on December 10, 2007, less than a week after Twentieth Century-Fox released it as part of its "Ford at Fox" mega DVD set (as well as on a single disc with "When Willie Comes Marching Home").
As others have noted, the main reason to watch this movie is that it marks the feature film debuts of Spencer Tracy and Humphrey Bogart, the only time these two Hollywood icons made a film together. ("Bogey: The Films of Humphrey Bogart" by Clifford McCarty lists "Up the River" as Bogart's second opus, following "A Devil With Women." But according to Internet Movie Database and TCM's movie database, "Up the River" was released six days before the other film.) The second reason to watch this is that John Ford directed it.
The plot is pretty flimsy - a big shot gangster (Spencer Tracy) and his sidekick (Warren Hymer) in a midwestern prison play cupid to two fellow inmates (Humphrey Bogart and Claire Luce). Originally conceived as a drama, "Up the River" was transformed into a comedy so as not to be compared unfavorably with "The Big House," a hit film released while the former was in production.
Most sources give a running time of 92 minutes, but the TCM version and the DVD release are only 84 minutes. It's likely that the missing 8 minutes are at the end, since a couple of plot elements are left unresolved - namely, the conclusion of the prison baseball game and the reunion of Bogart and Luce. And the "The End" title card looks too modern for 1930. There are also quite a few flaws in the film, with words of dialogue dropping out and lines on the screen. But considering its age and rarity, these are minor complaints. This movie is highly watchable and well worthwhile."
Two Ford films at that price? Don't miss it
T O'Brien | Chicago, Il United States | 01/02/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"As part of the Ford at Fox collection, two previously hard to find movies are being released as a package in this single-disc case at a reasonable price. When Willie Comes Marching Home tells the story of Will Kluggs, the first person in his town to join the army after Pearl Harbor. But he is quickly assigned to the airfield in his hometown and soon enough, Willie isn't the local hero, but someone everyone looks down upon. That is, until he finally get a chance to go overseas late in the war. Up the River is an early Ford film from 1930 that is worthwhile to see because of it's stars, a very young Spencer Tracy and Humphrey Bogart. Both men are inmates at a federal pen, but Bogart gets parole, only to come under the thumb of his fiance's old partner in crime. Tracy and his partner have to bust out to help him. Neither movie is a classic, but both are entertaining and have things about them that make them worth checking out.
Dan Dailey plays Willie Klug in When Willie Comes Marching Home as a hero turned goat who ends up stationed in his hometown for the duration of WWII until he finally gets a chance to serve overseas. The beautiful Corinne Calvet is very good in a small part as Yvonne, a member of the French resistance who helps Willie. Colleen Townsend plays Marge, Willie's girlfriend who he's liked since they were little kids. William Demarest and Evelyn Varden have some very funny moments together as Willie's doding parents as well. In Up the River, Spencer Tracy stars as St. Louis, a well-to-do crook put in the federal pen who befriends Bogart's Steve, a rich kid who's convinced his family he's in China, not in jail. Warren Hymer gets the most laughs as Dannemora Dan, St. Louis' somewhat dim sidekick. Claire Luce is Judy, Steve's love interest in jail for fraud. Up the River is worthwhile just to see young Tracy and Bogie alone.
The DVD, with a movie on either side, is very well put together. Up the River is from a very, beat-up print that seems to be missing some frames, because of that, the movie has some awkward jump cuts, but there's closed-captioning so you can see what is being said. The only special feature is a stills gallery with plenty of pictures. When Willie Comes Marching Home offers about 5-minutes of deleted scenes which are fun to see almost 60 years later, two trailers, a restoration explanation, and two galleries so overall some pretty good features. For fans of John Ford movies, don't miss these lesser known comedies for a good price!"