This John Ford film is a companion piece for "When Willie Comes Marching Home" (1950) which I reviewed back in April. I said at the time that it is a little unusual for Ford to do straight comedy, although many of his movies have their comic moments. This one which is a remake of Raoul Walsh's 1926 silent of the same name is also somewhat heavy-handed on the comic elements whereas the original play was intended as an anti-war polemic. Mind you war films are my least favourite genre, so on the one hand I should be pleased that Ford has opted for the comic over the tragic here, but it doesn't sit well with the anti-war sentiments which intermingle.
Like the 1950 movie, this one stars Dan Duryea as top soldier Sergeant Quirt in Captain Flagg's (James Cagney's) marine detachment in France during World War I. They have fought together -- and each other -- all over the world, and things come to a head here when they both fancy the local inn-owner's daughter, Corinne Calvert, again from the earlier film along with character actor William Demarest. Too much is made of their rivalry, although the viewer understands that underneath the outward bickering lies a deep affection and an acceptance of a soldier's priorities.
While it is always a pleasure watching the pugnacious Cagney, his dialogue as he bemoans the needless death of the young and inexperienced soldiers under his command does not sit too well with his hard man persona. The subplot of a 22-year old Robert Wagner wanting to marry the French schoolgirl he has just met seems to be there only to underline the sacrifice of such young men. Perhaps Flagg and Quirt's banter is really there to mask the horrors of war but it seems only to dilute them.
On balance this is very minor Ford -- still watchable, but not as memorable or as moving as many of his much greater films.