The Long Gray Line (1955)

The Long Gray Line (1955)When a John Ford makes is self available you never pass it up, especially one you’ve never really heard off. It’s not even one he is probably best remembered for either. Both of those apply to The Long Gray Line (1955) which is the directors salute to the forces which he gave his services to in WWII. His way of paying back for all that West Point academy. Taken from “Bringing Up the Brass” an autobiography of the  non-commissioned officer (Tyrone Power) who puts on his best Irish accent as he comes off the boat and makes himself into an American in style by working in the kitchens at West Point, we can see from the start his eye is not on the job, enamoured by the uniform and the men who come through the historic building.

A much as it’s a salute to the Army, it’s not out-and-out pomp and circumstance that I have four with some war films. Of course that was down to the Hays code which placed certain demands on film-makers to hold the armed forces in high regard. Today it’s seen as probably too patriotic, bear in mind I am British and don’t salute a flag. equally so I believe that God Save the Queen in the best national anthem in the world, so it’s all relative. You can’t get more patriotic than a film about 50 years of an officers life at West Point. An Irish Immigrant much like the directors parents giving his all to his adoptive country. It’s not a heavy salute, we hardly see the star-spangled banner, for all the men who pass through Marty’s long career. From the cadets to the officers who see more than a uniform, they see a decent man who has given his whole life to his country.

The Long Gray Line is another chance to see the John Ford stock company minus the big players who would have dominated the film otherwise. Instead with Power at the helm, an actor who honestly looks too old to play a young Marty (all this before biopic’s cast younger actors before we see the lead) does however grow into the role as he ages, sporting a moustache by the time the always fiery Maureen O’Hara comes off the boat and his life as future wife Mary O’Donnell. Sadly she’s not as on fire as he previous Ford film The Quiet Man (1952) opposite John Wayne. You must remember this is a completely different film, there instead to support the leading man in her thick Irish accent.

It’s all about the cadets really who pass through the doors of West Point for me, making Marty’s life so rich and the film so Fordian giving it real heart at those emotional moments. In between his fretting to resign his commission at a drop of the hat, its not just about honour and duty to his country, but the family and friends he has along the way, a man who was there through it all, assisting the master of the sword Capt. Herman J. Kohler (Ward Bond) by teaching cadets to box, swim and play American Football. He was obviously so much more to them. Unable to have kids if his own with Mary he adopts a few as his own who he painfully loses over WWI. A time that is gracefully marked with the black ribbon in a year book. Probably a Fordain touch to mark their passing.

Of course for a film that charts the life of a 50 year career is going to be a long watch for sure. It trundle’s along with rich characters from the stock company that keep it alive. Also being Irish characters we can see more warmth in them drawn out by Ford who allows us to connect with this people. There is of course heaps of marching, probably replacing the flag which otherwise flies high in audiences minds as these young men in training for a soldier’s life are putting through their paces. It’s a celebration of the army, something we don’t tend to do, if we did it would be over at Sandhurstwhere the best are trained for Queen and country. We don’t have such a strong sense if pride for our armed forces. Maybe because of our imperial past or that so many families have suffered from more recent conflicts. We of course had John Mills who saw us through many scrapes. Maybe our past victories are enough to celebrate and not the existence of the army of then still a young country making a mark on the world. This of course is a non-American point of view on a very American film.

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