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The Fighting 69th Reviews

A showcase for the wisecracking, swaggering antics of Cagney, playing a would-be hero from Brooklyn who joins the all-Irish 69th New York Regiment after the US enters WWI. Jerry Plunkett (Cagney) is a street-corner brawler who couldn't care less about the illustrious military tradition embodied in the old 69th and who snubs feisty Father Duffy (O'Brien, who else?) when he finds out that Duffy is a priest. ("I don't go in for that Holy Joe stuff," as he puts it.) Throughout his training, which he regards as a waste of time, Jerry defies his superiors, including a tough old sergeant (Hale) and his commanding officer, "Wild Bill" Donovan (Brent). Actual combat, however, proves to be too much for the obnoxious recruit, who first accidentally gives away his company's position and whose later cowardice results in the death of dozens of doughboys. Sentenced to death, Plunkett is inadvertantly given a chance to redeem himself when a bomb destroys his prison, and the stage is set for the action-packed finale. One of the rare Hollywood films without any women or romantic angles whatsoever, THE FIGHTING 69TH was, not too surprisingly, an enormous hit with an American public about to enter WWII. Cagney gives such a galvanizing performance that one almost doesn't care that the film's one-note patriotism and Irish sentiment are as high as the corn in late summer. O'Brien fares less well as yet another priestly paragon of virtue, but the supporting cast is extremely proficient, Keighley's direction very zippy, and the technical merit of the enterprise quite exhilarating.