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The Road to Glory Reviews

Baxter plays a French regimental commander in WW I who is constantly being sent replacements. He gives them a standard speech about the proud traditions of the regiment, then sends them out to be slaughtered before the German trenches for a gain of a few yards that will only be lost the next day. He lives almost exclusively on a diet of cognac and aspirin. Into the unit comes idealistic and carefree junior officer March, who is soon disillusioned by the waste of life all around him. Both men fall in love with pretty nurse Lang, although she prefers March. Into the regiment comes Barrymore (in one of his last walking parts), the oldest private in the French army, a veteran of the Battle of Sedan in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 who is also Baxter's father. Baxter is not happy about having his own father under his command and his drinking becomes heavier. In another senseless assault, Baxter is blinded and brought back to the field hospital. Barrymore offers to be his eyes and leads him back to the front, where both are killed while directing French artillery fire. March is left with Lang and command of the regiment, and we last see him giving the same speech about tradition to another batch of replacements. The film is certainly one of Hawks's weaker efforts, but it is interesting for a number of reasons. Fox had purchased a French film, LES CROIX DES BOIS, which had done big business throughout the world (except for the US, where it was never released) and was much praised for its realistic battle scenes. Fox wanted to cannibalize the film for those scenes, then construct a new film around them. Faulkner, with whom Hawks had already established a working relationship, was called in and together with Sayre they came up with the script, although Nunnally Johnson later claimed to have rewritten the whole thing himself. The story is just another stale wartime romantic triangle, but it does have a few moments of undeniable power, such as when a squad of French poilus sit in terror in their trench as they listen to the Germans digging a tunnel below their feet and packing it with explosives. The men are relieved just in time (unlike the Italian unit on whose experience the incident was based; they held their positions until they were blown up by the charges they had heard being prepared for days). Another unforgettable moment comes at the end as Barrymore, knowing death is imminent for him and his blinded son, begins to blow the bugle he carried at Sedan. Faulkner was at the peak of his screenwriting abilities at this time, and he turned out an average of 35 densely handwritten pages per day. When he finished, he went on a one-week drinking binge that landed him in the hospital.