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Friday, July 18, 2008

WHEN WILLIE COMES MARCHING HOME (1950)

When John Ford walked away from PINKY/’49 (Elia Kazan took over), he owed Fox a quick pic and got assigned this largely uncongenial bit of whimsy. It’s a bland variation on Preston Sturges’s great WWII farce HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO, this time with Dan Dailey as a weapons instructor who can’t get into the war. (Shades of Ford’s unhappy version of MISTER ROBERTS/’55.) When Dailey finally gets his big chance, his largely accidental, whirlwind behind-the-lines adventures happen so fast, no one believes his heroic tale. It’s always enlightening to see directors with strong profiles working out of their element, you can see the professional instincts laid bare, but WILLIE is pretty flaccid stuff. Not painful, except for some Fordian alcohol gags, and nicely handled by most of the cast (William Demarest plays Pop for some of that old Sturges spirit), but it doesn't add up to much. The deleted scenes on the current DVD edition show that this film, like Ford’s WHAT PRICE GLORY/’52 misfire, was designed as a mini-musical, but left most of its musical numbers on the cutting-room floor.

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