"What Price Glory?" That is the question. Directed by Raoul Walsh, this initial teaming of Victor McLaglen and Edmund Lowe has been said to be Fox Studios' answer to MGM's immensely popular World War story of THE BIG PARADE (1925) starring John Gilbert and Renee Adoree, but while this, along with THE BIG PARADE, goes on record as one of the many top silent movies of all time, WHAT PRICE GLORY (1926), did prove successful. However, due to countless imitations and semi-remakes that followed, either with McLaglen and Lowe, or others, this wartime offering, which combines comedy, witty one liners: "I'd as soon find a skunk in my sleeping bag," to some heavy-handled drama, it has become a movie categorized in terms of cliché, it's best highlighted by a couple of tough Marines shouting profanities at one another "heard" only by experts in lipreading. Labeled a war movie, it consists of two spectacular battlefield sequences, one longer than the other, an attempt to recapture the essence to the horrors of war shown in THE BIG PARADE. Much of the story, however, takes place away from the war-zone while the focus is set upon the two aforementioned roughnecks who fight amongst themselves, particularly when it involves their women, without appearing too theatrical.
The first reel centers upon the introduction to the central characters through the course of three years, starting in Peking, China "where professional soldiers serve as legation guards." Sergeant Quirt (Edmund Lowe) is introduced as "hard-boiled non-commissioned officer of the Marines," while Sergeant Flagg (Victor McLaglen), seen getting tattoos placed on his torso, is "soldiering for wages, loving, and fighting for fun." Next introduction is Shanghai Mabel (Phyllis Haver), "who has just divorced the Army and is announcing her engagement to the Marines." The involvement amongst Flagg, Quirt and Mabel moves forward to the Philippines where the Marines become involved with women over there, followed by next segment in 1914 France, then in 1917 as "the Americans join the allies and the old Marines were in the biggest war of all," where Flagg has been elevated to the rank of captain. While in France, where the duration of the story takes place, Flagg meets up with Charmaine (Dolores Del Rio), a beautiful French gal. The two hit it off until Quirt enters the scene.
The supporting players consists of William V. Mong as Cognac Pete, Charmaine's father; Elena Jurado as Carmen of the Philippines; Leslie Fenton as Moore, a young lieutenant "who takes his war seriously"; Sammy Cohen as Private Pipinsky; and Barry Norton as Private Lewisohn, the "mama's boy" soldier, among others. What, no El Brendel? While Fox might have borrowed Renee Adoree from THE BIG PARADE fame to play Charmaine, it was offered to the Mexican born Dolores Del Rio making one of her first Hollywood screen appearances. Coming close to the physical resemblance to Adoree's character, Del Rio succeeds solely due to the fact that her Mexican accent cannot be heard in a silent film.
Based on the popular play by Laurence Stallings and Maxwell Anderson, the movie version to WHAT PRICE GLORY, which runs for two solid hours, is perfectly cast by a fine trio of McLaglen, Lowe and Del Rio, actors not necessarily known for their work in silent movies. The success to WHAT PRICE GLORY inspired three sequels produced during the early sound era with McLaglen and Lowe reprising their roles: THE COCK-EYED WORLD (1929), with Lili Damita; WOMEN OF ALL NATIONS (1931), with Greta Nissen; and HOT PEPPER (1933), with Lupe Velez, all forgotten curios due to lack of revivals. While a sound remake of WHAT PRICE GLORY featuring McLaglen and Lowe during the 1930s or early 1940s might have seemed a logical choice, a remake, however, was eventually made, but starring the miscast combination of James Cagney and Dan Dailey for 20th Century-Fox. In spite of John Ford's 1952 direction, it fails to come close to the caricatures immortalized by McLaglen and Lowe.
WHAT PRICE GLORY became the introductory movie presented on the 12-week public broadcasting series of "The Silent Years" (1975) hosted by Lillian Gish (WNET, Channel 13, in New York City), with WHAT PRICE GLORY accompanied by William Perry piano score from the Paul Killiam collection. The print presented in this series was used for the 1996 limited time only video distribution through Critics Choice Masterpiece Collection. American Movie Classics cable channel offered a rare showing to WHAT PRICE GLORY in June 1998 as part of its annual film preservation series, this time accompanied by the original Fox Movietone synchronized musical score with the theme song of "Charmaine" composed by Erno Rapee and Lew Pollack, in place of Perry's expert piano playing.
WHAT PRICE GLORY may be something from the time capsule, but any movie that introduces its female co-stars with the camera's focus on their "seated bottom" instead of their charming faces can't be all bad. What price glory!! (***)
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