Saturday, January 09, 2016

Tonight's Movie: The Long Gray Line (1955)

Time for another review from my 2015 10 Classics list!

THE LONG GRAY LINE (1955) was directed by the great John Ford, starring two of my favorite actors, Tyrone Power and Maureen O'Hara. The movie was a reunion for Power and O'Hara, who had worked together on THE BLACK SWAN (1942) over a dozen years previously.

I think I had put off seeing THE LONG GRAY LINE, despite loving the cast, because I knew it was going to tug at my heartstrings -- and indeed it did, but in the best possible way. It's a wonderful movie, and its warm, sentimental tone made it perfect for watching during the holidays, with a Christmas Eve scene being a peak emotional moment. It's a beautiful, uplifting film.

The movie tells the story of Marty Maher (Power), an Irish immigrant who spends over 50 years working at West Point. Marty begins as a waiter, then enlists and works as a physical fitness instructor, ultimately becoming a noncomissioned officer. As the decades pass he mentors many young men, some of whom will ultimately lead the U.S. army during WWII.

Marty marries Mary (O'Hara), another Irish immigrant who works as a cook for Marty's boss, Captain Kohler (Ward Bond). Marty and Mary save enough money to bring his father (Donald Crisp) and brother (Sean McClory) over from Ireland. (Crisp, of course, played O'Hara's father in HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY, while McClory was in THE QUIET MAN.) As the years go by Marty and Mary suffer great loss, but there are also many special people and moments in their lives.

There's plenty of humor to go along with the sentimental scenes, including Marty's courtship of the strangely tight-lipped Mary. I particularly loved the scene where Marty is thunderstruck to realize his father and brother have arrived from Ireland, but while clearly happy to see him, they're too busy enjoying Mary's wonderful cooking to get up from the table and greet Marty!

Everyone in the film is excellent, but Tyrone Power is the glue who holds the entire thing together, on screen most of the movie, and he's simply superb. His character ages gracefully, aided by some of the best "aging" makeup I've seen in a film of that era; like John Wayne in Ford's SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (1949), Power is completely believable as the older Marty. Seeing the movie underscores once more what a great loss Power's death, just three years later, was for cinema.

The film has a wonderful supporting cast including Phil Carey, Harry Carey Jr., Betsy Palmer, Robert Francis, William Leslie, Martin Milner, Patrick Wayne, Peter Graves, and Milburn Stone. Extensive location filming at West Point adds to the feeling of authenticity.

I love movies of all kinds and have a real soft spot for "B" movies, but I think there's additional value in watching "B" films because they provide context and perspective, so that when you see a film like THE LONG GRAY LINE, you can fully appreciate the quality of the filmmaking and its richly detailed storytelling. The movie is filled with many beautiful and memorable moments; even seemingly small things are perfect, such as Marty's near-empty cupboards when he comes home on Christmas Eve.

The movie runs a bit longish at 138 minutes, but it's engrossing all the way. Edward Hope's screenplay was based on the memoir BRINGING UP THE BRASS by Martin Maher and Nardi Reeder Campion.

THE LONG GRAY LINE was filmed in CinemaScope and Technicolor by Charles Lawton Jr.. IMDb says that Charles Lang also contributed uncredited work as a cinematographer.

THE LONG GRAY LINE is available in a lovely widescreen DVD as part of John Ford: The Columbia Films Collection from TCM; my understanding is that this is the best print of the film which has been released. Extras include an introduction by Leonard Maltin.

It also had previous DVD and VHS releases.

THE LONG GRAY LINE is a wonderful movie, and I'm so glad my 10 Classics list gave me the impetus to finally sit down and enjoy it!


Blogger dickson said...

Tyrone Power was indeed so great in anything he did. Also very good was Robert
Francis, who was killed in an airplane accident. Too bad we lost them both as
I'm sure they both had lots to offer.


3:25 AM  
Blogger DKoren said...

This is one I've wanted to see for a long time. Maybe this year! Maureen O'Hara and Tyrone Power are just so lovely together.

9:25 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

In the early nineties we made a visit to West Point as the consequence of two films and a dash of feeling for the American Military. The Long Gray Line and Duke of West Point, both shot on location, were the pictures, and the experience was heartfelt and moving. The cadets ere beautiful, the Thayer Hotel first rate. I wish we could repeat it. If the opportunity presents itself, don't miss it. And Bringing Up The Brass is worth reading, but a little, or a lot, different than the film.

10:23 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you all for your comments!

Dickson, I agree, it's a shame that Robert Francis died young as well. He does a good job in this. And Tyrone Power was great in everything!

Deb, I think you would probably like this one! A great cast and good location shooting, too.

Barrylane, really appreciated your comments on your visit to West Point. Thanks to your mention I spent some enjoyable time perusing the Thayer Hotel site. Looks wonderful! I'd definitely like to visit one day. Thank you as well for the feedback on the original book.

Best wishes,

7:38 PM  
Blogger Elgin Bleecker said...

I have a great fondness for THE LONG GRAY LINE. Everyone should see this film. And, if you ever find the book, read it. It is quite good.

9:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is an obscure and forgotten anecdote that when Robert Francis died in the summer of 1955 in a plane crash taking off from the Burbank airport (near Warner Brother Studios) someone overheard James Dean, who was working for the studio at that time, casually remark "I'll be next."

Moreover, did he watch the scene with Francis in a cemetary, where Ty Power says "why did you have to go and throw your career in the gutter?"

4:10 AM  

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