Monday, September 06, 2021

Tonight's Movie: The Duke of West Point (1938) - A ClassicFlix Silver Series DVD Review

I've long wanted to see THE DUKE OF WEST POINT (1938), and I've caught up with it at last thanks to its release earlier this summer by ClassicFlix.

THE DUKE OF WEST POINT is #13 in the ClassicFlix Silver Series, which focuses on making available lesser-known films in affordable DVD versions. I've reviewed a number of other Silver Series releases, most recently THE CRYSTAL BALL (1943), starring Ray Milland and Paulette Goddard.

In THE DUKE OF WEST POINT Louis Hayward plays Steven Early, who was raised in England by his American father who works in the diplomatic service.

Steve travels to the U.S. to attend West Point, following family tradition. Steve's initially a bit of an outsider, with his British accent and a bit of obliviousness to the way things are done -- there's no porter to carry his extensive luggage to his room?!

However, Steve works to fit in and becomes close friends with his roommates, Jack (Richard Carlson) and Sonny (Tom Brown). Jack is a serious, dedicated student whose late father was killed in action in World War I, while Sonny is a good-natured, rather innocent athlete.

Steve blows off the West Point Honor Code to sneak out after curfew and meet lovely Ann (Joan Fontaine), but otherwise he's serious about being in the military. He's also a loyal friend, sneaking out a second time in order to send Jack's mother money when he learns Jack will have to leave West Point due to financial hardship.

On the latter occasion Steve is caught off the campus without authorization. Steve won't explain, as he doesn't want Jack to refuse the money and give up his dream of West Point; over the next year Steve pays a heavy price for his good deed.

Longtime blog reader Barry Lane has championed this film, which is a top favorite of his. I thoroughly enjoyed the excellent cast in a moving tale which is part military academy drama and part sports film, with a touch of romance on the side. All of the story threads come together for a bigger theme, about a man developing character.

Hayward has to walk a careful line with his performance, initially coming across on the arrogant side, yet managing to also remain likeable. After he does the wrong thing once, meeting Ann, his friends are prepared to believe he did it the second time, having no idea that underneath the devil-may-care attitude is a generous heart.

Steve's prepared to "take his medicine" when the other plebes ignore him, but after many months of hard work, no one but his roommates will speak to him, and he considers resigning. Hayward's pain at this juncture, isolated from the camaraderie of military service, is palpable.

The movie runs 108 minutes (the 96-minute time listed at IMDb is incorrect), and in truth I would have liked to see Steve's problems condensed into a shorter time frame, as it's tough stuff and goes on for a sizeable chunk of the film's running time. That said, the ultimate payoff is worthwhile, especially as at that point the movie has also morphed into an inspirational sports film.

The other lead actors are all pleasing, and there are brief but moving supporting performances by Jonathan Hale as Steve's father and Emma Dunn as Jack's mother. The supporting cast also includes Alan Curtis, Don "Red" Barry, Steve Pendleton, Charles D. Brown, and James Flavin.

THE DUKE OF WEST POINT was written by George Bruce and directed by Alfred E. Green. It was filmed by Robert H. Planck.

It might have been a relatively low-budget film, produced by Edward Small and released by United Artists, but there are some excellent creative touches here and there, such as ice coming straight toward the camera during the climactic hockey game. The film makes smooth use of West Point stock footage and background projections.

The ClassicFlix DVD print is quite good. There's a vertical streak present during some of the opening credits, but all in all it's very nice, with strong sound; it's certainly now the best way possible to see this film. I encourage readers to support this release not only as it's a good print of a quality, worthwhile movie, but doing so could help lead to additional interesting ClassicFlix releases in the future.

Thanks to ClassicFlix for providing a review copy of this DVD.


Blogger barrylane said...

An enormous success, The Duke of West Point opened at Radio City Music Hall in New York, the largest venue in the country, and when it played in the neighborhood theatres telephone poles were plastered with posters reading: The Duke is Coming. The hockey sequence(s0 were the most complicated. Louis could skate well enough, but he had never played the game, so he was tutored for several weeks prior to production, and when shooting, the puck was tied to his stick by a relatively short wire. This was his first of seven films for Eddie Small, next came Man in The Iron Mask, which also opened at Radio City.

And, quite right Laura, I love the Duke and have always identified with Steven Early.

12:44 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you so much for adding that background to the post, I appreciate it very much. The details about the ice hockey game are especially interesting!

I'm so glad that I noted this film as soon as I saw the title available thanks to your positive mentions of it over the years. I'll definitely return to it one day.

Best wishes,

7:55 PM  

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