Thursday, May 19, 2016

Wow. That was a Fantastic Battle Scene!

I like to think I'm reasonably knowledgeable about older films, but every once in awhile, I run across one I haven't seen and may not even have been familiar with. That's the case with The Real Glory, a 1939 film directed by Henry Hathaway and starring Gary Cooper.

It's set in the Philippines near the beginning of the 20th Century, during the Moro Rebellion. The Moros are a Muslim people group who had been violently objecting to the various nations that had claimed the Philippines over the centuries. They also often attacked non-Muslim Filipinos.

The movie begins with the U.S. Army deciding to largely pull out of a remote village being menaced by the Moros, leaving a few soldiers to train the villagers to defend themselves. This includes army doctor Bill Canavan (Cooper) and two of his buddies, played by David Niven and Broderick Crawford.

Niven, by the way, felt his was badly miscast in the film and made no effort to hide his British accent. But he brings his usual aplomb to the role and you can give him any number of different back stories to explain the accent.

Crawford, normally cast as a tough guy, is still a tough guy, but one who breeds orchids in his spare time and pontificates enthusiastically about them.

Together, the trio are great characters, effectively counterpointing each other as the story progresses.

Training of the natives goes slowly, inhibited by the almost superstitious fear the Filipinos have of the Moros. Dr. Canavan has some ideas about how to change that, but he clashes about this (and several other matters) with a higher ranking officer. In the meantime, the Moros come up with a plan to assassinate the American officers, starting with the commander and worker their way down the chain-of-command. Also, the Moros have an inside man in the village.

On top of all that, a cholera epidemic breaks out. Gee whiz.

The Real Glory does a magnificent job of gradually building up suspense as the story progresses, combining the worsening situation with just an occasional action scene to increase the tension to a fever pitch by the time we arrive at the climax.

The final battle is a real doozy--one of the best movie battles I've ever scene. Canavan and a large patrol are away from the village, intending to blow up a dam and bring some fresh, clean water to the disease-ridden village. But the Moros are taking this opportunity to launch an all-out attack with the intent of capturing the supply of rifles and ammo stored there.

The patrol is racing back on hastily built rafts, while a disease-weakened officer (Niven's character) mounts a defense against a multi-pronged attack.

Director Hathaway does a truly outstanding job of choreographing the battle. There's a lot going on (including the Moros using make-shift catapults to toss men into the village armory), but we always clearly understand what is happening. That's a key part of any movie battle scene, of course. The better we understand the situation, the more inherent excitement there is in the scene.

The clip I'm providing is from about halfway through the movie. I thought about showing you the final battle, but I really don't want to spoil it for any one. If you get a chance to see this one, do so.

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