When Willie Comes Marching Home (1950)

7 02 2009

It seems that most people see this as a failed attempt on Ford’s part to make something of a war-driven, Preston Sturges movie. Indeed, it does have some “screwball” touches to it, and I find it legitimately funny, but it never really comes close to having the substantial feel of a Sturges picture. This is a pretty light affair, which obviously contrasts with the whole concept of enlisting in the army. It is very enjoyable for what it is, but of course it isn’t going to convince anybody of Ford’s genius all by itself. It is pretty hokey, almost embarrassingly old-fashioned, but I’d also be lying if I said I didn’t have a good time watching it. It’s not high art, but it is popcorn entertainment seen through the eyes of an artist.

It is a little bit difficult to critically analyze a film that clearly feels like a studio-driven project. Based on the deleted scenes from the DVD, this was originally intended to be a musical. Being the man he was, though, Ford opposed this idea. He seems to have won this particular battle, as only one musical sequence is present in the final cut, but that doesn’t really stop the film from feeling extremely inconsequential. Another statement that completely contradicts the subject matter.

There is plenty “Ford-ness” to enjoy here, though. His depiction of small town lifestyle(s) is unparalleled. It’s not as vivid of a community as the one in say, Judge Priest, but it is fascinating none the less. Even with a very friendly tone, Ford’s cynicism shows up on a occasion, and sort of gives the film a positive attribute beyond just escapist entertainment. Even though the “suburban” era hasn’t quite developed into a nation-wide phenomenon yet, one can still see Ford planting seeds of criticism. The townsfolk, as they are in earlier in Ford pictures, tend to be gossipy housewives, devoid of perspective. That intimate community tone, in which news travels by mouth and not by a publication, is 100% Ford. This is obviously  important as the film itself is rather unFord-ian.

Ford has always saved potentially empty productions by injecting his personal interests and themes into the content. The story here, revolving around a young adult who is the first to enlist in his small town following Japan’s attack of Pearl Harbor, but ends up stationed in his home town as an instructor, does have a lot of potential. It’s a bit like one of those “wrongly accused” films, except instead of murder, the protagonist is accused of being a slacker. This could have worked had the part been played by someone that looks like they’re in their twenties. Instead, it’s played by Dan Dailey, who looks about thirty years older. He’s charming sometimes, but not nearly enough to lift the film beyond its studio inforced mold.

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