Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, March 30, 2017


James Cagney
THE WEST POINT STORY (1950). Director: Roy Del Ruth.

Nearly washed-up Broadway director "Bix" Bixby (James Cagney) is importuned to help West Point put on its annual show -- which only uses male cadets. Producer Harry Eberhart (Roland Winters of The Sky Dragon) wants his old rival to talk Harry's nephew, Tom (Gordon MacRae), who is a wonderful singer, out of a career in the army, and he enlists the help of old friend and movie star Jan Wilson (Doris Day). Along for the ride is Bix's sort of girlfriend, Eve Dillon (Virginia Mayo), who keeps her old man on his toes. Cadets Hal (Gene Nelson) and Bull (Alan Hale Jr. of Home Town Story) make a contribution as well -- Hall with his fancy footwork, and Bull in drag as the show's "princess." There are all sorts of complications until the show comes off. The West Point Story starts out well, and for about half an hour it's fun and looks like it will stay that way, until they drag in an idiotic plot point wherein Bix has to become a cadet himself (and obey all of the academy's various rules and regulations) or be removed from directing the show. This might be fine for a Jerry Lewis movie but for this picture, it's disastrous. In general, however, the script is pretty bad and gets worse as it goes along. To Cagney's credit, he retains his dignity throughout, and actually gives a marvelous and amusing performance. Mayo, Nelson and MacRae are fine, as is Doris Day, although she seems to have a zillion too-big teeth in her mouth and, as usual, is virtually devoid of sex appeal. Roland Winters is a lot of fun as Bix' not-so-friendly enemy. Aside from "Military Polka" the Jule Styne/Sammy Cahn songs are pretty awful. Oddly MacRae seems to be aping Bing Crosby in a couple of numbers, even though he has a very different voice from Der Bingle's. The dance that Mayo and Cagney do together to "B'klyn" (another lousy tune) is one of the film's few highlights. We can only imagine what West Point officials thought of this movie! Cagney and Day made a better team in the superior Love Me or Leave Me.

Verdict: It's basically all Cagney's show, and while he's excellent he can't do enough to save it. **1/2.


angelman66 said...

Hi Bill, agreed, you can't top Jimmy and Doris together in Love me or Leave Me, but Cagney is so damned appealing when he sings and dances. My best friend shjowed me some early 1930s Warners films directed by Busby Berkeley and Cagney is adorable and energetic and a very good dancer indeed. He was also in the 1935 Midsummer Night's Dream doing a musical role, and of course Yankee Doodle Dandy.

Doris, in her autobiography, says she enjoyed making these early movies but that none of them were anything special--she was basically just collecting a paycheck. It wasn't until she left Warner Brothers that she began to get really excited about acting...

William said...

Doris was great in "Man Who Knew Too Much" and several others. She had to get out of that over-smiling toothy phase of her career, LOL. I was reminded in this film of how good a dancer Cagney was and how appealing and dynamic his screen presence remained no matter his age or the genre he was in.