powered by AFI
In early 1941, Colonel Lawton of the 19th Cavalry Regiment learns that his unit must convert from horses to tanks. Lawton, who himself is reluctant to change, knows that his hardest task will be to convince long-time cavalry men such as "Hap" Doan to give up their horses. Hap wants to transfer to another cavalry unit, but Lawton will not allow it, so Hap sadly goes to his horse Cantigny, whom he loves as much as the army, to tell her that he is going to buy her when he retires. Hap then goes off base for the weekend and is irritated that his departure is impeded at every turn by oncoming tanks. When he finally gets into town, he goes on a weekend-long bender and winds up at the home of his faithful girl friend Susie. Susie, who has moved her restaurant from town to town over the last eighteen years to stay close to Hap, patiently listens to his most recent proposal and promise to retire and buy a farm for her and Cantigny. Hap bristles when Russell, a former cavalry man who was dishonorably discharged, arrives to visit Susie. Russell has always been a rival for Susie's affections, and Hap is suspicious of Russell's recent affluence, which he claims comes from horse promotions. When Hap returns to the base, new recruits are arriving, including Joe Hanson, whose bride Sally follows him onto the base. While Joe is being trained by Hap, Sally goes to Susie's restaurant. Susie feels sorry for Sally and offers her cheap room and board when she learns that she is going to have a baby. Despite his initial misgivings, Hap grudgingly begins to like the hard-working and enthusiastic Joe and seems to have adjusted to the unit's changes. One day, however, some new tanks arrive and the one that Joe drives blows up because it has been sabotaged. Joe cannot control the vehicle, which crashes into the stable in which Cantigny is housed. The horse's injuries are so severe that the vet orders her to be put down, and Hap sadly asks to shoot her himself. Five days later, Hap is AWOL, but Lawton refuses to take action. Instead he extends Hap's pass and asks his pals, Strong, Krims and Cartaret, to bring him back. In the meantime, an FBI man from Washington arrives, and the colonel tells him that they have been unable to find the saboteurs, but he is convinced that there is a "Mr. Brains" behind the operation. The next day, Susie shows up at the base and begs the colonel not to court-martial Hap, whom she has not seen since he went AWOL. Just then, Hap arrives, accompanied by his three pals, who all have torn clothes and black eyes. Instead of thanking Lawton for his indulgence, Hap yells at him, prompting the colonel to order Hap to the guardhouse. Hap is then court-martialed and given a dishonorable discharge, but, instead of forwarding the papers to Washington, Lawton refuses to sign them and tells his aide to throw Hap out of the guardhouse. Hap goes to Susie's, where Joe has also gone to see Sally. Because Hap refuses to listen to Joe's apologies, Susie won't let him stay and tearfully says that she is ashamed of him. Russell overhears everything and goes after Hap, saying that he has always wanted to be friends, and promising to find Hap a job. Three weeks later, Russell takes Hap to the office of Mr. Leech, who is a spy, and Hap agrees to help them prevent a shipment of tanks from reaching the East Coast. Late that night, Hap sneaks into camp and goes to Lawton, with whom he has been secretly working, and reveals that he has made contact with the spy ring. Lawton asks Hap to stay with the spies until he finds out who "Mr. Brains" is. He then gives Hap specific information to pass on to the spies. Soon Hap goes on a long drive with Russell and Leech and finally stops at a barn close to a bridge on which Leech's men are setting dynamite meant to destroy the tank train. Because Hap has not been able to make a call, he knows that he has to do something. Just as Hap is drawing his gun, Nichols, who is the leader of the gang, shows up and a fight ensues during which Hap is knocked unconscious. As the train approaches, Hap awakens and in a scuffle, gets the gun. The man at the dynamite plunger then is forced to push it too soon, causing the bridge to blow up prematurely and giving the train enough time to stop. The soldiers, including Joe, then hear shooting and go to the barn, where they find a wounded Hap, who salutes before falling unconscious. At a regiment assembly some time later, as Lawton pins a medal on a very proud Hap, the old cavalry man says that he has always thought that tanks were very practical.