The Fighting 69th
O'Brien's co-star in the picture was James Cagney, who often played the scoundrel in need of redemption from O'Brien's saints in Warner Bros. movies. Together the two actors co-starred in nine films together, including Ragtime (1981), the last film either one of them ever made. Close friends off camera, O'Brien later remarked of his frequent and easily more famous co-star, "Jimmy can steal a scene by lifting an eyebrow." Father Duffy was one of O'Brien's most famous portrayals, while Cagney's was patriotic showman George M. Cohan, whom he played in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942). Ironically, statues of both of these famous men are still standing in the middle of New York City's Times Square.
Most of The Fighting 69th was filmed at Warner Brothers' Calabasas Ranch which doubled as Camp Mills, the regiment's training base, various French villages and numerous battlefields. No expense was spared in the pre-promotion of the film, which included a well-publicized meeting in New York City between O'Brien, Cagney, the real Father Duffy and surviving members of the regiment. For this event, more than five thousand fans showed up to greet the two stars when they arrived from Hollywood at Grand Central Station. The real Father Duffy also attended the New York City premiere and shook hands with nearly every actor who appeared in the film, all of whom were of Irish descent.
The Fighting 69th beat another rival studio's production of the same story to the theatres; Fox had planned to borrow Spencer Tracy from MGM for the starring role in Father Duffy of the Fighting 69th but dropped it once the O'Brien-Cagney picture went into production. When The Fighting 69th was released, the critics were mixed in their reviews. Some derided the movie's clichés while others enjoyed its vitality and pace. Frank Nugent, the film critic at the New York Times (and later a close collaborator of director John Ford), wrote that the film "is better if you can manage to forget the plot, with all it obvious theatrics, hokum and unoriginality, and think of it instead as the human, amusing and frequently gripping record of a regiments' marching off to war." The public, though, loved every minute of it and helped make it one of the biggest moneymakers of the year.
Producer: Hal B. Wallis, Jack L. Warner
Director: William Keighley
Screenplay: Dean Franklin, Fred Niblo, Jr., Norman Reilly Raine
Art Design: Ted Smith
Cinematography: Tony Gaudio
Special Effects: Byron Haskin, Rex Wimpy
Film Editing: Owen Marks
Original Music: Adolph Deutsch
Principal Cast: James Cagney (Jerry Plunkett), Pat O'Brien (Father Duffy),George Brent (Wild Bill Donovan), Jeffrey Lynn (Joyce Kilmer), Alan Hale (Sgt. Big Mike Wynn), Frank McHugh ("Crepe Hanger" Burke), Dennis Morgan (Lt. Ames), William Lundigan (Timmy Wynn), Dick Foran (John Wynn), Guinn "Big Boy" Williams (Paddy Dolan), Tom Dugan (Pvt. McManus).
by Scott McGee