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See Here, Private Hargrove

Based on Marion Hargrove's lively memoir of his misadventures in Army boot camp, MGM's See Here, Private Hargrove (1944) stars Robert Walker as the bumbling GI who finds himself in perpetual hot water, often literally, with constant KP duty. The love of a pretty girl (Donna Reed) eventually helps turn the hapless Hargrove into a model soldier. The role was a star-making one for Walker, an MGM contract player who had impressed studio executives in supporting roles in Bataan and Madame Curie (both 1943).

In those days Walker had a reputation as a sensitive but cooperative young actor who was extremely well-liked on the MGM lot. Keenan Wynn, cast as a conniving fellow GI in See Here, Private Hargrove, had known Walker since both were involved in radio work in New York. Walker biographer Beverly Linet quotes Wynn: "We discovered that we worked very well as a team, and that bound us together.... It was a happy set, and I got to love the guy." But Walker's charming surface hid a great deal of inner turmoil. The product of a broken home, he was ridden with anxiety and inclined to overindulge in alcohol. His wife at the time, Jennifer Jones, about to emerge as an Oscar-winning superstar thanks to her performance in The Song of Bernadette (1943), would divorce Walker in 1945 after becoming romantically involved with producer David O. Selznick.

Director Tay Garnett, the uncredited director of the final section of Private Hargrove, recalled in his autobiography, Light Your Torches and Pull Up Your Tights, that Walker's mood swings when drinking could be extreme. One day, after belting several drinks at a small bar just outside the MGM gate, Walker caught sight of his own reflection in a cigarette-machine mirror. "In spontaneous savagery," wrote Garnett, "he drove his clenched fist through the mirror, scattering shards of glass in every direction, breaking several knuckles and severing an artery." Walker was carried to the studio hospital for treatment of his wounds. The actor's turbulent life, marked by nervous breakdowns as well as other acting successes, ended abruptly in his early 30s when his heart stopped after doctors gave him sedatives to control another emotional outburst.

Garnett had been called in for emergency work on Private Hargrove after the original director, Wesley Ruggles, had moved on to another assignment. In view of the fact that World War II was ongoing, MGM brass had insisted that this rough-and-tumble comedy of service life be given an ending of "significance, importance and reverence." Ruggles unhappily complied, but a preview screening made it clear that audiences hated the "noble" ending. Garnett's final section, in tone with the rest of the movie, helped make Private Hargrove a great success. The film spawned a sequel, What Next, Corporal Hargrove? (1945), and led to a screenwriting career for the real-life Hargrove, whose credits include The Music Man (1962), 40 Pounds of Trouble (1963), and TV's I Spy and Maverick.

Producer: George Haight
Director: Wesley Ruggles, Tay Garnett (uncredited)
Screenplay: Harry Kurnitz, from book by Marion Hargrove
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Stephen Goosson
Cinematography: Charles Lawton Jr.
Editing: Frank E. Hull
Original Music: Frank Loesser, David Snell
Cast: Robert Walker (Pvt. Marion Hargrove), Donna Reed (Carol Halliday), Keenan Wynn (Pvt. Mulvehill), Robert Benchley (Mr. Halliday), Ray Collins (Brody S. Griffith), Chill Wills (Sgt. Cramp), Bob Crosby (Bob).
BW-102m. Closed captioning.

by Roger Fristoe



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