The Iron Major


1h 25m 1943
The Iron Major

Brief Synopsis

In this true story, Frank Cavanaugh proves himself as a football coach and a World War I hero.

Film Details

Genre
Biography
Sports
Release Date
Jan 1943
Premiere Information
Boston premiere: 25 Oct 1943
Production Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 25m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
7,670ft

Synopsis

In Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1942, seven children of beloved football coach Frank "Cav" Cavanaugh are sworn into the military service to serve their country in World War II. As Cav's wife Florence proudly shows old family friend Father Tim Donavan pictures of her children dressed in their military uniforms, Tim presents her with a story that he is writing about her departed husband: Tim's story begins in Worcester in 1891, when Cav is fifteen years old. Young Cav's parents hope that he will give up football for a career in law, but when his high school coach suggests that he play college football at Dartmouth, Cav and his friend Bob vow to attend that university. Several years later, Bob and Cav are members of the Dartmouth team. Just as he is elected team captain, Cav receives word of his father's death. To support his family, Cav leaves Dartmouth and accepts a job coaching at the University of Cincinnati. By implementing rigid training rules, Cav molds his players into a winning team and moves on to the University of Denver. While visiting home one day, Cav meets Florence Ayres and decides to return to Worcester and study law. After earning his law degree, Cav loses his temper and insults the judge at his first trial. Although Cav is discouraged, Florence insists that they marry and move in with her parents. After the birth of their first child, Cav returns to football and takes a job coaching at Worcester's Holy Cross University, where he meets Tim, a player on the team. A successful season at Holy Cross leads to an offer to coach at Dartmouth. As the war in Europe escalates, Cav's players begin to drop out of school and enlist in the military. When Tim, now a priest, visits his old coach on his way to the front, Cav rails against enlisting, claiming that football is his fight. In response, Tim answers that the war is everyone's fight. When the United States declares war on Germany, Cav enlists out of a sense of duty to his country, ignoring Florence's objections that he is the father of six children and should stay at home. Cav is sent overseas, where he is promoted to captain and assigned to rally the exhausted troops for a march to the front. On the grueling trek, Cav offers encouragement to Manning, a young private who breaks down under the strain. While on a special reconnaissance mission one day, Cav is gravely wounded and almost dies of his injuries. At the hospital, he is visited by Manning, who tells him that he has been named the "Iron Major" because of his ability to survive. Sent home to recover, Cav is visited by Bob, who offers him a coaching job at Boston College. At Boston, Cav discovers that his players are skeptical about the capability of their convalescing coach. Cav proves himself by drilling his underdog team into shape and rallying them to a victory over Yale. Several winning seasons later, Cav visits Tim and confesses that his eyesight and health are failing and the doctor has advised him that he has only five more years to live. To provide security for his family, Cav decides to take a lucrative job at Fordham University in New York City. Despite his gradually failing eyesight, Cav molds his team into winners. His career culminates five years later, when he goes totally blind during a game in which his team wins the intersectional championship by beating Oregon State. After the game, the players present the now blind Cav with the football, and he bids them farewell and resigns. On his deathbed, Cav urges his friends and family to continue fighting for their beliefs. Completing his story, Tim salutes Cav's spirit as American fighting troops march into war.

Cast

Pat O'brien

Frank "Cav" Cavanaugh

Ruth Warrick

Florence Ayres Cavanaugh

Robert Ryan

Father Tim Donovan

Leon Ames

Bob Stewart

Russell Wade

Manning

Bruce Edwards

Lieutenant Jones

Richard Martin

Davie

Pierre Watkin

Major White

Arnold Stanford

Soldier

Bob Thom

Soldier

Lew Harvey

Lieutenant

Bud Geary

Sergeant

Walter Brooke

Lieutenant Stone

Louis Jean Heydt

Recruiting sergeant

Sada Simmons

Nurse

Mary Currier

Nurse

Frank Puglia

French major

Walter Fenner

Doctor

John Dilson

Doctor

Louis Borell

French officer

Billy Roy

Bob as a boy

Robert Winkler

Frank as a boy

Henry Roquemore

Evans

Bobby Larson

Boy

George Nokes

Boy

Rudy Wessler

Boy

Richard Dillon

Boy

Roland Dupree

Boy

Michael Miller

Boy

Joel Davis

Boy

Teddy Infuhr

Boy

Wheaton Chambers

Army doctor

Myron Healey

Paul

Dean Benton

William

Kirk Alyn

John

James Jordon

Philip

Victor Kilian Jr.

Francis

Margaret Landry

Sis Cavanaugh

Ian Wolfe

Professor Runnymead

Harry Tyler

Second friend

Eddie Woods

First friend

Pat O'malley

Charlie

Elena Duran

Dancer

Ramon Ros

Dancer

Bonnie Braunger

Baby

Joe Crehan

Judge

Joe King

Defense attorney

Eddie Hart

Bailiff

Milton Kibbee

M.A. client

Paul Lepere

Court clerk

Joe O'connor

Second defense attorney

Brooks Benedict

Alumnus

Brandon Beach

Alumnus

John B. Williams

Pullman porter

Harold Landon

Boston college player

James Courtney

Boston college player

Buddy Yarus

Boston college player

Mel Schubert

Boston college player

Charles D. Brown

Official

William Forrest

Official

Sam Mcdaniel

Pete

John Miljan

Oregon coach

Larry Lund

Football player

Bob Benton

Football player

Steve Barclay

Football player

Walt Robbins

Driver of 2-up

Sid Jordan

Driver of 2-up

John Frederick

Yale captain

James Flavin

Umpire

Russ Clark

Umpire

Fred Kohler

Boston college captain

Florence Hansen

Bob's girl friend

Steve Winston

Student

James Magill

Student

Gordon Clark

Student

John Hamilton

Dean

Dorothy Vaughan

Ma Cavanaugh

Frank Shannon

Pa Cavanaugh

Paul Mcvey

Athletic director

Lee Phelps

Craig Flanagan

Michael Road

Robert Andersen

Mike Lally

Mary Halsey

Barbara Hale

Wilbur Mack

Cy Ring

Bert Moorhouse

Film Details

Genre
Biography
Sports
Release Date
Jan 1943
Premiere Information
Boston premiere: 25 Oct 1943
Production Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 25m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
7,670ft

Articles

The Iron Major


While never the major star some of his friends and closest colleagues were, Pat O'Brien was very popular with audiences for his ability to play comedies, military action stories and gritty crime flicks (playing characters on both sides of the law) with equal ease. But what he did best was a kind of gruff role model for men who were either younger, less directed or more troubled.

In the 1930s, despite the variety of his roles, O'Brien became identified with a particular type of character, the ghetto priest, a tough guy who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, found direction in the church and returned to his roots to help other less fortunate boys like himself, usually bucking his childhood-pal-turned-criminal James Cagney. It's not that O'Brien played a great number of those characters, but he did it so well it's impossible to think of his film career without the type coming to mind.

In the 1940s, O'Brien's screen image became equally tied to another character, the hard-driving, inspirational sports coach who molds his young athletes into a winning team and gains their lifelong respect. Again, not a huge body of films featuring this character type ¿in fact the image is based almost entirely on one indelible entry, Knute Rockne, All American (1940). But O'Brien proved so potent as the real-life legendary Notre Dame football coach, he returned for a very similar part three years later in this picture.

Another true-life story, The Iron Major (1943) follows the life of Frank Cavanaugh of Dartmouth, Boston College and Fordham. Father of ten, dedicated to his loving wife, a firm believer in God and country, Cavanaugh pursues a highly successful coaching career, consistently leading various college teams to winning seasons, despite severe eye damage in World War I. Even as total blindness begins to overtake him, Cavanaugh coaches Fordham to a memorable victory over Oregon State in 1932. Based on a book by Cavanaugh's wife Florence, the movie follows him from childhood to his death.

The picture was considerably enlivened by exciting gridiron scenes, including newsreel footage of Cavanaugh-coached games, most significantly the famous Fordham-Oregon State match. Because the picture was released at the height of World War II, Cavanaugh's World War I experiences were given major emphasis to draw parallels between his service and that of the GIs fighting in the new war.

O'Brien was given a strong supporting cast, including Ruth Warrick as his wife Florence. Warrick made a memorable film debut a couple years earlier as the wife of Orson Welles in the title role of Citizen Kane (1941). Soap opera fans may remember her from her long stint as the matriarch Phoebe on All My Children.

The Iron Major was a big boost for the up-and-coming career of Robert Ryan. The young actor met Pat O'Brien when they were both cast in the war drama Bombardier (1943). O'Brien took an immediate liking to Ryan, partly because of his professionalism and honest, straightforward way of dealing with people and partly because of their shared Irish heritage. It was O'Brien who lobbied heavily for Ryan to play the part of Father Donovan, Cavanaugh's priest and former teammate. In his autobiography, O'Brien wrote that Ryan was "magnificent" and, referring tongue-in-cheek to his own priest roles, "stole some of my usual ecclesiastic glory." Shortly after this film, Ryan had a major breakthrough as Ginger Rogers' husband in Tender Comrade (1943), the last of six films he released that year. He made only one picture in 1944 before joining the war effort, but when he returned to the screen in 1947, Ryan soon appeared in a string of critical and commercial successes, re-embarking on a career that remained strong until his death in 1973.

One of the editors on this film was Robert Wise, who went on to win Academy Awards for his direction of West Side Story (1961) and The Sound of Music (1965).

Director: Ray Enright
Producer: Robert Fellows
Screenplay: Warren Duff, Aben Kandel, based on the book by Florence Cavanaugh
Cinematography: Robert De Grasse
Editing: Philip Martin, Robert Wise
Art Direction: Carroll Clark, Albert S. D'Agostino
Original Music: Roy Webb
Cast: Pat O'Brien (Frank Cavanaugh), Ruth Warrick (Florence Cavanaugh), Robert Ryan (Father Tim Donovan), Leon Ames (Robert Stewart).
BW-86m.

by Rob Nixon
The Iron Major

The Iron Major

While never the major star some of his friends and closest colleagues were, Pat O'Brien was very popular with audiences for his ability to play comedies, military action stories and gritty crime flicks (playing characters on both sides of the law) with equal ease. But what he did best was a kind of gruff role model for men who were either younger, less directed or more troubled. In the 1930s, despite the variety of his roles, O'Brien became identified with a particular type of character, the ghetto priest, a tough guy who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, found direction in the church and returned to his roots to help other less fortunate boys like himself, usually bucking his childhood-pal-turned-criminal James Cagney. It's not that O'Brien played a great number of those characters, but he did it so well it's impossible to think of his film career without the type coming to mind. In the 1940s, O'Brien's screen image became equally tied to another character, the hard-driving, inspirational sports coach who molds his young athletes into a winning team and gains their lifelong respect. Again, not a huge body of films featuring this character type ¿in fact the image is based almost entirely on one indelible entry, Knute Rockne, All American (1940). But O'Brien proved so potent as the real-life legendary Notre Dame football coach, he returned for a very similar part three years later in this picture. Another true-life story, The Iron Major (1943) follows the life of Frank Cavanaugh of Dartmouth, Boston College and Fordham. Father of ten, dedicated to his loving wife, a firm believer in God and country, Cavanaugh pursues a highly successful coaching career, consistently leading various college teams to winning seasons, despite severe eye damage in World War I. Even as total blindness begins to overtake him, Cavanaugh coaches Fordham to a memorable victory over Oregon State in 1932. Based on a book by Cavanaugh's wife Florence, the movie follows him from childhood to his death. The picture was considerably enlivened by exciting gridiron scenes, including newsreel footage of Cavanaugh-coached games, most significantly the famous Fordham-Oregon State match. Because the picture was released at the height of World War II, Cavanaugh's World War I experiences were given major emphasis to draw parallels between his service and that of the GIs fighting in the new war. O'Brien was given a strong supporting cast, including Ruth Warrick as his wife Florence. Warrick made a memorable film debut a couple years earlier as the wife of Orson Welles in the title role of Citizen Kane (1941). Soap opera fans may remember her from her long stint as the matriarch Phoebe on All My Children. The Iron Major was a big boost for the up-and-coming career of Robert Ryan. The young actor met Pat O'Brien when they were both cast in the war drama Bombardier (1943). O'Brien took an immediate liking to Ryan, partly because of his professionalism and honest, straightforward way of dealing with people and partly because of their shared Irish heritage. It was O'Brien who lobbied heavily for Ryan to play the part of Father Donovan, Cavanaugh's priest and former teammate. In his autobiography, O'Brien wrote that Ryan was "magnificent" and, referring tongue-in-cheek to his own priest roles, "stole some of my usual ecclesiastic glory." Shortly after this film, Ryan had a major breakthrough as Ginger Rogers' husband in Tender Comrade (1943), the last of six films he released that year. He made only one picture in 1944 before joining the war effort, but when he returned to the screen in 1947, Ryan soon appeared in a string of critical and commercial successes, re-embarking on a career that remained strong until his death in 1973. One of the editors on this film was Robert Wise, who went on to win Academy Awards for his direction of West Side Story (1961) and The Sound of Music (1965). Director: Ray Enright Producer: Robert Fellows Screenplay: Warren Duff, Aben Kandel, based on the book by Florence Cavanaugh Cinematography: Robert De Grasse Editing: Philip Martin, Robert Wise Art Direction: Carroll Clark, Albert S. D'Agostino Original Music: Roy Webb Cast: Pat O'Brien (Frank Cavanaugh), Ruth Warrick (Florence Cavanaugh), Robert Ryan (Father Tim Donovan), Leon Ames (Robert Stewart). BW-86m. by Rob Nixon

Ruth Warrick (1915-2005) - Ruth Warrick, (1915-2005)


Ruth Warrick, the actress who will forever be identified as the first Mrs. Kane in Orson Welles' Citizen Kane (1941) to film buffs; and Phoebe Wallingford, the meddlesome nosybody on the long-running soap opera All My Children, to modern television audiences, died at her Manhattan home on January 15 of complications from Pneumonia. She was 89.

She was born on June 29, 1915 in St. Joseph, Missouri. After attaining a degree in theatre from the University of Kansas City, she left for New York, where in 1938, she joined the Mercury Theater troupe, headed by a young artist on the rise by the name of Orson Welles. When Welles prepared to film Citizen Kane (1941) he took several players from his Mercury Theater (Joseph Cotten, Everett Sloan, Agnes Moorehead) and of course, Ruth Warrick. She made her film debut in Welles' cinematic epic as Emily Norton Kane. Indeed, to many film buffs, Warrick's icy charms are indispensable to the celebrated montage sequence opposite Welles at the breakfast table; particularly when he broaches the subject of her husband's infidelity:

Emily Kane: Charles, people will think...
Charles Kane: What I tell them to think!

Warrick received fine reviews for her performance, and she had good roles in her next two films The Corsican Brothers (1941), with Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and Journey Into Fear (1942), opposite Joseph Cotton. Sadly, Hollywood, not knowing what to do with a well-trained, mature actress like Warrick, began to cast her into routine, forgettable fare: Mr. Winkle Goes to War (1944), China Sky (1945), and Swell Guy (1946). Disney's Song of the South (1947), was a box-office hit, and was her best film in a while, but overall, the material she received over the next few years, simply wasn't worthy of her talents.

Things turned around for her in the mid-50s, when Warrick discovered the medium of television. She had regular roles on The Guiding Light (1953-54), As the World Turns (1956-60), Father of the Bride (1960-61), and was unforgettable as the sinister housekeeper, Hannah Cord, in Peyton Place (1965-67). Yet it was her 35-year run in the role of Phoebe Wallingford in All My Children (1970-2005), that Warrick achieved her greatest triumph. As the rich, intrusive matriarch of the fictitious, affluent town known as Pine Valley, Warrick found a role that could be at once gloriously hammy and quietly conniving - qualities that highlighted her renown versatility as an actress. To honor her contribution to television, Warrick received a lifetime achievement award from the Daytime Emmys last December. She is survived by three children, a grandson, and six great-grandchildren.

by Michael T. Toole

Ruth Warrick (1915-2005) - Ruth Warrick, (1915-2005)

Ruth Warrick, the actress who will forever be identified as the first Mrs. Kane in Orson Welles' Citizen Kane (1941) to film buffs; and Phoebe Wallingford, the meddlesome nosybody on the long-running soap opera All My Children, to modern television audiences, died at her Manhattan home on January 15 of complications from Pneumonia. She was 89. She was born on June 29, 1915 in St. Joseph, Missouri. After attaining a degree in theatre from the University of Kansas City, she left for New York, where in 1938, she joined the Mercury Theater troupe, headed by a young artist on the rise by the name of Orson Welles. When Welles prepared to film Citizen Kane (1941) he took several players from his Mercury Theater (Joseph Cotten, Everett Sloan, Agnes Moorehead) and of course, Ruth Warrick. She made her film debut in Welles' cinematic epic as Emily Norton Kane. Indeed, to many film buffs, Warrick's icy charms are indispensable to the celebrated montage sequence opposite Welles at the breakfast table; particularly when he broaches the subject of her husband's infidelity: Emily Kane: Charles, people will think... Charles Kane: What I tell them to think! Warrick received fine reviews for her performance, and she had good roles in her next two films The Corsican Brothers (1941), with Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and Journey Into Fear (1942), opposite Joseph Cotton. Sadly, Hollywood, not knowing what to do with a well-trained, mature actress like Warrick, began to cast her into routine, forgettable fare: Mr. Winkle Goes to War (1944), China Sky (1945), and Swell Guy (1946). Disney's Song of the South (1947), was a box-office hit, and was her best film in a while, but overall, the material she received over the next few years, simply wasn't worthy of her talents. Things turned around for her in the mid-50s, when Warrick discovered the medium of television. She had regular roles on The Guiding Light (1953-54), As the World Turns (1956-60), Father of the Bride (1960-61), and was unforgettable as the sinister housekeeper, Hannah Cord, in Peyton Place (1965-67). Yet it was her 35-year run in the role of Phoebe Wallingford in All My Children (1970-2005), that Warrick achieved her greatest triumph. As the rich, intrusive matriarch of the fictitious, affluent town known as Pine Valley, Warrick found a role that could be at once gloriously hammy and quietly conniving - qualities that highlighted her renown versatility as an actress. To honor her contribution to television, Warrick received a lifetime achievement award from the Daytime Emmys last December. She is survived by three children, a grandson, and six great-grandchildren. by Michael T. Toole

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

The opening credits feature the following acknowledgment: "RKO Radio Pictures wishes to gratefully acknowledge the gracious cooperation of the University of Cincinnati, Boston College, Boston University School of Law, Dartmouth College, College of the Holy Cross, Fordham University and Major Frank Cavanaugh's legion of friends and admirers." As depicted in the film, Frank Cavanaugh (1876-1933), was a celebrated college football coach and World War I hero. A pre-production news item in Hollywood Reporter notes that Jane Wyatt tested for the female lead in this picture. Although a Hollywood Reporter news item adds Josh Hardin to the cast, his appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. According to other news items in Hollywood Reporter, the football scenes were filmed on location at Dartmouth, Fordham, Boston and Holy Cross colleges. The production was shut down from 20 May-May 24, 1943 when Pat O'Brien left for a personal appearance tour to promote his film Bombardier (see entry above). O'Brien also appeared as Knute Rockne, another famous college football coach, in the 1940 RKO film Knute Rockne-All American (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40; F3.2320). This picture marked the return of Leon Ames to the screen after a two-year hiatus spent performing on Broadway.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1943

Released in United States on Video April 25, 1990

Released in United States 1943

Released in United States on Video April 25, 1990