The Long Gray Line

Director: John Ford
Year Released: 1955
Rating: 1.0

John Ford's biopic on the life of Martin Maher (played by Tyrone Power) - who was a staple at West Point Academy in New York for fifty years - is a muddled, flawed picture that runs too long and starts off poorly. It also exists as a flag-waving love-poem to the academy, and the military life in general, and openly supports the conservative, traditional nature of the school. The first half of the film is wasted, and sets a bad tone for the second half, as there are too many vignettes of Maher acting goofy, knocking over plates (he started off as a server in the cafeteria), getting knocked out in the boxing ring, almost drowning in the swimming pool and trying to win over the heart of his would-be wife, played magnificently by Maureen O'Hara. Power was a fine actor, but he was no Buster Keaton, or Chaplin, and the physical comedy stuff isn't funny. The second half, which is more somber and serious, contemplates the value of the academy (a lot of the promising cadets wound up dying in the two World Wars). While Maher appears to have been an awfully nice guy, the film never really delves into why he was so valuable there. A lot of people spend a great deal of time at their jobs but may not necessarily be considered indispensable (A better question may be: What did the cadets see in him? Did he act as an advisor? Or was he just a jolly Irishman everybody simply took to?) Ford does his best to try to compact the man's life into a 2 hour and 15 minute film, but I felt like I was missing something. Too much was dropped out (When did Maher's dad die? What ever happened to Maher's brother? What became of the original Master of the Sword? [we know he died]) and the ending tries too hard to be upbeat ... complete with the band playing a gratuitous Auld Lang Syne.