My film today comes with some Great War Film pedigree attached. This is the middle film in a triptych from director Howard Hawks. Starting with ‘The Dawn Patrol’ in 1930 which will get a review at some point, followed by my film today ‘Road to Glory’ and finishing with the slightly rubbish ‘Sergeant York’ Hawks knocked out three Great War Films in a little over a decade. There’s also an earlier silent film from 1926 by Hawks called ‘Road to Glory’ that has absolutely nothing to do with the Great War just to confuse everyone.
‘The Road to Glory’ is a little out of the ordinary, in a similar way to ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ in that it’s an American film, with American money and American actors that was made in America but with the actors portraying foreign characters (in this case French), albeit with American accents. It confused me in the same way that ‘All Quiet…’ did on its first viewing. If I didn’t have a basic understanding of the uniforms I might’ve missed that they were French for quite some time because other than the clothes and frequent whistles of ‘La Marseillaise’ there’s not many signs of Frenchyness.
The rudiments of the plot are simple enough. There’s a girl who likes two guys, a classic Great War love triangle straight out of the pages of ‘Wings’, ‘A Farewell to Arms’ or ‘The Big Parade’. We also have a little sub plot where an older guy in the battalion ends up being the Father of one of the two guys from the love triangle. You know what? That’s kind of it. Love triangle, father and son, War. The End.
Whilst there is a severe lack of story what this film does have are several realish elements from the war which add nothing to the story but do make it seem a mite more real…ish. There’s a guy trapped in no man’s land on some wire who gets shot by his own guys after a few comrades have died trying to save him, there’s a good luck story where the company can hear some German tunnellers and panic for their lives. Later as they traipse to a period of rest behind the lines they hear and see the German mine blown directly below their section of the line. There’s an intensity to the actions and sounds of an advance through no mans’ land. There’s something about battle scenes in films produced prior to the Second World War that disappears in later films. The soldiers move differently, the noises of guns and shells are more urgent and therefore much more frightening. I guess there were plenty of veterans around to give them first-hand accounts of what it was really like out there and subsequently there was no excuse not to get that detail correct.
Deep down it really is pretty basic stuff though and the story isn’t enough to build 100 minutes of film around. Frankly they don’t do a particularly great job with what they have. It feels stifled and sparse like many early ‘Talkies’ do. That’s fine to a certain extent. ‘Mata Hari’ suffers the same problem. The issue is that this film was produced in 1936 and at least eight years had passed since the dawn of talking pictures. The fuzzy silences as characters move around the set create a clunkiness to the dialogue and the acting which would’ve been fixed with some background noise or by bringing in a foley artist.
There are large tracts of the film where nothing happens and continues on happening until more nothing comes round a corner, kicks it firmly on the cock and then runs off back to Nothing Land before anyone notices. People talk at each other, they agree or disagree (no-one cares) and then they go on about their stuff without anything from earlier making any difference to their lives. The script could’ve been sent to the actors in a pamphlet.
The lack of any story stuff happening makes it hard to have an opinion on this film. I didn’t like it but I didn’t have enough of anything to base a dislike on either. It’s just a lot of nothing. I felt like I was doing it a dis-service so I watched it again (fast forwarding a lot of the nothingey bits) in the hope I’d notice some nuanced elements that I’d somehow missed on my initial viewing but, no, there really was just nothing much going on. Shame really.
I can’t say I’m recommending this one, there are some elements that might entertain for a few minutes but overall it’s just a husk of a film, a framework that needs fleshing out with something, anything to make it feel like a proper film. It’s early(ish) but even taking that into account there are much better films from the same or earlier years. This is one of those films where I’ve taken the hit for you. Saved you 101 minutes of your valuable time. Maybe you could spend it with your partner or do something for charity. You’ll feel better for it……but never forget….you owe me 101 minutes. Clicky Clicky here if you really must.