Sunday, March 15, 2020

The Road to Glory ( 1936 )

Like many films before it, World War I provided the setting for Hollywood's favorite love triangle formula - two boys and a girl - in Howard Hawks' The Road to Glory

Warner Baxter and Frederic March star as the two men who vie for the love of June Lang, a pretty nurse. It is a simple formula that never gets tiresome, providing it is well-acted and in The Road to Glory it certainly is. Screenwriters William Faulkner and Joel Sayre used this formula as the basis of their script, but the real meat of the story was its depiction of the brutalities of the war itself and the courageousness of the soldiers who fought it. 

Warner Baxter stars as Captain La Roche, a soldier who has witnessed death first-hand many times in the trenches of France. His company of the 2nd Battalion of the 39th Regiment is often called upon to fight in the most dangerous situations and most of his men do not come back from the trenches alive. La Roche is always receiving new replacement soldiers which he must, in turn, send out on perilous missions. He is disgusted with death and the ravages of trench warfare and he drowns his disgust in liqueur and aspirin. His only comfort is Monique La Coste ( Lang ), a young nurse whom he met when he first came to his post. She is drawn to him out of pity and gratitude for his kindness to her and her family. Monique thinks she loves him but realizes what true love is when she meets Lt. Michel Denet ( March ), the new officer in La Roche's regiment. 
La Roche and Denet get off to a bad start when they first meet, but as Denet fights alongside La Roche, he comes to admire his captain and serves proudly under him. Naturally, when he discovers that his newfound love is his captain's sweetheart, he feels torn between being loyal to La Roche or being true to his heart.  

Howard Hawks was one of the most versatile directors that ever came out of Hollywood and while The Road to Glory is not often regarded as one of his most famous films, it certainly bears his trademark stamp of excellence. In fact, The Road to Glory should rank as one of the finest WWI films ever made. The cinematography is dark and moody and the depictions of all of the battle scenes are impressive. It is excellently paced and features all of the elements of a good drama...including a touch of humor. The film bears many resemblances to The Dawn Patrol ( 1930 ), which was also directed by Hawks. Both films are set in World War I and focus on the relationship between an officer and his commanding officer. Both also realistically depict the horrors of war. 

Trench warfare was brutal. Just looking above the trench meant risking your head being shot off. One poor soldier gets stuck on barbed wire and wails for hours. The few soldiers that attempt to rescue him are shot down and, eventually, La Roche decides to shoot him just to put him out of his misery - like a horse with a wounded leg. 

Warner Baxter is excellent as Captain La Roche. This hagged officer has such a burden to carry on his soldiers and then his father ( Lionel Barrymore ), an old veteran of the Franco-Prussian wars, secretly enlists in his regiment and adds to his concerns. Throughout their missions, he now worries whether his father will come through unscathed. Barrymore does not make his first appearance until twenty minutes into the film, yet being the legendary character actor that he was, he makes his part as compelling as the two leading roles. 

Fredric March gives a fine performance ( as usual ) and June Lang is equally well-cast. Also in the cast is Gregory Ratoff as a whistling Russian soldier, Victor Kilian as a loyal sergeant, John Qualan, Paul Fix and Leonid Kinsky. 


  1. I must see The Road to Glory. It was one of my father's favourite movies. He would mention it often when the subject of movies and WWI came up. Plus, Fredric March was a favourite actor of his, along with Tracy and Guinness.

    1. Your father has good taste! Do you know which of Guinness' films was his favorite? That man made so many good films.

  2. This sounds like a must see! I will need to seek it out.