The Fighting 69th
Officially, America had no intention of entering the Second World War in 1940: Why, then, were there so many "preparedness" pictures like The Fighting 69th? This film, based on the experiences of military priest Father Duffy (Pat O'Brien), is set during World War I. The US 69th division was a national guard contingent comprised of Irish Americans, who fought with the Rainbow Division in the years 1917-1918. Into this Hibernian stronghold comes cocky Jerry Plunkett (Jimmy Cagney), a streetwise tough who is certain that he can lick the Germans single-handedly. But during his first taste of real combat, Plunkett turns coward and inadvertently reveals the 69th's position. Held responsible for the deaths of his companions, Plunkett is sentenced to a firing squad. Thanks to a conveniently dropped bomb that levels the stockade in which he is held, Plunkett redeems himself on the battlefield by sacrificing his life to save his fellow soldiers. The beauty of James Cagney's star performance is that he is as thoroughly convincing as a "yellow belly" as he is a hero. In addition to father Duffy, the real-life personages depicted in The Fighting 69th include future OSS leader Wild Bill Donovan (George Brent) and poet Joyce Kilmer (Jeffrey Lynn). Other Irish "regulars" include Alan Hale, Frank McHugh, Dennis Morgan, and Sammy Cohen.