1940 was at the center of a golden period in the history of Warner Brothers. The previous year, Cagney had starred in EACH DAWN I DIE and THE ROARING TWENTIES, and ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES the year before, and Bette Davis had a huge hit with DARK VICTORY. Edward G. Robinson starred in both BROTHER ORCHID and DR, EHRLICH'S MAGIC BULLET in 1940, while Bette Davis had MORE box-office hits with THE LETTER and ALL THIS AND HEAVEN TOO. Humphrey Bogart, who had appeared as a supporting player in several of the above-named pictures, was about to become a major star himself in a series of classic films like HIGH SIERRA, THE MALTESE FALCON and, of course, CASABLANCA., In short, during this era, producer Jack Warner could have sneezed and probably found five great movies in his hanky.
THE FIGHTING 69TH is not in the same league as most of the films mentioned above, but is easily as entertaining as any of them, thanks to the cast (all male - apparently no dames allowed) and the presence of Jimmy Cagney. Cagney plays a braggart who boasts of how much he wants to see action in the War (WWI) and turns coward the minute he gets to the front lines. Unlike his gangster turns in ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES and THE ROARING TWENTIES, Cagney's Jerry Plunkett has no real redeeming values and is solely a point of our interest because he's played by such a dynamic actor. Pat O'Brien plays (wait for it) a priest, this time the famous Father Francis J. Duffy, the real-life Chaplain of "The Fighting 69th" whose statue can still be seen in New York's Times Square. In fact, most of the characters depicted n this film were real life members of the famous New York Fighting Brigade made up of mostly Irishmen, including poet Joyce Kilmer, played by Jeffrey Lynn. Cagney's character, on whom the film revolves, is entirely fictional. His story is somewhat predictable, but with all these great character actors (Alan Hale, Frank McHugh, George Brent, etc.) and a handful of well done battle sequences, the film's flaws are eminently excusable. It's an enjoyable, heartfelt flag-waving, religioneering war effort, literally the kind of movie they don't make in Hollywood any more. ½ - JB