The Long Gray Line
John Ford's sentimental look at the history of West Point through the eyes of one of its longest residents, The Long Gray Line (1955) touches upon many of the director's favorite themes, but fails to rank as one of his best films. Loosely adapted from the autobiography Bringing Up the Brass, the film concerns Martin 'Marty' Maher (Tyrone Power), a veteran West Point teacher who arrived at the military academy as an Irish immigrant, took a job as a dining steward, decided to enlist, earned a position as an athletic instructor, met and married his wife Mary (Maureen O'Hara), and became a witness to history. It's not surprising that Ford was drawn to the material, being an Irishman himself with a great love for America (the director was born Sean Aloysius O'Fearna), and Maher evokes many Fordian heroes with his desire to establish order in a universe that appears chaotic. For Maher, West Point is more than a military institution it is an extended family, and thus resembles his own tight-knit clan in County Tipperary, Ireland. But despite its attractive premise, The Long Gray Line tends to wander and fails to achieve any kind of narrative focus two hours and 15 minutes may seem like a good length for a film, but perhaps not one that intends to sum up 50 years of a man's life. Early scenes concern Maher's arrival at "The Point," as well as his courting Mary, where Ford opts for some fairly broad comic moments (many of which do not stand the test of time). But later elements of the film do not concern Maher's actions, but rather how events act upon him he copes with the death of a student, is horrified by World War I casualties, and suffers losses in his own family. One maudlin sequence flows to the next, and Ford even finds an opportunity for his hero to tell off the young governor of New York with a sanctimonious speech about the value of tradition. The Long Gray Line was Ford's first CinemaScope film, and while he did not care for the widescreen format, he effectively captures West Point's parade grounds and dining halls with a broad sweep. However, it's hard to say if the movie will strike an emotional chord with anyone who does not have strong ties to the military culture featured herein. As an examination of a man's life and its worth, Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is a superior picture. Columbia TriStar presents The Long Gray Line in a strong anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) that looks pleasant and colorful. Audio is in Dolby Digital 3.0 (left/center/right), and an array of subtitles are included, as well as the original theatrical trailer. Keep-case.