The Road to Glory (1936)
Director: Howard Hawks.
Starring: Fredric March (Lieutenant Michel Denet), Warner Baxter (Captain Paul La Roche), Lionel Barrymore (Papa La Roche / Pvt. Morin), June Lang (Monique La Coste - nurse), Gregory Ratoff (Pipe-smoking, whistling sgt with Russian accent), Victor Kilian (LaRoche's tall sgt - handlebar mustache), Paul Stanton (Capt of man on wire - yields to LaRoche), John Qualen (Scared soldier 1st hears digging), Julius Tannen (Lieutenant Tannen), Theodore von Eltz (Major), Paul Fix (Second volunteer: wire rescue), Leonid Kinskey (Leg wounded trying wire rescue), Jacques Lory (Courier eying Monique & LaRoche), Jacques Vanaire (Doctor), Edythe Raynore (Nurse).
trench life as seen by a French regiment; as time goes on Lt. Denet gets in a triangle love relationship with Monique and his captain
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
Somewhere in France, 1916. A message comes for Captain Paul La Roche from Division Headquarters. While the captain reads the message, the messenger eyes a pretty woman in a sexy dress named Monique La Coste. Sarcastically, the captain asks the courier if he would like a chair to sit in [to watch Monique at his leisure]. The courier hurriedly says no. He leaves.
Monique asks Paul if they are being sent to the front? Yes. Now. Monique tells him that each time he has to fight, the harder it becomes for her to bear it. They say goodbye, embrace and kiss. The captain says he will come back: "I'm eternal." Then he lets her out through a back entrance.
The sergeant comes in and the captain tells him that the men must be readied and assembled by 11 p.m. Sarge tells him that the new replacements have not yet reported in for duty. The captain tells the sergeant that he must see to it that the replacements report in. Noises of airplane engines are heard overhead. The captain informs sarge to to tell the men to take cover because those are German airplanes coming over. Shortly afterward, the airplanes start dropping their bombs.
The captain goes outside and he doesn't see airplanes, but he does see a blimp come over the unit. Inside the blimp men are dropping bombs through a little opening in the floor of the cabin. Monique runs for cover. She is almost killed when a bomb brings down the side wall of a building crashing onto the side walk. In a cellar Lt. Michael Denet is playing the piano during the bombing. He sees a woman's shoes and legs and shouts to her to get inside. He opens a grate that gives Monique enough room to enter the cellar. Denet pulls her into the cellar just as a bomb explodes where Monique had been standing. He lights a candle and sees the beauty he has in his little cellar.
Denet starts nursing the badly shaken woman with a nurse's coat on. He gives her a drink of liquor and gets her to lay down on a couch. He then starts playing the piano for her. Denet tells her the music is softening her up for him. Monique tells him that she doesn't feel a thing. She wants to leave, but he says she has to stay until it's safe outside. It has started raining outside and Monique says: "And you haven't learned yet that when the rain comes, they go away?" Denet says: "Yeah, I know that. I was hoping you didn't. I'm sorry." He adds: "Well, I can't understand it. Nothing I do seems to work."
The lieutenant now explains that in war there are not many moments of beauty and when he saw her, he knew he had to try to make this moment last as long as possible. He grabs her and gives her a couple of kisses, but she does not respond. She asks him: "Have you finished?" She gets up and starts leaving. Denet asks her for her name, but she won't give it to him. Nor will she tell him what unit she is with, saying that it's best not to tell him.
Denet reports to headquarters. He introduces himself to the sergeant and the sergeant tells the lieutenant that he is Sgt. Regnier. Now Denet goes into the captain's office. He introduces himself to the captain and notices that the fellow officer looks disheveled in his appearance. He is also downing pills with liquor and seems very fidgety. The guys get off to a rough start, but then get down to business. They are located at one end of a valley and the enemy has the rest. The captain adds: "It's a tough sector. It's bad. It's gonna get worse." Denet will be in charge of what's left of the third platoon. Half of the platoon are replacements. Denet is a bit shocked by this high percentage of replacements. He watches as the captain puts some more aspirins into his pockets and leaves to check on the recently arrived replacements.
Regnier is going to be Denet's sergeant. Denet asks if they usually lose half of the platoon when they go to the front? The sergeant says: "Yes. Sometimes more. We're known as Captain LaRoche's Hard Bargains." They are given all the really tough and dirty jobs to do. They have been at the front eight times already. Denet tries to get some information about the captain from the sergeant but Regnier just keeps saying the same thing: "He's the finest officer in the army."
The captain inspects the men. One of the guys is 44 years old, but the captain asks him his real age. He tells his aide to send this man back to civilian life. The captain gets up on the steps so all the men can hear him and he says soldiers of France, "you are now members of the 5th company, 2nd battalion of the 39th regiment of the line." Napoleon himself created this regiment. At midnight they will all move up to the front.
The soldiers sing as they march. As they get closer to the front, they stop singing and get serious. Denet takes over from the officer in his sector. The officer says that it feels like the Germans are getting ready to attack. Denet hears a man shouting out with pain. He asks why doesn't the officer send some men out to get the man. The officer takes Denet over to a section of the trench where he can see the man all tangled up in barbed wire. He asks if Denet sees the many dead bodies in front of the wounded man? Yes. Those are the men they sent out to get the one wounded man.
One of the guys in third platoon tells the lieutenant that he can't sleep with that man out their wailing away all night. He says he knows they can free the man and get him back to the trench. Denet asks the man who is the other fellow who will go with the frustrated soldier? A man speaks up saying he will do it.
The two men go out. The Germans spot them and fire a machine gun at them. One of the men dies, while the other is just wounded. Not even thinking about the danger, Denet rushes out of the trench, rushes over to the survivor and pulls him back into the trench. The captain says that Denet is a brave man, but he is also a fool. Now he takes out his pistol and shoots the moaning soldier. Denet is shocked at this. He walks away without saying anything to the captain.
The guys try to get some sleep. In the relative silence a soldiers hears the sounds of digging underneath him. He tells the sergeant to come over and listen. Then the fellow tells everyone that the Germans are digging right underneath them and the French will all be blown to pieces. The captain comes over. He acts rather nonchalant about the matter. He says as long as the men can hear the Germans digging, they are safe. It's when they stop digging, then that's another matter. The captain leaves and the panicky man asks the lieutenant if he can do anything to get them out of here? Denet tells the men that the captain told them the truth. He assures his men that they will all get out before the mine is blown.
A soldiers delivers more than 31 helmets to the third platoon. They will have a little bit more protection with the steel helmets compared to the caps they were wearing.
In the barracks the sound of the digging stops. The men are really worried, but after awhile the digging starts again. Now they can relax again.
Third platoon receives it's replacements. The men are glad to be getting out of there.
Dent apologizes to the captain for being so critical of his losing half his men. He understands now how that can happen and he is pleased to be under the captain's command. The captain just say thanks.
The captain tells the replacement captain about the mine underneath them. The replacement says: "I left you a wounded man on a wire and you leave me a mine to sit on."
As third platoon is safely away from the trenches, they hear and see a loud explosion go off.
Back way behind the trenches, the men relax. Monique comes over to see the captain. Sgt. Regnier tells her that the captain is still sleeping. So, she goes into the dark room. Monique watches him as he sleeps. Later she comes out of the room and tells Sgt. Regnier to please let the captain sleep longer, if possible. The sergeant says he will. She now leaves. And Denet come out of his room. He asks the sergeant where are the nurses in this town? They are in a church on the east side of town.
Denet goes to the hospital and pretends to be browsing around for a buddy, but, of course, he is looking for Monique. He finally finds Monique and she tells him that unless he's a patient, he really should leave the hospital. She says she is very busy and will be busy for the duration of the war. Denet is a bit offended and leaves.
At a restaurant, Denet at a table on his own surprises Monique by paying for her dinner. He comes over and sits with her and they drink some more coffee.
Monique stands by the piano listening to Denet play for her. She's much more relaxed now compared to the first meeting.
The captain tells his staff that the Allies are going to be rolling along the front from Switzerland to the sea. This will be the biggest Allied offensive so far in the war. One of the sergeants goes around checking everyone's pack. He tells them to throw away a lot of things. He comes to an old man with a bugle and sarge tells him to throw it away. The guy, Pvt. Morain, tells sarge about how he blew the command for a cavalry charge in the Sudan using this bugle. Sarge gives in and lets Morain keep his bugle in his pack.
The captain gives Denet some of his personal items. If anything happens to him, he wants Denet to take these items over to a nurse named Monique. He shows Denet a picture of her and now Denet realizes that the nurse he likes so much is the girlfriend of the captain.
The captain gives his usual talk to the men and then tells them they will be moving up to the front at midnight. After the talk, Private Morain is told the captain wants to speak with him. When he goes into the captain's office, the captain says he sees that the older fellow has died his hair and changed his name, but he's still the same fellow he had leave his platoon awhile back. But this time the captain embraces the old man who says: "My son! My son!" That's a shocker for Denet. After the warm greeting the captain has to tell his father that he cannot go on soldiering with the men. A weak link in the line means that ten men might lose their lives because of a delay or some other matter. Dad starts arguing with the captain, who has to shout at him several times to stand at attention before the old man obeys.
Denet goes into his room and is surprised to see Monique there. She explains: "I had to come because you didn't come to me." She says she has something to tell him. Before she can get it out Denet opens the envelope and pulls out the personal items of the captain. She asks him to try to understand. She says she is going to tell the captain that she loves Lt. Denet. The lieutenant, knowing now how much the captain is devoted to Monique, says he is not going to be the one to break up the relationship between her and the captain. He turns his back to her. She is not ready to leave. She asks Denet to kiss her and tell her that he loves her. He says he won't kiss her. She says: "God bless you, Michel." She leaves.
The captain goes into Denet's room to tell him to lead the attack tonight. He will be at headquarters. After Denet leaves, the captain sees the necklace he gave to Monique on the floor of Denet's room. He starts thinking about what this means.
Morain gets his new orders. He is transferred to the automobile section. He and the soldier with him think about what would happen if that order had never arrived or was somehow destroyed by fire? The door blew the note near the fire, but not in it. So the drunk man watching Morain blows the orders the rest of the way into the fire. Now Morain and the guard sneak into line without being seen and go with the rest of the troops.
Denet returns from the front. Fortunately, there were no causalities. Then Denet tells the captain that a shell landed near the men and one fellow jumped on the shell to save the other men. Luckily, it was a dud. The captain says he will cite the man for bravery -- what's his name? Private Morain. The captain is shocked. He balls out the sergeant for not making sure Pvt. Morain was gone from the front. Sarge says the order transferring the private still has not arrived. The captain goes out to check on his father. He tells his father that he is very proud of him.
The commander of the regiment reads a letter from the corps commander: "Officers of the Second Army, you are on the verge of an attack that will be the greatest in the history of warfare. You will fight on ground that has been drenched by the blood of your former comrades. You will go forward until you have taken your objectives. The fate of France and of civilization rests in your hands." It is signed by Marchand, commanding the Second Army.
The offensive begins at 6 a.m. Denet wishes the captain good luck, but he is very angry about the relationship of Denet with Monique. He says he's in no greater danger of dying in battle than Denet is. Denet says nothing. The two men go out into the trenches.
The offensive begins during a period of artillery bombardment by the Germans. The men go up and over regardless of the explosions. They start taking casualties immediately. But they keep pushing forward. They use a lot of grenades to destroy the German defenses. Some Germans start surrendering.
At the hospital. Monique walks in where the priest is leading the men in prayer to the tune of Ave Maria. She says a prayer for the soldiers too.
The offensive is still going on. The captain says he has a dangerous operation, a wiring operation, that will be strictly on a voluntary basis. Denet offers to do it. The captain says he needs to take six men with him. Sgt. Regnier also says he will volunteer. Denet tells the sergeant to get five more volunteers. One of the five is none other than Pvt. Morain.
The men start pulling the wire out into no man's land. One of the men is shot by a sniper. The wire breaks and Regnier runs over to fix it up. He is hit by machine gun bullets and goes down. Dent rushes over to him and brings him back with the group. They tell Regnier to stay put and they will get him on the way back.
Morain tells Denet that he is afraid to go farther. So Morain is left behind with Regnier.
The men set up a listening post and report this to the captain by phone.
Morain says he hears something. Regnier tells him to be careful because it could be their own men out there. Morain looks and says he knows it's the Germans. He throws a grenade and two men of the wiring operation go down. Denet is wounded in the arm. He shouts out: "Morain! Morain! It's your own men!" Denet brings in one of the wounded men to where Morain and Regnier are. Regnier tells Denet to tell the captain that it was he who threw the grenade. Regnier promptly dies.
Only three men make it back to the lines. One of them is the pipe-smoking guard that blew Morain's transfer into the fire. He, however, dies very soon after his arrival. Back with the captain, Denet says it was Regnier who threw the grenade, but dad tells his son that it was he who threw the grenade. The captain has him arrested and taken to the rear area. After Morain leaves, the captain thanks Denet for what he tried to do for his father. He asks Denet to watch out for his dad. Denet follows after Morain.
Denet and Morain go to the hospital. There Monigue sees Denet being bandaged up. They hug and kiss. Then Monique sees Captain Paul standing there with a cut-up left side of his face. She goes over to talk to him and says she couldn't help falling in love with Denet. Denet says they tried to stay away from each other, but it just won't work. A message arrives for the captain. He asks someone to read it for him. Morain tells Denet and Monique that his son is blind. The order is that the artillery fire be directed from the forward listening post. The problem is that the listening post is in the area to be bombarded. The captain orders the lieutenant to report back for duty as the commander of the company. Denet leaves. The captain now asks Monique to go hurry along the doctor for him. She leaves.
The captain looks around searching for his father, but he can't see. He tells his father that he is going to need some eyes. Dad tells his son that he will be his eyes for him. Father and son start walking away arm in arm.
Captain and private now head out to the observation post. They reach the phone and call for the artillery barrage to start. The shells are landing 300 yards past the target. The captain tells the artillery officer that they are still 200 long! Dad says when they get the range, the shells will be falling on them. Sure enough, a few moments later a direct hit kills both father and son.
Monique now opens the captain's envelope. She reads the note from Paul saying: "Goodbye Dearest: I hope you find as much happiness as you gave me. I love you always." Now Monique asks Denet what personal items is he going to leave her after he is dead? She also asks why they all have to die? They are interrupted when Denet is told that the replacements are here. He goes outside and gives the same speech that the captain always made. In the wings Monique listens to the talk.
Good war action film plus a good love story. The film does show the horrors of life in the trenches and the even greater horror of having to go up and over to charge the enemy. But there are other films that show how even more miserable it was to live in the trenches. In this film there is no water in the trenches, so the men don't develop foot rot or other such diseases of the foot. Without the water, there is not the problem of trudging through very thick mud in places. So the troops were often scared, wet, cold and muddy and their feet were infected. The four main characters were played by Fredric March (Lieutenant Michel Denet), Warner Baxter (Captain Paul La Roche), the sexy June Lang (Monique La Coste - nurse) and Lionel Barrymore (Papa La Roche / Pvt. Morin). They were all good.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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