The Real Glory (1939)

Directed by Henry Hathaway

For a good example of what Gary Cooper was and did onscreen, without the distraction of a compelling story, The Real Glory is a top contender.

Not bad and not good, it would be largely forgettable but for a couple of things.

As suggested, it will give you a very good idea of what Cooper did onscreen and how he was used as a star. He’s the hero, specifically an American hero and of a specific type: largely soft spoken and laconic, principled and very much a man of action when pushed to the limit.

It also has an interesting setting — Philippines, 1906 — where the military wants to pull out and leave the people to defend themselves against a Muslim faction that would take over, the Moro Rebellion (1899 – 1913).

The Datu (Vladimir Sokoloff) and the Philippine Constabulary: Gary Cooper, David Niven and Broderick Crawford.

It should sound very familiar to a contemporary audience familiar with places such as Afghanistan.

The test case is a Filipino village that is under attack from a local Moro chieftain.

A small group, the Philippine Constabulary, is left behind to train the villagers. It includes youthful looking David Niven and Broderick Crawford, an early film for both, particularly Crawford.

Part of their number is Dr. Bill Canavan, played by Gary Cooper, a man who despite being in charge of the medical needs is surprisingly adept at matters military, particularly strategy. He identifies early on an obstacle the villagers face — fear of the Moro — and realizes they will never be able to defend themselves until they overcome that.

But Cooper, like everyone else, is up against the commander, Reginald Owen’s pig-headed Capt. Steve Hartley — a character very similar to Commander Queeg of The Caine Mutiny. Throw in a bit of romance with the Commander’s daughter (Andrea Leeds) and a cholera epidemic, and there you have it.

If you’ve ever seen a Gary Cooper movie, you can probably guess how it all plays out.

Gary Cooper playing Gary Cooper in a Gary Cooper movie.

Unfortunately, the movie ends up playing out in a pretty cookie-cutter fashion, the mold being “a Gary Cooper movie.”

I say unfortunate because while the movie isn’t bad (it’s engaging enough) it feels like so much more could have been done with it given its various elements, particularly the setting and the generous use of people who if they were not actually Filipino, looked very much as if they could be.

(I believe a number were probably Japanese and even Latin actors. For example, Japanese actor Tetsu Komai plays Alipang, the Moro chieftain and Russian-born Vladimir Sokoloff played Datu.)

So while looking and feeling like a Hollywood movie it also suggests a degree of realism, more so than is usual in these “grind ’em out” movies.

In the end, The Real Glory is an entertaining enough way to pass an afternoon but it doesn’t particularly distinguish itself. If you want to see the Gary Cooper template, this movie is a good example.

However, if you want to see a good Gary Cooper movie I’d recommend Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, The Pride of the Yankees or Along Came Jones.

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