When Willie Comes Marching Home (John Ford / U.S., 1950):

With Rio Grande and Wagon Master, the last third of John Fordís unofficial musical trilogy of 1950. Wondrous celerity and sardonic fondness are the bedrocks: The small-town protagonist (Dan Dailey) is introduced doing "Somebody Stole My Gal" on his trombone while Pa (William Demarest) handles the collection plate in church, Ma (Evelyn Varden) drops a coin in it and grabs change back. Dailey is the first to enlist after Pearl Harbor, receives a brass band send-off and a heroís welcome as he returns. Trouble is, he returns as a gunnery instructor, grounded in town while his friends collect medals overseas. The folks who had warmly received him start to smell a slacker, sarcasm and suspicion come as easily as earnestness and geniality. A mission finally comes to make dad proud ("He demanded combat duty! Thatís my boy," the ex-doughboy swells), Dailey says his patriotic goodbyes and slams his nose on the door as he leaves. "If you canít say it, sing it!" The soft-shoe of "You've Got Me This Way (Whatta-Ya Gonna Do About It)" gives way to a wine-lubricated "FrŤre Jacques" as the cheery Yank, alone in an abandoned bomber, parachutes into occupied France. Partisans led by a Gallic hottie (Corinne Calvet, decked out in Jane Russellís low-cut chemise and pistol holster) receive him, the British smuggle him out in the midst of Nazi fire, the MacGuffin is a crucial piece of espionage thatís taken to Washington but is too hush-hush for Dailey to be hailed the conquering hero. Ford stages all of this like an easy walk around the block, with melancholy popping in and out of exhilaration. The cocoon/prison of Americana is revealed in flashes, the running gag of the exhausted warrior being force-fed all kinds of booze builds up to Dailey chocking on motherís milk back home. (The same Pennsylvania burg would later set the stage for Groundhog Day, another Borgesian comedy.) With Colleen Townshend, Jimmy Lyndon, Mae Marsh, and Charles Halton. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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