When Willie Comes Marching Home

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One of Ford's most underrated films, this isn't as beady-eyed as Sturges' Hail the Conquering Hero in its take on patriotic fervour, but is still immensely engaging. Dailey plays small-town boy Bill Kluggs, son of a flag-waving American Legion stalwart (Demarest), who earns a civic send-off as the first to enlist after Pearl Harbor. After training, unfortunately, he is posted back home as an instructor. Repeated requests for combat duty are turned down; and cordiality turns to contempt among the townsfolk as other local boys meanwhile win glory. His chance finally comes as last-minute replacement on a bomber heading for London, leading to an inadvertent adventure in Occupied France, and an escape, engineered by the Resistance, with vital information concerning the new German rocket. He's back home within four days; and with the matter classified, everybody thinks he's lying or crazy until news comes of a pending decoration. Ford, steering a more naturalistic path than Sturges through the quirkish characters and semi-slapstick action, makes the central irony ring loud and clear: while doing his despised duty as an aerial gunnery instructor, Bill Kluggs demonstrates considerable heroism; while earning his decoration at the hands of a grateful President, he is either asleep or dead drunk the entire time.

Release details

Duration: 82 mins

Cast and crew

Director: John Ford
Screenwriter: Mary Loos, Richard Sale
Cast: Dan Dailey
Corinne Calvet
Colleen Townsend
William Demarest
James Lydon
Lloyd Corrigan
Evelyn Varden
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