It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.
This week’s musical: The West Point Story (1950) – Musical #336
Studio: Warner Brothers
Director: Roy Del Ruth
Starring: James Cagney, Virginia Mayo, Gordon MacRae, Doris Day, Gene Nelson, Alan Hale Jr., Roland Winters, Jerome Cowan
Broadway director Bix Bixby (Cagney) is down on his luck because he has a problem with betting on horse races. Gambling prevents him from getting a good show and from marrying his sweetheart Eve (Mayo). Bixby is persuaded by a producer to help put on an all-male show at West Point Military Academy because the producer wants his nephew, Tom (MacRae) to leave the Academy and come perform on Broadway. Coming from a show business background, Bixby has a hard time understanding the cadets and their schedules. He’s thrown off campus and is only allowed to come back if he enrolls as a cadet.
-One of two films Doris Day and James Cagney co-starred in
-James Cagney was no longer under contract at Warner Brothers when he made this film, so he was returning to his alma mater.
-Virginia Mayo was dubbed by Bonnie Lou Williams
-Doris Day didn’t think very highly of the film
-Doris Day didn’t think highly of this film
-The film was based on a true incident, according to the book Irving Wallace: A Writer’s Profile by John Leverence
-Music by Julie Styne and Sammy Cahn
-Gene Nelson dancing
-Long Before I Knew You performed by Gordon MacRae and Gene Nelson
-By the Kissing Rock performed by Gordon MacRae and Doris Day
-One Hundred Days ‘Til June performed by Gordon MacRae
-The Military Polka performed by Doris Day, Gordon MacRae, James Cagney, Virginia Mayo (dubbed by Bonnie Lou Williams), and Gene Nelson
Awards and Nominations
-Ray Heindorf was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture
Doris Day and James Cagney seem like an unlikely screen team.
But Cagney regarded Day as a great actress, however, their first teaming in “The West Point Story” wouldn’t show it.
On the surface, “The West Point Story” (1950) isn’t much to look at.
It’s a run-of-the-mill Warner Brothers comedy full of double-crossing, dancing and music.
But what makes it special is its cast: James Cagney, Virginia Mayo and three actors still relatively new to Hollywood: Doris Day, Gene Nelson and Gordon MacRae.
Doris Day doesn’t appear until 45 minutes into the movie. And of course, while Jan and Tom are singing and walking along Flirtation Walk, they fall in love. She wants to quit her career, and he wants to leave West Point, and it seems like all of Bixby’s plans will fall apart…
But in the typical Warner Brother’s musical fashion-everything ends happily with an elaborate musical number.
I’m a fan of every actor in this film but will admit this isn’t any of their best. And Doris Day agrees.
“I had already been in a film with Jimmy (Cagney), but that was a real idiot picture,” Day says in her autobiography. “Almost all my scenes were with Gordon MacRae and Jimmy’s scenes were with Virginia Mayor. I couldn’t possibly tell you about the plot. Zero. Gordon was a cadet and Jimmy was a Broadway hoofer. End of memory.”
It is probably one of James Cagney’s most forgotten films. Day doesn’t sing any memorable songs, and Nelson isn’t in it nearly enough. Cagney is hot-headed and yells a lot, but we get to see some of his famous, excellent dance moves.
Cagney is remembered for his 1930s roles as a gangster, but after proving his musical prowess in “Footlight Parade,” he was cast in musicals throughout the rest of his career.
“West Point Story” is also notable, because it is one of two films Cagney starred in with Day- setting the stage for a successful film for both of them: “Love Me or Leave Me”(1955). The film is a biopic about singer Ruth Etting (Day) and Cagney as her gangster husband, Marty Snyder.
Cagney probably didn’t have high praise for “West Point Story,” but he certainly did for Doris Day as well as “Love Me or Leave Me.”
“The first time I saw Doris perform, it affected me as I had only been affected twice before in my life,” said James Cagney in a written passage in Day’s autobiography “Doris Day: Her Own Story.
Those two times were when he saw actress Laurette Taylor in the play “The Glass Menagerie” and Pauline Lord in the play “Anna Christie” (155).
“So what Doris has, and all the good ones have, is the ability to project the simple, direct statement of a simple, direct idea with cluttering it,” he said. “That’s what she brought to ‘Love Me or Leave Me’ which is a movie I rate among the top five of the 62 pictures I made.
“Doris and I have both had long careers in films, and I’m sometimes asked how to account for this longevity. Not easy. A lot of very talented people have very short careers. One factor is certainly timing. I came along during a tough time when gangsters and prohibition had captured the front pages and become a kind of romantic aspect of those times.
“Doris came along when we were beginning the postwar era, and there was something about her that caught the mood and fancy of those times. It could very well have been that I never would have made my way if I had come along a couple of years later.
“And the same holds true for Doris. Who knows?….As an actress, she perfectly illustrates my definition of good acting: just plant yourself, look the other actor in the eye, and tell him the truth. That’s what she does.”
Disclaimer: This post originated as a straight film review in 2013. It was updated in 2018 to a Musical Monday post.