Thursday, January 2, 2014

TCM Star of the Month January 2014: Joan Crawford

TCM is honoring Joan Crawford as this month's Star of the Month by showing her movies every Thursday in prime time. Crawford actually made so many movies that TCM has the rights to that the films continue into the morning hours on Fridays. This first Thursday in January sees quite a few of the silent films Crawford did. Among those films early on Friday morning is West Point, at 7:15 AM.

William Haines is actually the star here, as Brice Wayne. We first see him taking a boat up the Hudson to go to the titular West Point, where he is set to become one of the plebes, the new cadets. It's a role similar to what Haines had done the previous year in Tell it to the Marines, in that Brice is a know-it-all who thinks he's going to be able to bend West Point to his way of doing things. Well, not just West Point, but also Joan Crawford. She's Betty Channing, the daughter of the manager of one of the local hotels, and when Brice sees her on the boat, he immediately starts flirting with her. She doesn't really like him, but you know that because this is a William Haines silent comedy, he and the girl are going to wind up together in the last reel.

But there's some more important stuff first, which is Brice's time at West Point. As a plebe in the first year at West Point, he's supposed to be at the bottom of the heap, following orders from everybody including the upperclassmen. None of that for Brice, though; he knows better than everybody else, and dammit, he's going to show them. It doesn't work as a plebe, and it doesn't work on the football field, either, leading to Brice's eventually getting cut from the football team despite being a very capable player. Brice, living to play football, decides that if West Point won't let him play on the team, well he'll just quit West Point. This ought to be a serious problem since I believe even back in the 1920s enrolling at West Point was contingent upon doing some years of military service after graduation in exchange for not having to pay any tuition. If you fail to graduate, you're going to have to pay that tuition.

At any rate, Brice is such a damn good football player that his West Point roommate Tex (William Bakewell) and Betty both convince him to come back and do things the Army Way so that he can be on the football team again and help Army beat Navy in the big game. Boy does this plot sound familiar.

William Haines was a very charming silent screen actor, and he's certainly charming here. If you haven't seen any of his movies, West Point isn't a bad place to start. If you have seen any, you might be a bit uncomfortable seeing what is much the same sort of movie he'd been making several times, not only with the previously-mentioned Tell It to the Marines.

West Point has received a DVD release courtesy of the Warner Archive.

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