Monday, February 15, 2016

Immortal Sergeant

Ooh, there's a movie coming up on FXM Retro that I haven't blogged about before: Immortal Sergeant, airing at 8:00 AM tomorrow and again at 6:00 AM Wednesday.

Henry Fonda stars, but he's not the title character. Instead, Fonda playsa corporal, Colin Spence. Cpl. Spence is a Canadian who was in London when World War II began and who signed up with the British, so now he's serving somewhere in North Africa, under the titular Sergeant Kelly (Thomas Mitchell). The start of the movie sees the regiment in a bit of down time, with the mail arriving. Spence gets a letter from his old flame Valentine (Maureen O'Hara), begins to read it, and begins to have a flashback....

Spence is going to have a bunch of flashbacks over the course of the movie, intertwining with the action in North Africa. As for this first one, we see that before the war, Spence was an unsuccessful writer living in London and having fallen in love with Valentine. Spence's old friend Tom Benedict (Reginald Gardiner) also writes, and has become a much more successful author and war correspondent. And when he sees Colin and Valentine show up for a function, he takes more of an interest in Valentine than in Colin....

Anyhow, back to the present day. The soldiers' downtime turns out to be all too fleeting, as they're forced to go back on patrol. Sgt. Kelly's band of 14 men are given the task of going out in the desert to do reconnaissance. For Colin, it's just another mission, as he seems to be trying simply to serve out the war, doing whatever is asked of him and little more, since by nature he's a very reserved man. For Sgt. Kelly, however, this is his life, which is why he stayed in the army after the first World War and is such a good commanding officer, to the point that everybody has extreme respect for him. Kelly actually has respect for Spence, too, believing that Spence could command men effectively if he ever had to.

Meanwhile, we learn in the flashbacks more about Spence's past and his reserved nature. I'd almost compare Spence to the James Cagney character in The Strawberry Blonde, with Tom Benedict being the Jack Carson character. Well, minus the criminality. Spence gives an excuse about finding somebody he knew in Paris getting it from the Gestapo as to why he joined the British, but that's probably just an excuse; in reality it's losing Valentine to Tom that would make him want to join up with the British to get away from London.

As you can probably guess, Colin is going to have to command men eventually. Nazi warplanes come overhead while Kelly's men are out on their patrol, and the Nazis shoot all but one of the vehicles, killing eight of the men and leaving the remaining one with fairly little gas. That, and Kelly's compass is broken, so in a featureless desert, it's going to be hard to find one's way. To make matters worse, the soldiers come upon a Nazi armored vehicle. They're able to ambush and kill the Nazis, but in that ambush, Kelly gets a fatal injury. Now Spence is in command with a limited amount of food and even less water, miles and miles from nowhere....

Immortal Sergeant is a movie that has some good ideas, but ultimately comes up as being rather less than the sum of its parts. I think the big reason for this is the fact that we're constantly going from the present day to flashbacks, to the point that it makes the action a bit harder to follow and really breaks it up. That, and we don't really get Spence fully fleshed out in the flashback, as opposed to the way that the flashback in The Strawberry Blonde gets right at the heart of the matter. Maureen O'Hara and Reginald Gardiner are both underused, and the way Spence basically uses the voice of Sgt. Kelly to help him in command (hence the title) is overused. Still, I think that Immortal Sergeant is a movie that deserves one watch.

Immortal Sergeant does seem to be available on DVD.

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