There have been motion pictures galore about West Point, its military heroes and traditions, its Athletic achievements. Some of the films were silent, many were voluble, a few intensely dramatic, others more or less musical, and none highly satisfactory. Virtually all were dedicated to the beautiful supposition that Cadet life consists, in the main, of squiring gorgeous gals at nightly hops, and romancing them along Flirtation Walk.
Viewers were led to believe that every Army football player inevitably bore the All-America stamp, and the Cadets sat around singing professionally on-key Corps chanties over their logarithms. Now comes the best of all the West Point movies, "The Long Gray Line," which I have had the pleasure of previewing at Columbia Pictures through the courtesy of Major (Cappy) Wells, onetime athletic publicity officer at the Academy. The picture is built around the life of Tech. Sgt. Marty Maher, who beginning in 1903,was at tte Point for more than 50 years, and now lives at adjacent Highland Falls. In the role of Marty, as a green bucko just in from Ireland and, through the decades, the confidant of future generals. and a coming President of the United Stats Cadet Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1915, Tyrone Power achieves, the crest of his acting career. Maher was a boxing coach without ring experience,a swiming teacher who-could not swim, a trainer of football, track and basketball teams. With Marty as the connecting figure, "The Long Gray Line" picks its heroes out of succeeding Cadet generations, and spreads pathos and comedy through a three handkerchief picture. It really tugs at the heart strings.
SHOWS FIRST ARMY-NOTRE DAME GAME
If "The Long Gray Line" has a weak sequence, it has to do with the first Army-Notre Dame football game, which was played on the Plains in 1913 and resulted in a surprising and stunning Cadet defeat, 35 to 13. The movie takes many liberties with this game, which Is made to look like a sandlot catch-as-catch-can. For one thing, Capt. Herman J. Koehler, Master of the Sword, played by Ward Bond with fine effectiveness, is pictured as the Army coach. The man who handled the Cadet eleven that fall, and for the next three years, was Charley Daly, West Point, 1905, who had become All-America quarterback there after a brief career at Harvard. Koehler had been Army coach, but had quit the job after the 1900 season. Notre Dame trounced the Cadets because it had the amazing forward pass combination of Charley Dorais and Knute Rockne. Dorais completed 13 out of 17 pitches, a dozen of them in suc cession, for 243 yards. And when Charley wasn't throwing the ball, Ray Eichenlaub, the big fullback, was ripping through the West Point line. In the Army dressing room after the holocaust, Capt. Koehler is made to say, "Men, today you have seen something new in football, the forward pass."
Of course, it wasn't new at all, not by a nargin of seven years. Yale had done a lot of things with the pass, beginning with the Wesleyan game in 1906. The lapse should have been avoided.
MAHER PICKS SOME OLD TIMERS
Late in the movie, West Point sports writers ask the now aged Maher to look down the years and pick Army's all-time eleven.
Maher fails to get beyond the backfield, and perhaps It's just as well, as he appears to yield considerably to inevitable nostalgia for the long ago.
Marty starts off with Daly at quarterback. Then he names Paul Bunker, 1903, at half, Paul who died at Corregidor. Red Cagle, 1930, is his other half, with Elmer Oliphant, 1918, at fullback. Marty passes up Glenn Davis and Doc Blanchard, of that amazing gridiron class of 1947. Bunker had a notable distinction. Walter Camp named him an All-America tackle in 1901, and a back in 1902. Nobody will find fault with the selection of Ollie, who may have been the greatest all-around athlete the Academy yet has seen.
The movie plays up "the class on which the stars fell, 1915, with Eisenhower, Omar Bradley, Van Fleet, Prichard and Merillat. Prichard, at quarter, and Merillat at end, picked up Notre Dame's aerial tricks in 1913 and that November used them to upset Navy, at the Polo Grounds, 22 to 9.
"The Long Gray Line" is not a football picture. But no movie about West Point possibly could ignore the gridiron, from which so many of its heroes went on to everlasting glory in battle.