Do you like my choice of leading image? ‘We’re the Glory Guys! EEE-Yow!’ What is surely the most generic cavalry western of all time is actually from a screenplay by Sam Peckinpah. Twilight Time’s extras have a lot to say about that, and so does Savant.
The Glory Guys
1965 / Color / 2:35 widescreen / 113 min. / Street Date September 6, 2016 / Available from the Twilight Time Movies Store / 29.95
Starring Tom Tryon, Harve Presnell, Senta Berger, James Caan, Andrew Duggan, Slim Pickens, Peter Breck, Jeanne Cooper, Michael Anderson Jr., Adam Williams, Wayne Rogers, Michael Forest, Paul Birch, Stephen Chase, Claudio Brook.
Cinematography James Wong Howe
Cinematography Ernst R. (Tom) Rolf, Melvin Shapiro
Original Music Riz Ortolani
Written by Sam Peckinpah from the novel by Hoffman Birney
Produced by Arthur Gardner, Arnold Laven, Jules V. Levy
Directed by Arnold Laven
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
The Glory Guys is as generic and standard-issue as a cavalry western can be. A thinly disguised replay of the massacre at the Little Big Horn, it concentrates on clichés that John Ford burned out years ago, and treats silly roughhouse horseplay as if it were the height of film sophistication. It’s competent technically and has some bright action scenes with enough mounted extras to outfit anybody’s epic. But there was little critical love for it when it came out, and much less now. The screenwriter is none other than cult hero Sam Peckinpah, but wait — there’s a story behind that. It smacks of rivalry and bitterness that began in the trenches of TV westerns of the late 1950s.
The entirely non-ironic story gives us two stalwart high-testosterone western heroes, Captain Demas Harrod (Tom Tryon) and recently retired Army scout (Sol Rogers) Harve Presnell. They’re breaking in a bunch of green recruits to fight those troublesome Indian savages, but have plenty of time to ride into town to visit their gorgeous sweetheart, Lou Woddard (Senta Berger). But one he-man won’t commit and Lou won’t commit to the other ’til she gets an answer. The ladies out at the fort don’t think highly of Lou’s deportment, but she’s allowed to stand with them out in the heat, dutifully watching the men on parade before they ride out to do combat. Sgt. Gregory (Slim Pickens) gets the soldiers into shape and dumb Lt. Bunny Hodges (Peter Breck) is incompetent. Their charges include young Pvt. Hale (Michael Anderson Jr.), a green kid who develops a yen for a town girl; agreeable Pvt. Crain (Adam Williams) and the colorful Irish joker Pvt. Dugan (James Caan) who is forever suffering punishments and extra duty. Naturally, the officers connive to sneak Dugan into town to settle a score with some on’ry locals. When the troop rides out to do battle, Capt. Harrod has a dilemma on his hands. His immediate commander General McCabe (Andrew Duggan) has no intention of following the team plan laid down by the commanding general (Paul Birch), but instead seeks to swipe all the glory for himself. He rushes the troop forward so they can attack early, and not wait for the back-up troop commanded by his rival General Hoffman (Stephen Chase).
This synopsis tells most everything one needs to know about Arnold Laven’s The Glory Guys, as there is little or nothing more happening in the bare-bones story. The characterizations are paper-thin, as well. Almost everything in the show is disposable, including the trite and unconvincing romantic triangle. Although Tom Tryon and Harve Presnell look good, Tryon’s Harrod is conflicted about seemingly absolutely nothing, and Presnell’s Rogers is a goofball Hollywood invention who wears ridiculous designer shirts in bright colors. Senta Berger is given no character to play beyond ‘the ever-loving girl back in town.’ Other performances are competent under Arnold Laven’s literal-minded, uninspired direction. Of the entire cast, only newcomer James Caan stands out. Despite his retrograde ‘Irish joker’ character, Caan’s winning personality shines through. As the commentators on this disc quickly point out, his every entrance says ‘movie star’ in ways that Tryon and Presnell don’t.
After meandering for the better part of an hour with business-as-usual brawls, rivalries and inane goofy-recruit antics, the show does sharpen up somewhat on the battlefield. The big Injun-cavalry clash at the end is clearly defined as the blunder of a glory-hunting martinet, and the movie seems unaware that it is mocking its own title. One of the last visuals in the movie is a grim view of a meadow strewn with Army corpses (top image above). That ought to make Laven’s movie one of the first to undermine the cavalry Western as a signifier of American might and right. Nope, Laven’s movie has nothing to say on that score. The show is so straight-laced, it’s almost as if it were if trying to counter the comic attitude of the TV cavalry farce F Troop, which would make its debut a few months later.
Despite James Wong Howe’s pin-sharp cinematography The Glory Guys doesn’t earn points for its visuals. The interiors look basically terrible, with full lighting showing up the character-challenged sets. Senta Berger’s apartment belongs in a sitcom, and the fistfights there and in the town’s bar are crisply shot yet as phony as hell. She doesn’t even seem upset when her fighting suitors smash and break everything she owns. Things improve outdoors with the exteriors at the fort, but the unimaginative direction and generic locations cut down what Howe can do. The fort is on a featureless plain, and Howe and Laven try to compensate by shooting near dawn when the horizon is especially pretty. Sweeping crane shots reveal a generous contingent of cavalry and a huge mass of Native American horse soldiers, but everything lacks personality. The Indians are shown using cagey tactics, but then inexplicably charge the troop head-on, as in naïve westerns of old. Individual warriors are given interesting, authentic looking costumes, but that’s about it. If you like cavalry westerns and aren’t concerned with finesse or a story that means anything, this show will do fine. It’s certainly bigger in scale than most Hollywood cavalry pictures.
But there’s something else to be said about The Glory Guys: it appears to be the nexus of a direct rivalry between Sam Peckinpah and the Laven-Gardner-Levy production team. Ten years earlier Peckinpah had been a prize writer for several top western TV series, and I believe was instrumental in conceiving L-G-L’s monster hit The Rifleman. But as Peckinpah became more successful the association broke up, and not in a mutually friendly way.
Somewhere back in the late ’50s, Peckinpah sold the production team his screenplay for The Glory Guys. Considering the quality of his writing for his other shows as well as his contribution to One-Eyed Jacks and his marvelously evocative dialogue rewrite for Ride the High Country, the plain-wrap The Glory Guys reads like a disorganized rush job, a ‘here’s your 120 pages, where’s my check?’ labor of non-love. Either that or L-G-L hired somebody else to dumb it down.
The real question about The Glory Guys circles immediately to Peckinpah’s own epic cavalry picture Major Dundee, which was released the same year but begun much earlier. L-G-L was basically a budget outfit that began making crime and horror films for United Artists back in the early 1950s — Without Warning!, Vice Squad, The Monster that Challenged the World. None of these were bad, but they aren’t up-market items like The Glory Guys. But L-G-L never achieved the artistic acclaim that attached itself to Sam Peckinpah. Laven’s previous big screen western was Geronimo — with the outrageously inappropriate Chuck Connors taking the role of the five-foot three Apache rebel. The Glory Guys is a big budget step-up, yet we see few signs of careful filmmaking. It’s just a product; nobody seems invested in it in any serious way, least of all the actors.
Peckinpah, by contrast, committed his body, mind and every ounce of his alcoholic soul into his Major Dundee. As opposed to the team players at L-G-L, Peckinpah had no regard for the concerns of his producer or studio, and proceeded to alienate all of Hollywood on the proposition that his genius would prevail. Did Leven-Gardner-Levy resent Peckinpah taking on a cavalry picture similar to the one they were trying to get off the ground? Dundee took so long that many of its actors were free halfway through 1964. Were the L-G-L team consciously trying to show up the ‘renegade’ Peckinpah when they hired three of his actors for Glory, including the leading lady? The commentators on this Twilight Time disc talk about the similarities between the two shows and decide that Dundee is superior, but they never ask why this casting took place. I think that Peckinpah’s habit of burning career bridges began earlier than we normally think.
I base this on a discussion with film scholar and author James Ursini. Back in the 1970s James conducted many AFI oral histories with working filmmakers, which added to his knowledge of how Hollywood really functioned. As I was a Sam Peckinpah fanatic, Jim one evening told me about his interview with Arnold Laven, which I believe was undertaken as one of these AFI assignments. According to Ursini, when he asked Laven about Sam Peckinpah, the conversation changed in tone. Peckinpah and the L-G-L team had had more than their share of disagreements.
Arnold Laven then said something very interesting. As part of the Guild contract, Dundee producer Jerry Bresler had to have a screening of Peckinpah’s director’s cut. Nobody had ‘final cut’ back then, but the director had the right to see his cut projected in front of an audience, before the studio proceeded with its changes. As readers of Peckinpah biographies know, Bresler had barred Peckinpah from the production at some time during the editorial process. Breser chose to observe the obligation for a director’s rough cut screening by showing it not to the public with the director present, but in a private screening before a selected group of studio personnel, associates and friends. Laven remembers being invited to this screening, which likely was a cut of the film long after Peckinpah had been fired. Laven described it as incompetent, a disaster, ‘un-releasable.’ Laven admitted no animosity toward Sam in the interview. My thought is, why was the producer-director of a rival studio’s competing cavalry picture invited to the Dundee private test screening?
All this talk of course has more bearing on Peckinpah’s movie than Laven’s. Over a year before, when Peckinpah’s budget had been cut just before filming, he was instructed to downgrade his epic road show attraction to a more modest action western. Columbia now wanted an ordinary Indian-cavalry battle movie with the usual added kissing scenes. I think that’s an accurate description of The Glory Guys. We’re all told that the career fallout from Dundee was catastrophic to Peckinpah’s career; it was a sheer miracle that just four years later he was back in Mexico ‘remaking’ Dundee as an outlaw drama. But I can personally vouch for the animosity toward him among the rank and file at Columbia. When I asked if I could read an original script, the Columbia department just gave me one and said not to bother to bring it back. In 1974, when I asked the studio editorial department why they had no print of Major Dundee I could borrow to screen at UCLA, I was warned not to even mention the movie by title. It and Peckinpah were still not liked by staffers that remembered the austerity changes that took place at Columbia that year. The secretary didn’t want me to be tossed out of the office of editorial chief Tom McCarthy.
So that’s my interest in The Glory Guys — for me it’s a footnote to my favorite picture. That’s not very flattering, but the movie certainly looks good in this Blu-ray presentation. And I know that western fans will want to see it, just to see if it indeed seems like an on-budget, polite version of Major Dundee.
The Twilight Time Blu-ray of The Glory Guys is a nigh-perfect encoding of United Artists’ 1965 Indian Wars western. Yes, those James Wong Howe visuals may lack individuality, but they’re awfully pretty. The audio track is clear as a bell for the awful title song, which makes us pine for the discordant march in Major Dundee, the one sung by Mitch Miller’s jolly Gang.
TT’s presentation comes with some interesting extras – an original trailer and two contemporary featurettes, on the movie and James Wong Howe. We also get a fine documentary from European Mike Siegel, another chapter in his Peckinpah series called Passion and Poetry: Senta & Sam. Its presence tells us that committed Peckinpah-phile producer Nick Redman chose The Glory Guys for release at least partly because of the sideways Peckinpah connection. And it’s my excuse for reviewing one movie to more or less talk about another.
Redman also gives us a full audio commentary, where he brings together two of the ‘Peckinpah Posse’ biographers, Paul Seydor and Garner Simmons. Their good research on The Glory Guys compares the script to the movie, and from there to the source book. Their conclusion is that it’s not a good show at all, and that Peckinpah’s screenplay must be regarded as an effort from when he was just starting out. Julie Kirgo’s liner notes also begin with a discussion of Peckinpah, and dispels the erroneous IMDB listing that Peckinpah was an additional director on Laven’s movie (It’s since been corrected, I believe). She discusses the stars and director Arnold Laven’s respectable career as well.
But who can touch that incredible The Glory Guys ad copy: “EEE-Yow! Here come the Glory Guys! Laugh with ’em.. Love with ’em… Live the big Adventure with ’em!” Frankly, I’d prefer Sgt. O’Rourke and Corporal Agarn any day.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Glory Guys Blu-ray rates:
Movie: Fair + Plus
Supplements: Audio Commentary with Film Historians Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons, and Nick Redman; short documentary Passion & Poetry: Senta & Sam by Mike Siegel; vintage featurettes The James Wong Howe Story, Promoting The Glory Guys; Stills Gallery, Original Theatrical Trailer, Julie Kirgo liner notes.
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English
Packaging: One Blu-ray in Keep case
Reviewed: September 4, 2016
Text © Copyright 2016 Glenn Erickson