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    Glory's Story

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    When The Glory Guys (1965) opened 52 years ago today, Western films were still a thriving moviegoing staple. At this point in the year, Sam Peckinpah’s Major Dundee and Burt Kennedy’s The Rounders were winding down their theatrical runs following spring debuts. Late June openings alone included The Sons of Katie Elder, from director Henry Hathaway and starring John Wayne and Dean Martin, and two comedies, one a roaring success (Cat Ballou, a Twilight Time title, starring Jane Fonda and Lee Marvin, and directed by Elliot Silverstein), the other an expansive Cinerama roadshow disappointment (John Sturges’ The Hallelujah Trail, toplined by Burt Lancaster, Lee Remick, Jim Hutton and Pamela Tiffin). With all these various star-driven, Cavalry-vs.-Indians, revenge-saga, romantic-rivalry, likker-swilling yarns in the marketplace, it’s no wonder that The Glory Guys, which starred the lower-wattage Tom Tryon, Harve Presnell and Senta Berger, under the direction of Arnold Laven, didn’t earn much critical and box-office love. With a half-century’s distance and a more clear-eyed understanding of the genre’s “print-the-legend” tendencies, there’s more appreciable glory to The Glory Guys than first thought. Based on the 1957 novel The Dice of God by Hoffman Birney, it’s one of three sizable movies – the others being Custer of the West (1968) and Little Big Man (1970) – to examine the legend of Gen. George Armstrong Custer in the run-up to the 1876 Little Big Horn Massacre. Because the source book and the screenplay by Peckinpah “fictionalize” true events and deal more with the lives and loves of the troopers training for battle, it’s a great showcase for supporting players Andrew Duggan (as the imperious Custer figure, Gen. McCabe), Slim Pickens (playing an experienced, caring sergeant), Wayne Rogers as a nimble lieutenant, Michael Anderson Jr. as a raw recruit and, particularly, a charismatic James Caan as a jaunty Irishman with a defiant attitude but commendable fighting spirit. (It’s a happy coincidence that Anderson, Pickens and the lovely Berger were also in the cast of Major Dundee, like The Glory Guys filmed in Mexico.) Laven, who, as a production company partner of Jules V. Levy and Arthur Gardner, developed The Rifleman TV series with Peckinpah as frequent episodic collaborator, and also directed The Rifleman star Chuck Connors in a big-screen version of Geronimo (1962), also made two key behind-the-camera choices that invested the project with a rugged majesty and scale. He hired the great Italian composer Riz Ortolani (recently of The 7th Dawn and The Yellow Rolls-Royce) to do a score of throbbing portent and martial muscularity. To shoot the film, he enlisted the seasoned and versatile two-time Academy Award® winner James Wong Howe. As resident TT scribe Julie Kirgo observes in her notes on the film: “Fresh from his Oscar® win for a modern Western, Hud (1963), Howe in particular gives us moments of superb beauty, from the troop moving out of Fort Doniphan at dawn to long vistas of plains and mesas (with Durango, Mexico, standing in for the Montana territory). It took place in a desperately beautiful landscape: the sun-scorched hills surrounding a welcoming river. The Glory Guys reminds us of this, thanks to Howe’s customarily stunning work.” On TT’s hi-def Blu-ray, Howe is the focus of the vintage production featurette The James Wong Howe Story. Also, co-star Berger shares her memories of making Major Dundee, The Glory Guys and Cross of Iron in Passion & Poetry: Senta & Sam. In a blunt Audio Commentary, film historians Nick Redman, Paul Seydor and Garner Simmons debate the inglorious aspects and undeniable virtues of The Glory Guys.