HOWARD HAWKS MOVIES
Hollywood's Grey Fox
The Road To Glory (1936)
The Road To Glory (1936) Poster
The Road To Glory - 1936
Released: September 4, 1936 Running time 103 minutes
Director: Howard Hawks
Producers: Nunnally Johnson and
Darryl F. Zanuck
Screenplay: Joel Sayre, William Faulkner, Stephen Morehouse Avery (uncredited), Violet Kemble Cooper (uncredited) and Walter Ferris (uncredited)
Music: R.H. Bassett (uncredited)
Cinematography: Gregg Toland
Editor: Edward Curtiss
Art Director: Hans Peters
Twentieth Century Fox Films
"June Lang didn’t annoy you, but we’d have got more if we’d had a more experienced actress." - Howard Hawks on The Road To Glory
Cobbled together from some foreign film footage and a few reworked plot devices, “The Road to Glory” could be considered the Frankenstein monster of Howard Hawks movies.
The tale of this strange creature begins in the office of Darryl Zanuck, head of production at a recently formed studio called 20th Century Fox. One of his earliest moves in his new position was to purchase the American rights to a French film titled “Les Croix du Bois” or “Wooden Crosses.”
Zanuck had no plans to run the French movie in the United States. He didn’t even want the whole movie; he wanted the battle scenes. “Les Croix du Bois” featured the most powerful and realistic war footage the studio executive had ever seen. He was determined to create an American film that used those potent images.
When Howard Hawks was invited to Darryl Zanuck’s office to view the French war film he was impressed with the war footage but less impressed with the themes of the movie. Zanuck and Hawks agreed that they would wrap a different story around the war scenes.
Rather than invest a whole lot of time on devising an original story, the director reached into his bag of tricks and came up with an assortment of pieces that had worked well for him in past.
He removed the wings from “The Dawn Patrol” and gave the premise of the picture to the infantry and he pushed the love triangle into the foreground. He pulled the blindness angle from “Today We Live” and adapted it to fit the frame of his plot, he threw in a bit he’d heard about a young girl who cared for an older officer who was near cracking under the strain of his responsibilities and brought in his good friend William Faulkner to stir the broth.
Unfortunately, Faulkner was pretty near to the cracking point himself. His brother Dean had recently been killed while giving a flying lesson in the plane William had sold him. He was struggling to complete his novel, “Absalom, Absalom!” and his financially troubled publisher called in a loan they had made to him. He desperately needed the thousand dollars a week that 20th Century Fox would pay him for this project but Zanuck was worried that Faulkner would implode from the stress and go out on one of his legendary benders before finishing the script.
As insurance, he brought in another writer, Joel Sayre, to work with Faulkner and, as an added note of caution, hired an assistant producer, Nunnally Johnson, who had screenwriting experience.
Hawks was pleased to discover that the author quickly took a liking to Johnson and got along well with Sayre. Sometimes together and sometimes apart, the writers and Howard Hawks churned out five drafts of the script before shooting began in January of 1936.
While the writers got along fine, the same cannot be said of the cast and crew. Since much of the story takes place at night, long evenings in cold temperatures took a toll on tempers. The dismal morale became bleaker as the actors, crew, and the director all realized that their female lead, June Lang, had limited acting skills.
As Hawks later described the situation, “she didn’t annoy you” but “she was just a child and she thought like a child. It was terribly hard to do an adult picture with her.”
Lang’s inability to give the role of Monique any emotional depth sabotages the heart of the movie. The love relationship with Warner Baxter’s Captain LaRoche hardly comes across, rendering the center of the plot impotent.
Despite all its faults, “The Road to Glory” does have some spectacular moments; some of them from the original French footage and some of them courtesy of director Howard Hawks and cinematographer Gregg Toland. Like the monster Boris Karloff portrayed for Universal Studios, “The Road to Glory” has its emotionally incoherent moments but is a very impressive sight.