Take a dash of Going My Way, a pinch of Leo McCarey and a healthy dose of John Ford. Now stir in the skills of Michael Curtiz and the dramatic side of John Wayne with that hint of romanticism and voila! we have this story of St. Anthony’s College and it’s unlikely saviour.
Before the Duke turns up we’ll find that the College in question is run by the aging Rector Charles Coburn. A fine choice to fill in a role normally reserved for Barry Fitzgerald. He has been told that the school he has been with his entire life is to be closed due to a profit and loss margin. The school is in severe debt with little or no hope of sustaining a reasonable budget.
Coburn hits upon the idea of a football team and ticket sales. He’s a feisty old fox and refuses to let his school go down without putting up a fight. Now he needs to find an inexpensive football coach to take the ball and run with it. Enter a man looking for redemption.
Duke stars here as a disgraced University coach trying to raise a young girl on his own after throwing his wife out five years previously. He’s become a bookie to make ends meet and knows his way around the sporting games as well as a pool hall. His daughter, wonderfully played by Sherry Jackson is far too street smart for her age. The two have a great rapport in a seemingly happy life that is about to take a turn when the scornful ex re-enters their lives. It’s none other than one of the Queen’s of Noir femme fatales, Marie Windsor. Once again she’s a cold hearted dish placing her own wants above all else.
As the title of the film points out, there will be trouble along the way to Duke’s redemption, the schools profitability and the Duke-Windsor court room battle that sees Donna Reed enter the picture. She’s been appointed by the court to see if in fact Duke is a good provider for his young girl not to mention is he raising in her in a suitable environment. Do I need to spell out for you readers that there might be romance in the air now that Duke has proven himself a leading man of charm and desire one year after Ford’s classc The Quiet Man. Duke’s role in The Quiet Man is actually referenced in this film’s trailer as the advertisers were obviously banking on his new found casting as a romantic lead.
This Curtiz effort pushes the sentimental angles from both the Duke and the Charles Coburn stories within. Coburn is one of those great scene stealers. Outwardly he’s a cantankerous old codger but inwardly a man of great sentiment. Here he has a wonderful straight man appearing as a young priest in his school. It’s Dabbs Greer. I get a good laugh when I see Dabbs as he seemed to play countless men of the cloth. Notably the Reverend Alden in the long running Little House on the Prairie.
There’s plenty of humor in here and a few other well known faces. Leif Erickson, Frank Ferguson and a young Chuck Connors helping Duke on the sidelines. While I didn’t spot him a pre stardom James Dean is supposedly in here somewhere in a crowd scene. Feel free to send me a pic or post the time of his appearance and I’ll check it out.
John Wayne does fine here as the down on his luck coach trying to hold on to his little girl. Throw in the romantic angle and Wayne’s winning on screen personality takes over. Sure the scenes with Reed are hard to swallow at times but it’s so easy to overlook if you buy into the Wayne legend and I’m an easy mark when it comes to “The Duke.”