Sunday 17 February 2008

West Point (1928)

With all the gays in the military hype, it does seem rather strange that of all the actors who could make a habit out of starring in military films made with the sanction of the various military authorities, it would be William Haines who got the job. Haines was a huge star in the second half of the twenties, usually playing cocky young men who get their comeuppance by the end of the film, but was flamboyantly gay and by 1934 would be firmly retired from acting and doing very well indeed in his new career as interior designer to the stars.

West Point was 'produced by permission of The War Department and with the co-operation of The United States Military Academy', it's dedicated to the United States Corps of Cadets and it was shot on location at West Point itself. That makes it pretty official. We begin in late June when candidates arrive. Billy Haines gets there by boat and causes trouble before the boat even docks. He's rich young man Brice Wayne, (Brice, not Bruce), and in about ten minutes he manages to wind up all his fellow new cadets and meet, fall for and upset Betty Channing, played by a 23 year old Joan Crawford.

This is of course entirely consistent with Haines's other similar films, such as Tell It to the Marines and The Marines are Coming, and in fact anything else he did that that had nothing to do with the military. The only difference here is that Joan Crawford doesn't have a father who turns out to be Haines's future general, she has a mother who turns out to run the West Point Hotel. Of course by the time he actually gets inside West Point, he's upset people, knocked out people and caused no end of chaos, bucking orders, setting his own schedule and every other antic that would have had real senior officers laughing their asses off.

Of course the other consistency is that as much as he's an annoying and arrogant pain in the ass, he's also a good guy at heart and comes around by the end of the film. Billy Haines was perfect for this sort of role and maybe those high ups wanted him in the film so they could split their sides for three quarters of the film and then either leave or gloss over the fact that the gay guy made good, because the fact that he made good is because of their own system, making him the proof that it works.

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