The Fighting 69th

The Fighting 69th (1940) is an American war film starring James Cagney, Pat O'Brien, and George Brent. The plot is based upon the actual exploits of New York City's 69th Infantry Regiment during World War I. The regiment was first given that nickname by opposing General Robert E. Lee during the American Civil War.

The Fighting 69th
VHS cover
Directed byWilliam Keighley
Produced byLouis F. Edelman
Hal B. Wallis
Written byNorman Reilly Raine
Fred Niblo, Jr.
Dean Riesner
StarringJames Cagney
Pat O'Brien
George Brent
Dennis Morgan
Alan Hale, Sr.
Music byAdolph Deutsch
CinematographyTony Gaudio
Edited byOwen Marks
Release date
January 26, 1940 (US)
Running time
90 min.
CountryUnited States

Several real-life personages depicted in The Fighting 69th include Father Francis P. Duffy, the chaplain, future OSS leader "Wild Bill" Donovan, the battalion commander, Lt. Oliver Ames, a platoon commander, and then-Sgt. Joyce Kilmer, the poet (who was portrayed by Jeffrey Lynn).[1]

Most of The Fighting 69th was filmed at Warner Brothers' Calabasas Ranch location, which doubled as Camp Mills, the regiment's training base, various French villages, and numerous battlefields.[2]


The plot centers on misfit Jerry Plunkett (James Cagney), a tough talking New Yorker who displays a mixture of bravado and cowardice. Caught up in patriotic fervor when the US enters WW1, he proves to be a coward in battle. The chaplain, Father Francis P. Duffy (Pat O'Brien) attempts to reform Plunkett. Sgt. "Big Mike" Wynn (Alan Hale, Sr.) loses both his brothers in action due to Plunkett's blunders. Major Donovan ultimately orders Plunkett to be court-martialed. While awaiting execution, his jail cell is destroyed by a German shell, freeing him. He then sees Father Duffy ministering to several wounded troops, urging them to keep their faith and have courage. Shamed and inspired by Donovan's forbearance, Plunkett runs to rejoin his unit at the front. Coming across a mortar whose crew had almost all been killed, he forces the only surviving crewman, Sgt. "Big Mike" Wynn, to show him how to operate it. He then uses it to save his entire unit. Finally he sacrifices his life to protect "Big Mike" by covering a grenade with his body.

While Jerry Plunkett was a fictional character, Father Duffy, Major Donovan, Lt. Ames, and Sgt. Joyce Kilmer were all real members of the 69th. Many of the events depicted (training at Camp Mills, the Mud March, dugout collapse at Rouge Bouquet, crossing the Ourcq River, Victory Parade, etc.) actually happened.



John T. Prout, an Irish American, former Captain in the regiment and Irish Army general, was the movie's "technical advisor".[3][4]

Priscilla Lane was initially cast as one of the soldiers' girls back home, but the part was cut prior to production. No female characters are seen in the film.


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