The Long Gray Line

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The Long Gray Line
The Long Gray Line 1955 poster.jpg
1955 Theatrical Poster
Directed by John Ford
Produced by Robert Arthur
Written by Nardi Reeder Campion
Screenplay by Edward Hope
Based on Bringing Up The Brass: My 55 Years at West Point
1951 novel 
by Martin Maher
Starring Tyrone Power
Maureen O'Hara
Narrated by Tyrone Power
Music by George Duning
Cinematography Charles Lawton Jr.
Charles Lang
Edited by William A. Lyon
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • January 22, 1955 (1955-01-22)
Running time
138 min.
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1,748,000 (estimated)
Box office $4.1 million (US)[1]

The Long Gray Line is a 1955 American Technicolor drama film in CinemaScope directed by John Ford[2][3] based on the life of Marty Maher. Tyrone Power stars as the scrappy Irish immigrant whose 50-year career at West Point took him from a dishwasher to a non-commissioned officer and athletic instructor. Maher was buried there in January 1961.[4]

Maureen O'Hara, one of Ford's favorite leading ladies, plays Maher's wife and fellow immigrant, Mary O'Donnell. The film costars Ward Bond as Herman Koehler, the Master of the Sword (athletic director) and Army's head football coach (1897-1900), who first befriends Maher. Milburn Stone appears as John J. Pershing, who in 1898 swears Maher into the Army. Harry Carey, Jr., makes a brief appearance as the young cadet Dwight D. Eisenhower. Philip Carey plays (fictional) Army football player and future general Chuck Dotson.

The phrase "The Long Gray Line" is used to describe, as a continuum, all graduates and cadets of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. Many of the scenes in the film were shot on location at West Point, including the "million dollar view" of the Hudson River near the parade grounds. The film was the last one in which actor Robert Francis appeared before his death at age 25 in an air crash. His rising stardom had reached third billing behind Power and O'Hara at the time of his death.


The movie is framed as the reminiscences of Master Sergeant Martin Maher (Tyrone Power), who first came to West Point in 1898 as a civilian employee. Arriving from County Tipperary, Ireland, Marty begins as a waiter. When he realizes that enlisted men receive better treatment than do hired laborers, he immediately signs up. Capt. Koehler (Ward Bond), impressed with his boxing skills, wants him as an assistant in athletics instruction.

Marty meets Mrs. Koehler's cook, Mary O'Donnell (Maureen O'Hara), also recently arrived from Ireland. They marry and settle into a house on campus. Marty becomes a corporal, and Mary saves enough money to bring his father (Donald Crisp) and brother (Sean McClory) to America. Mary becomes pregnant, but the baby dies only hours after birth, and Mary learns that she may never have another child. The cadets become the children they will never have. Over time, Marty continues to earn the love and respect of cadets such as Omar Bradley, James Van Fleet, George Patton and Dwight D. Eisenhower. The Mahers grow close to the family of "Red" Sundstrom, a West Point cadet killed in World War I.

Years later, Marty is still at West Point, and James "Red" Sundstrom, Jr. (Robert Francis), along with the sons of others whom Marty had trained, has become a cadet. At the outbreak of World War II Sundstorm confess to Marty that he has {illegally} married his girlfriend which could disqualify him from graduating. {Although his marriage is annulled, Sundstorm resigns from West Point to join the regular U.S. Army} Later, Mary attempts to view one of the parades she so loves, but her health is poor and she is forced to watch the proceedings from her porch. As Marty is fetching her shawl, she quietly dies. On Christmas Eve, Marty prepares for quiet evening but is joined by a group of cadets. Kitty (Betsy Palmer) arrives with Red, Jr., who has earned his captain's bars on the battlefield and wants Marty to pin them on.

The film concludes with a full dress parade in Marty's honor. As the band plays a series of Irish tunes, all the people Marty loves, both living and dead, join the marching cadets on the field.[5]



Variety called The Long Gray Line "..a standout drama on West Point".[6] Bosley Crowther of The New York Times called the film sentimental but a rich and rousing tribute to West Point, and likens Power's Martin Maher to "'Mr.Chips' with a brogue".[7]

Facts vs Fiction[edit]

  • The Movie shows Maher being sworn in by US Army Captain John J. Pershing; in fact although Pershing was a West Point Instructor in 1897; in 1898-1899 he was in Cuba and the Philippines.
  • The Movie shows Maher father and brother coming over to live at West Point-it even has his overage father trying to enlist in the US Army in 1917; in fact Maher father came to West Point but died in 1912; likewise Maher had not one but three brothers who also served in the US Army-one as a Private and two as NCO's.
  • The Movie has Cadet Sundstrom awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor for heroism in World War I-the Sunderstrom stories are fictional- however the part of his infant son being eligible for a West Point Academy appointment when he comes of age is factual. The only West Point graduate to be awarded the Medal of Honor during World War I was Emory Jenison Pike of the Class of 1901, who like the fictional Sunderstrom received the award posthumously.
  • The Movie has Maher appealing to the US President {implied to be Dwight Eisenhower} to stay with the US Army beyond compulsory retirement age; in fact Maher actually retired from the US Army in 1928 after 30 years service; however he stayed on at West Point as a Civilian employee for another 18 years until 1946.
  • The Movie implies that Maher's Wife died during World War II; she died in 1948.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


External links[edit]