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.
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 (Jeffrey Lynn).
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.
The plot centers on misfit Jerry Plunkett (James Cagney), who displays a mixture of bravado and cowardice. 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. Plunkett is nonetheless returned to duty, as the battalion again goes into the line. Shamed and inspired by Donovan's forbearance, Plunkett redeems himself by fighting bravely. Finally he sacrifices his life to protect his comrades 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".
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.