Cast & Crew
In 1943, on the Italian front outside Naples, reluctant but competent soldiers Willie and Joe avoid combat, instead reading pulp comics and taking naps. Meanwhile, Capt. Ralph Johnson picks fresh-faced recruit Albro Allen to accompany him on his first trip to the front. There, Johnson attempts to maintain his by-the-book leadership system, even though the troops are undermanned and under-supplied. He soon learns the folly of his ways, however, when he orders Willie and Joe fire at a nearby German battalion, disregarding their protests. With their position now revealed, they draw heavy fire and are forced to move the whole troop. They traipse to the closest village in an attempt to take it over, but are counter-attacked. After killing several snipers, Willie and Joe stumble into an abandoned bar. Joe finds a bottle of cognac and refuses to leave, and when the bar is bombed, Willie is evacuated and forced to leave Joe behind. Distraught, Willie returns to the camp, where he is teamed with Albro on a mission to determine where the German line starts. They find the Germans' foxholes and are about to turn back when Albro impulsively throws a grenade at the Germans and the two are attacked. They finally make it back to camp, where Willie hears that Joe has been found and transferred to a Naples hospital. Eager to retrieve his experienced partner, Willie asks Capt. Johnson for long-overdue leave, but is denied. Over the next days, however, Willie demonstrates his "combat exhaustion" by slipping up repeatedly, and is eventually granted leave. He rushes to Naples, but is immediately arrestd by M.P.s, who label his filthy non-regulation clothing as disgraceful. Willie then escapes to the hospital and disguises himself as a doctor to gain entrance into Joe's room. There Joe at first pretends to be badly hurt, but finally agrees to return to the front with his friend. Joe steals a fresh uniform and sneaks out of the hospital with Willie, but in the streets, Joe is robbed by an Italian child, Nino Rosso, and chases him. The chase draws the attention of the M.P.s, who follow the soldiers to Nino's apartment. Inside, Joe quickly forgives Nino when he sees the boy's beautiful older sister Emi. He flirts with her until the police rush in, and when Willie and Joe try to escape through the back room, they unwittingly expose Poppa Rosso's bootleg cognac mill. Everyone is arrested, but only the still-unkempt Willie is chastised by Maj. Lester, who commiserates with Joe about Willie's appearance and then calls the front to complain. His call is transferred to Col. Akeley, who condemns Lester for harassing his hard-working men and orders them released. Outside, Willie is furious with Joe for agreeing with Lester, and Joe begs his forgiveness by promising that he will accompany Willie to the front without delay. Moments later, however, Joe sees Emi, whose father is being held in jail, and stops to comfort her. The three go to a bar together and hours later emerge drunken and emotional. They sleep at Emi's, but when Willie awakens he is angry to discover that Joe has left to attend court all day with Emi. Willie chases him to the court, where they are both convinced to testify on the behalf of Poppa, who is on trial for bootlegging. During the trial, Willie points out that the police have not presented any physical evidence of a crime, and the judge is forced to throw out the case. As they are saying goodbye outside court, however, they notice a truck full of black market Army supplies in Poppa's driveway, and Joe insists that they drive it to the front to relieve their fellow soldiers. As soon as they leave the city, they are spotted by M.P.s and chased through the Italian countryside until they finally run out of gas. Maj. Lester arrests them, but when he puts gas in the truck and orders Willie and Joe to drive it back to Naples, they escape and race to the front. German soldiers see the truck, followed by scores of police cars, and assume they are being attacked. Soon after, Col. Akeley, who is desperate for supplies, is told that the Germans are mysteriously retreating. When Willie and Joe then pull up with the truck, he puts all the M.P.s to work in his troop, demotes Maj. Lester and decorates Willie and Joe, who find themselves filled with renewed fighting spirit.
Roger De Koven
M. Sgt. Wilfred E. Anderson
Leslie I. Carey
Alfonso E. Falanga
Russell A. Gausman
Joan St. Oegger
Kenneth Tobey (1917-2003)
Born in Oakland, California on March 23, 1917, Tobey originally intended to be a lawyer before a stint with the University of California Little Theater changed his mind. From there, he went straight to New York and spent nearly two years studying acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse, where his classmates included Gregory Peck, Eli Wallach and Tony Randall. Throughout the '40s, Tobey acted on Broadway and in stock before relocating to Hollywood. Once there, Tobey soon found himself playing a tough soldier in films like I Was a Male War Bride and Twelve O' Clock High (both 1949); or a tough police officer in Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye and Three Secrets (both 1950). Such roles were hardly surprising, given Tobey's craggy features, unsmiling countenance and rough voice.
Needless to say, no-nonsense, authority figures would be Tobey's calling for the remainder of his career; yet given the right role, he had the talent to make it memorable: the smart, likeable Captain Hendrey in The Thing From Another World (1951); the gallant Colonel Jack Evans in the "prehistoric dinosaur attacks an urban center" genre chiller The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953, a must-see film for fans of special effects wizard, Ray Harryhausen; and as Bat Masterson, holding his own against Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957).
Television would also offer Tobey much work: he had his own action series as chopper pilot Chuck Martin in Whirlybirds (1957-59); and had a recurring role as Assistant District Attorney Alvin in Perry Mason (1957-66). He would also be kept busy with guest appearances in countless westerns (Gunsmoke, Bonanza, The Virginian) and cop shows (The Rockford Files, Barnaby Jones, Ironside) for the next two decades. Most amusingly, the tail end of Tobey's career saw some self-deprecating cameo spots in such contemporary shockers as The Howling (1981); Strange Invaders (1983) and his role reprisal of Captain Hendry in The Attack of the B-Movie Monsters (2002). Tobey is survived by a daughter, two stepchildren, and two grandchildren.
by Michael T. Toole
Kenneth Tobey (1917-2003)
Is there *no* discipline up here?- Capt. Johnson
Yes, sir!- Cpl. Miller
Get down lower!- Willie
I can't get no lower, Willie, my buttons is in the way.- Joe
The film's title card reads: "Bill Mauldin's Up Front." Cartoonist Bill Mauldin was an American infantryman in World War II and was sent to the Italian front in 1943. There, he published his "Willie and Joe" cartoons, sardonic depictions of the life of a soldier, in the Army's Stars and Stripes magazine. After winning the Purple Heart, Mauldin was released from duty and went on to write editorial cartoons for other American newspapers. In 1945, his "Willie and Joe" cartoons were compiled into the book Up Front, upon which this film was based. One specific illustration from Up Front won the 1945 Pulitzer Prize. According to an April 1951 Newsweek article, twenty-one of Bill Mauldin's "Willie and Joe" cartoons were used in the movie.
A March 1949 Los Angeles Times article reported that International Pictures had bought Up Front before the studio merged with Universal, and that Universal-International planned to produce the film in the fall of 1949. The article stated that Richard Goldstein was to produce, Al Lewis to write the screenplay and William Bendix to star, with Donald O'Connor as a possible co-star. An August 1949 news item, however, stated that Leonard Goldstein had been named as producer and a writer would soon be assigned. According to July 1950 Hollywood Reporter news and gossip column items, Van Heflin and Jack Carson were considered for lead roles.
Actors Darren Dublin, Harry Guardino and Carol Varga made their feature-film debuts in Up Front. Star David Wayne was borrowed from Twentieth Century-Fox to appear in the film. A June 1950 Hollywood Reporter item states that Frank Marlowe, Karl Lukas and Royal Dano were tested for roles in the picture, and additional Hollywood Reporter news items add Larry Keating, Harry Cording and Alvin Hammer to the cast, but their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Additional news items list Susan Cabot and James Flavin as part of the cast, but they were not in the final film. A November 1950 Hollywood Reporter item mistakenly names George Sherman as director of Up Front.