Upon the United States entry into World War I, the first American units to arrive at the front in France are veteran Marine companies, one of which is commanded by Captain Flagg, along with his lieutenants, Moore and Aldrich. Flagg has developed a romantic relationship with the daughter of the local innkeeper, Charmaine, and resumes their relationship after returning from the front. However, he lies to her and tells her he is married when she wants to come with him on his leave to Paris. Replacements arrive and their lack of discipline and knowledge infuriate the captain. But he is expecting the arrival of a new top sergeant, who he hopes will be able to train them properly. However, when the sergeant arrives, it is Quirt, Captain Flagg’s longtime rival, and their rivalry quickly re-ignites.
Flagg leaves for Paris, and while he is away, Quirt begins to romance Charmaine. At the same time, another of the new arrivals, Private Lewisohn, begins a romance with a young woman of the village. When Flagg returns, he is approached by Charmaine’s father, Whiskey Pete, who expresses concern over his daughter’s relationship with Quirt. Flagg becomes angry, as Quirt has moved in on other girlfriends of Flagg in the past. But he sees this as an opportunity to get even with Quirt once and for all, by using Pete’s concern to force Quirt to marry Charmaine, taking him off the market once and for all. As the wedding approaches, the unit receives orders to move back to the front lines. Flagg sees an opportunity to add insult to injury by not informing Quirt of the impending deployment, until after the wedding, which would mean sending Quirt into battle immediately after the ceremony.
As he sets up Quirt’s wedding, Flagg is approached by Lewisohn, who wants to marry Nicole Bouchard, a local girl he has known for eight days. Flagg convinces him to wait. General Cokely visits the unit shortly before deployment, promising Flagg that if they can capture a German officer, he will allow the company to retire from the front, as well as giving a week’s leave to Flagg. Flagg’s surprise is spoiled, and Quirt refuses to marry Charmaine, offering Flagg the choice of taking him into battle or sending him to headquarters to be court-martialed. Flagg realizes Quirt’s value in battle and takes him to the front lines.
At the front, Flagg’s attempts to capture a live German officer lead to the death of Lieutenant Moore, after which a wounded Aldrich goads Flagg and Quirt in attempting to capture the officer themselves. On their way behind enemy lines, they both realize they love Charmaine, which once again re-heats their rivalry. The two do manage to capture a German colonel, but as they are bringing him back to the American lines, they are hit by a German barrage, killing the colonel and wounding Quirt. Quirt taunts Flagg with the fact that he will be going back to the village first, giving him the first shot at Charmaine. Right after he leaves for the base hospital in the village, Lewisohn brings a German lieutenant he has captured to Flagg. The joy is short-lived however, as Lewisohn is almost immediately killed by a German barrage after handing his prisoner over.
Flagg calls Cokely to tell him of the officer’s capture, only to have Cokely renege on his pledge to withdraw Flagg’s company from the front. As Flagg leads his Marines deeper into enemy territory, Quirt begins to woo Charmaine. Before the two can marry, Flagg returns from the front, confesses to her that he is not married, and proposes to her. Charmaine cannot decide between the two men, leading to a fight between them. The two decide to play cards for the right to marry Charmaine. Flagg wins, after bluffing Quirt, but before he can marry Charmaine, Sergeants Lipinsky and Kiper arrive and let Flagg know they have been ordered back to the front. After initially balking at the order, Flagg realizes he cannot desert his men.
As the Marines move out, Flagg tells Kiper that he has been discharged, and that he has kept the discharge hidden from him for over a year. Rather than become angry, Kiper slings his weapon over his shoulder and joins the Marines marching out. Quirt, meanwhile, can stay behind, due to his injury, but he also picks up his rifle and joins his company.
- James Cagney as Captain Flagg
- Corinne Calvet as Charmaine
- Dan Dailey as 1st Sergeant Quirt
- William Demarest as Corporal Kiper
- Craig Hill as Lieutenant Aldrich
- Robert Wagner as Private Lewisohn
- Marisa Pavan as Nicole Bouchard
- Max Showalter as Lieutenant Moore (as Casey Adams)
- James Gleason as General Cokely
- Wally Vernon as Lipinsky
- Harry Morgan as Sergeant Moran (uncredited)
- Tom Tyler as Captain Davis (uncredited)
- Paul Fix as Gowdy (uncredited)
- Henri Letondal as Cognac Pete (Charmaine’s father)
Ford had directed the play in Los Angeles in 1949, with John Wayne in the lead, and had hoped to cast Wayne in the film.
James Cagney originally agreed to do the picture because it was supposed to be a musical. However, by the time he learned that Ford had decided to shoot it as a straight film, it was too late for him to back out.
The working title of the film was Charmaine, and was originally slated to star Micheline Prelle in the title role.
Barry Norton played the role of Private Lewisohn in the 1926 original. He has an uncredited role as one of the priests in this remake.
Marisa Pavan, the twin sister of Pier Angeli made her screen debut in this film as Nicole Bouchard.
The film is a remake of the 1926 film also titled What Price Glory?, directed by Raoul Walsh and starring Edmund Lowe, Victor McLaglen, and Dolores del Rio. Walsh also made a musical version of the film three years later, when sound films emerged, The Cock-Eyed World, again with McLaglen and Lowe playing the same characters, but featuring Lili Damita. In 1929 and 1931, Walsh directed Lowe and McLaglen in the same roles in two sequels, titled The Cock-Eyed World and Women of All Nations, respectively. A third sequel, Hot Pepper, with McLaglen and Lowe again reprising their roles and involving a woman named “Pepper” portrayed by Lupe Velez, was directed by John Blystone.
The film received lukewarm reviews upon its release, which can be summed up in this quote from The New York Times review of August 23, 1952: “…despite some heroics and the monumental rivalry of its principals, a swiftly moving but not an especially distinguished offering.”