It was unmistakably a night to pay homage to duty, honor and country, not to mention the enigmatic man who made famous that West Point credo and several other patriotic rallying cries that have neither died nor just faded away.

Radio City Music Hall was flag-drapped and filled to capacity Wednesday night for the world premiere of "MacArthur," the 21-gun film biography of the old war eagle produced by Hollywood's Frank McCarthy, who warmed up to the task by filming "Patton."

From the first strains of stirring martial music, piped through loudspeakers for the crowds arriving on Sixth Avenue, to the last glass-hoisting chorus of "It's a Long Way to Tipperary" at a Waldorf-Astoria banquet later, the patriotism was unmuted and unembarrassed.

To begin with, a contingent of West Point cadets marched smartly into the theater in columns of four, barely noticing a tiny knot of demonstrators with placards warning that "'MacArthur' is Pentagon war propaganda - jobs at home, not wars abroad."

The cadets were preceded by a parade of celebrities from the world of politics, military society and entertainment: Henry and Nancy Kissinger, Frank Sinatra and his wife, Barbara, John Eisenhower, Gen. William Westmoreland and Gregory Peck, who played the title role.

There were also Mary Lasker, Gov. Hugh L. Carey, Mayor Abraham D. Beame, astronauts Frank Borman and "Buzz" Aldrin, Claudette Colbert, former New York Mayor Robert F. Wagner and Gen. Andrew Goodpaster, West Point Class of "39 and now superintendent of the Academy.

If the throngs of celebrity-watchers outside had any preference between the military and the political-social set, they didn't show it then.

But inside, after the Radio City symphony orchestra finished its medley of John Philip Sousa marches and the West Point color guard had paraded the colors, the divisions of contemporary political attitudes - a legacy of the tumultuous Vietnam era - began to surface.

The Hawks drew first blood when Beame, recalling MacArthur's memorable Broadway ticker-tape parade in April, 1951, after his stormy feud with President Truman over broadening the Korean War, said, "New Yorkers will never forget."

Then, in an unusual dichotomy of emotional expressions, the audience began exchanging loud conflicting judgments on the various political sentiments advanced in the movie's dialogue.

MacArthur's vitriolic damnation of civilian meddlers in military policy-making moved the $50-a-seat orchestra section, where the cadet corps and most of the members and guests of the sponsoring New York West Point Society were seated.

But when Truman, played by Ed Flanders, contemptuously wondered if "his majesty" Douglas MacArthur wanted to lead the U.S. into World War III during the Korean conflict, the $8 balcony seats exploded into counterpoint applause.

(The cheaper tickets were sold at the box office without invitation, all as part of a fund-raising benefit for the West Point Society, which promotes programs to prepare military academy candidates for admission and which supports cultural and educational programs for which government funds are not available.)

Again, when MacArthur bridled against the Communist menace or spoke fleetingly of possible presidential aspirations or the political demise of Franklin Roosevelt, his cheering section in the orchestra came to life, while the balcony fell silent.

It wasn't nearly so open an audience outpouring of favoritism as that in support of Sylvester Stallone's fight scene in "Rocky," one premiere guest observed, but it came fairly close.

Through it all, Peck struck a seemingly neutral pose, mindful, perhaps, that the audience of 5,000 represented the first time since a World War II "Bundles for Britain" show that Radio City was completely sold out for a benefit performance.

For Peck, the premiere was a long way from his days as a Vietnam war dove and a prominent member of Richard Nixon's White House "enemies" list, and from his role in supporting civil disobedience by producing the sympathetic and controversail film about the Berrigan brothers, "The Trial of the Catonsville Nine."

At the 900-seat banquet later, as helmeted military policemen stood guard at the entrances and during which guests admired a glass-cased display of MacArthur's World War II medals, Peck referred obliquely to his past anti-war views.

He said he began the film with the "usual liberal prejudices" against MacArthur, but that as he read more deeply into the general's life, his attitudes changed.

"This man inspired love, hate, adulation and a whole spectrum of human imagination . . . I think we have to reconsider our prejudices. I know I have," Peck said.

He said his reading of controversial aspects of MacArthur's life, including his role in the court-martial trial of Gen. Billy Mitchell and his action against the Depression-era Bonus Marchers, led him to a more balanced view of the complex war hero. "I hope people enjoy a reappraisal of this period of history," Peck said.

Clare Booth Luce, who reportedly convinced producer McCarthy to read several books about MacArthur and who ultimately was responsible for his decision to produce the movie, also presented a eulogy to MacArthur's military genius, as well as his colossal ego. She observed that the general had been known once as "Little Napoleon of Luzon," but was loved by the Philippine peoples.

The movie, not surprisingly, drew favorable reviews from the military brass who attended.

Typical of the reaction was that of Maj. Gen. Raymond Murphy (ret.), athletic director of West Point, who called it "a great historical movie. It showed up a lot of fine things about MacArthur that you never hear much about."

Cadets who were asked about the film were unanimous in their praise of the movie and of Peck, and a few showed up at the Waldorf dinner with playbills seeking the star's autograph.

Lt. Col. Jere Forbus, who was West Point's project officer on the Universal Studios film, said, "I have an idea he (MacArthur) may have been a little more flamboyant that the movie showed - a little more brooding and moody. But it was a fine history lesson of that era." And he noted, it was "excellent P.R." for the military academy.