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Sweethearts Charles West and Blanche Sweet have fun at an 1861 dance;
then, he and the other men, including Robert Harron, are off to fight
for the Union, in the Civil War. Women and children cheer the departing
throng - but they don't get far, as the war rages just outside town. In
the first conflict, Mr. West becomes panic-stricken, and goes AWOL. He
runs home to Ms. Sweet, scared witless. Sweet is somewhat crazed,
herself, and practically throws him out; obviously, she is ashamed of
her boyfriend. Luckily, he manages to gather his wits, and return to
the front before he is missed. He goes just before being discovered by
wounded Union Commander Charles H. Mailes, who arrives at Sweet's home
to recuperate. On the battlefield, West gets a chance to prove himself,
after a tragic event
Though less than twenty minutes long, this is an "epic" film. The cast of extras is very large; memorably, many of them march by (presumably) G.W. Bitzer's camera as they go off to war. Cheering crowds, and warring soldiers, are all over the screen. "The Battle" is one of the better early films directed by D.W. Griffith. The battle sequences are excitingly staged; and a stagecoach ride thrills. The story of cowardice during wartime is bold; Griffith had just explored the theme with "The House with Closed Shutters" (1910; but, in that instance, Walthall's "cowardly" character had been drinking heavily; West's character is truly stricken by fear. Charles Ray would play a similar coward in 1915.
West and Sweet get a chance to emote and, over-emote. The total lack of understanding Sweet shows West is a little hard to understand; it looks like she may have been playing a little "mad" herself. Probably, Griffith was directing the two to express some extra craziness for entertainment value. Harron is at his usual best. Familiar faces include Donald Crisp as the Union soldier first in line, to the left, when West joins up; and, look for Lionel Barrymore steering the stagecoach just after Harron expires on the battlefield.
****** The Battle (11/6/11) D.W. Griffith ~ Charles West, Blanche Sweet, Robert Harron
This picture, well named "The Battle," has in a more than ordinary degree that pleasing Biograph characteristic of throwing the spectator into the very heart of things before the first hundred feet have run their course. No need of the title to tell us that we are standing on the threshold of the great war between the North and the South. Every inch of film throbs with life; the ardent spirit of patriotism, that in those memorable days flamed up in every heart, the young soldiers so gay and so brave, the matrons and the maidens, sorrowing and cheering by turns. All these are moving and breathing in the first scenes on the screen. Scarcely have we absorbed the martial rhythm of the picture when we are hurried into a battle with stirring incidents and varying fortunes, ending after anxious moments of dreadful suspense in the victory of the North and the union of a very real and human pair of lovers. The picture is about a thousand feet long, but so intense and natural is its fascination, that at the end we could only realize that it was all over by a special effort of the will. The plot is exceedingly simple, but it is a simplicity full of art. How the audience will welcome this picture for its utter freedom from that clap-trap and commonplace, which are the bane of so many "military" and "historical" dramas on the silent stage. The hero is unconventional enough to be frightened out of his wits when he, a raw recruit, hears the roar of cannon and sees comrades falling by his side. He incontinently takes to his heels, as many a brave soldier has done before him at the first sight of the bloody horrors of war. Possessed with an insane fear, he runs to the house of his sweetheart, near which the battle is being fought. The girl, at first moved to laughter by the altered aspect of the gallant warrior of a few weeks ago, at last feels that unconquerable hate and loathing for a coward which nature has planted deep in every woman's breast. She shows her disgust in a violent outbreak and orders the man she had promised to marry when she believed him to be brave, out of the house. He is still insensible to shame and at last climbs out of the house through a window. The battle, which in the meantime had begun to grow warm, here comes to a temporary standstill, for the Northern general in command has been severely wounded and he has ordered the firing to cease. In the confusion succeeding to the notes of the bugler, the young soldier has recovered the control of his nerves and rejoins his comrades without being suspected. The conflict gets hotter and hotter, as the signal is given for a resumption of the fight. Both sides are well entrenched and fight with desperation. The grouping of the soldiers in the trenches, their unremitting fire, the martial fury of their officers are shown with realism that produces a perfect illusion. The wounded general, who has been taken to the house of the sweetheart, where he still gives commands and directs the battle, orders his men to hold the trenches at all costs. The struggle is both stubborn and brilliant and as yet the chances seem even, when the cry goes up in the Northern ranks: "No more ammunition!" In this perilous situation the young soldier, who before had run away, but now is most eager to make amends, volunteers to go through the lines of the enemy to request from General Grant either reinforcements or ammunition. Grant has no men to spare, but fits out a few wagons filled with ammunition and provides them with a scant escort to be taken to the hard-pressed Union ranks. This maneuver has not escaped the Confederates, however, who set fire to the bushes on the road where the powder wagons must pass. Several of the wagons are wrecked through the heat and the sparks of the fire. At last only one remains. The driver is shot to death on his seat, when the young soldier grips the reins and in the face of mortal danger brings the powder wagon through the burning road. The Confederates in the meantime observing the enemy's fire slacken and rightly guessing that this is due to a lack of ammunition, advance to the attack, while the Union soldiers are preparing to receive them with the bayonet. At this critical juncture, the much-needed powder wagon comes and the Union troops succeed in repulsing the Confederate attack. The young soldier, who has brought victory out of defeat by his heroic daring, receives the grateful words of his commander and what he prizes no less, the hand of the girl, whose faith in his manhood and courage is fully restored. "The Battle" is a perfect picture in a splendid frame. - The Moving Picture World, November 4, 1911
Battle, The (1911)
*** (out of 4)
A Union soldier (Charles West) loses his nerve during his first big battle and runs of to his girlfriend (Blanche Sweet). She, embarrassed by him being a coward, throws him out so to regain his dignity he decides to cross enemy lines and rescue a couple friends (one played by Robert Harron). This is perhaps Griffith's best known Civil War short because the word "epic" belongs here even though the films run under twenty-minutes. While the stories might be the most important thing to many war shorts from the director that's not the case here because God knows how much money they spent on the battle sequences, which feature hundreds of extras as well as some pretty explosive scenes. The battle scenes are certainly the main reason to watch this and you could say these were a blueprint of what we'd eventually get in The Birth of a Nation. West turns in a very good and believable performance as a young boy who simply doesn't know how to handle the situation he's in. Sweet on the other hand has a strange character to deal with because of how wildly she goes when throwing her boyfriend out. You might also want to look closely for a young Lionel Barrymore playing the wagon driver.
In 1911, the 33 year old Lionel Barrymore was cast in the D.W. Griffith short film, 'Fighting Blood', and then in this film, 'The Battle'. Griffith was 36 at the time, and mobilised Barrymore's career to go into talking Hollywood in the 30's and 40's with James Stewart in 'It's A Wonderful Life'.
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