Two lovers in a small town in Maryland are torn apart by the Civil War--she is loyal to the south while he heads north to join the federal army, determined to protect the Union. Eventually ... See full summary »
Two lovers in a small town in Maryland are torn apart by the Civil War--she is loyal to the south while he heads north to join the federal army, determined to protect the Union. Eventually his unit arrives in his hometown and he is reunited with his lover, but things aren't the way they used to be. Written by
North and South and a Family Representing Each Are Dramatically Intertwined
Only one of producer Thomas Ince's Regal releases for P.D.C. bore his name, Barbara Frietchie, which entered theaters to acclaim. Del Andrews had begun preparations on the venerable property in September 1923. Barbara Frietchie is an ode to America and its history, opening in 1620 with the disembarking of the Pilgrims from the Mayflower. A series of tableaux leads through the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, the opening of the west, up to President Lincoln. Some of these scenes are from previous films Ince had made or now owned.
At Frederickstown, Maryland, home of the Frietchies, the father, a veteran of the Mexican War, raises the flag of the United States every day. Yet he and daughter Barbara also regard themselves as Southerners first. For Florence Vidor in the title role, Barbara Frietchie offers another magnificent lead provided by Ince. The Fitch play, from John Greenleaf Whittier's poem, had been inspired by a real person, who was actually an elderly woman at the time of the Civil War.
Brother Arthur Frietchie (Charles Delaney) and his friend William Turnbull (Edmund Lowe) are returning from their West Point graduation. No sooner has William made his long-planned proposal of marriage to Barbara than news arrives of the declaration of war, sundering the nation and the couple. Her family supports the secessionists, while he will fight for the Union, and Colonel Frietchie (Emmett King) takes down the American flag. Hence the conflict of the Civil War in Barbara Frietchie analogously divides one nation and family.
A year later, William returns leading the Yankee forces attacking the outnumbered Confederates in Frederickstown. From the Frietchie home the battle resembles a fireworks display, appropriate considering that the underlying seriousness of the war has barely begun to be felt. Despite her father's objection, Barbara and William plan to wed the next day in Hagerstown.
Again the war separates the couple, however, for that very town is to be the sight of a major battle, the central action sequence of Barbara Frietchie. Similarly, the hitherto amusing Gelwek and Greene, who escaped prison to turn traitor and join the south, now become serious as they are part of the sharpshooters positioned to fire on the Union invadersand they are aiming for revenge on William. Arthur sees William shot in the battle and takes him in his arms, then back to the Frietchie home. Barbara must convince her father, in another emotional confrontation, to take William into his home.
The complexity of the war and its involvement with family and honor spirals with an order to search the home, Gelwek steps forward to deny that William is there, and Colonel Frietchie obtains an order from General Stonewall Jackson that negates Colonel Negly's instructions. Jack, jealous of Barbara's devotion to William, tries to kill him.
For William's sake, she decides to fly the Stars and Stripes he loved so well from her balcony as Jackson parades by victoriously. (This echoes a scene in Silent Heroes -- Broncho, 1913 -- Ince's last Civil War short, in which from the same height a father denounced the townspeople who had accused his dying son of cowardice. Similarly, Ince's The Battle of Gettysburg the same year had woven together the story of a family split by the Civil War, following the convention of a southern woman whose lover fights for the Union but whose brother is a Confederate.) The crowd begins to jeer her and hurl threats for spoiling their celebration, but Jackson warns that anyone who harms a hair of Barbara's head will die like a dogthus cementing the esteem for both sides in the conflict, and echoing the poem that had served as the basis for the Fitch play. However, Jack, marching by, shoots Barbaraand his father must carry out Jackson's order on his son. Barbara, apparently dying, crawls to William's bedside.
This is where Barbara Frietchie should end, as Variety noted, but instead a classic Hollywood coda is in store, despite the dramatic crescendo. William's eyes open, and Barbara revives, and with the peace of Appomatox the flag is raised once more. As the nation heals and returns to life, so too is there a re-birth of the couple representing north and south. A double wedding follows for William and Barbara, and Arthur and Sue (Gertrude Short, who has provided comedy relief throughout). The grandchildren of the protagonists are united in fighting for their nation in the Great War, with the spirit of Lincoln superimposed over the image of battle.
Running eight reels, well over 90 minutes, this was a near-epic production, with a cost of $174,979, as I reveal in my Ince biography. The facade of the pillared administration building of the Ince studio, and its surrounding grounds, were liberally used for exteriors of the antebellum mansion as well as a southern village and military camp. Lambert Hillyer and Agnes Christine Johnson adapted the play, and the Motion Picture News commented that Hillyer, also "the director, has brought out the full force of the conflict that tore the nation asunder." Barbara Frietchie was retitled Love of a Patriot for its release in England.
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