SO RED THE ROSE is King Vidor's quietly affecting Civil War romance, starring Margaret Sullavan as a Southern aristocrat, the mistress of a Southern plantation, whose sheltered life is torn...
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SO RED THE ROSE is King Vidor's quietly affecting Civil War romance, starring Margaret Sullavan as a Southern aristocrat, the mistress of a Southern plantation, whose sheltered life is torn apart by the War between the States. During the war's darkest days she is sustained by her love for a distant cousin, a Confederate officer, played by Randolph Scott. Written by
Based on a novel by southern author Starke Young, So Red The Rose preceded that other southern perspective Civil War novel Gone With The Wind into both print and cinema. There are many reasons why this film never became the classic that Gone With The Wind became, but at least it didn't glorify the Ku Klux Klan like Birth Of A Nation.
The reason why Gone With The Wind enthralled so many people is that it both sustained interest for an almost four hour running time and created an incredible amount of interesting supporting characters, the movie and novel is definitely not just about the four leads. So Red The Rose never was able to do that and it's the difference between a reasonably good film and a screen classic.
The action centers around the Bedford family of Mississippi and it opens just before the firing on Fort Sumter. Walter Connolly is the head of the Bedford clan and wife Janet Beecher, daughter Margaret Sullavan, sons Harry Ellerbe and Dickie Moore. Ellerbe has a guest in Texas boy Robert Cummings. And there's distant cousin Randolph Scott, distant enough for Margaret Sullavan to get interested in. Remember the President and First Lady at the time also had the same last name and were fifth cousins before they married.
Scott's part is a combination of elements of both Rhett Butler and Ashley Wilkes. Like Butler he's reluctant to get involved in the war, but not for Butler's practical reasons. He has friends and relatives in the north and does not relish the idea of a Civil War like Wilkes. But later after the war hits home he rallies to the Confederacy.
The treatment of the slavery issue is what makes most people dislike So Red The Rose and Margaret Sullavan's scene where she talks the slaves into not rebelling and leaving the old plantation. Listen carefully to what she does say if you watch the film. She concedes absolutely that slavery is at an end, but when Sullavan argues and quite persuasively, you're free as soon as the Union Army arrives to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation, but free to do what? It's not like the promised land immediately arrives, freedom means that you are free to work for yourself or for wages. She raises issues that the USA was unable to grapple with during Reconstruction for a whole lot of reasons. In fact the plight of the slaves is dealt with more in So Red The Rose than in Gone With The Wind and better dealt with than in Birth Of A Nation.
In a recent book on Margaret Sullavan author Lawrence Quirk said that Sullavan at one time or another tried to get things going with Randolph Scott, Bob Cummings, Charles Starrett and Johnny Downs who were all in the cast. Rumors were flying so about what was happening off the set that Sullavan's then husband William Wyler asked his colleague King Vidor to step in to which Vidor politely and firmly decided he was not getting involved in any cast member's personal business. Sullavan could be difficult to work with.
She also was not crazy about Randolph Scott either as actor or the fact he declined her offers and maybe one influenced the other. Now Scott was not as good here as the Randy Scott we knew later on in his classic westerns, but as a Virginia born southerner he fit his role fine. Margaret decried his lack of historical knowledge, but from what I've heard about Randolph Scott his favorite reading was the financial page in the newspaper. He invested shrewdly and became one of the wealthiest actors in Hollywood.
So Red The Rose tanked at the box office leading cynical Paramount executives to call it So Red The Ink. The movie-going public just wasn't ready for a Civil War epic. But seen today it isn't as bad as its reputation would have it.
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