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Olivia de Havilland,
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During the Civil War, a young man enthusiastically joins the Union army thirsting to find glory and honor, but his first battle opens his eyes to the reality of how un-glorious and dishonorable war really is.
Plot centers around how a young recruit (Audie Murphy) faces the horrors of war. Character vascilates between wanting to fight and doubting his own courage. In midst of first bloody encounter, Youth runs away. After seeing dead and wounded, sense of shame leads him back to his unit, where he distinguishes himself in the next battle. Having overcome his fear of "the great Death" he knows e can face whatever comes. Somewhat sentimental "coming of age" tale was pet project of John Huston, who fought MGM over casting of Murphy and Bill Mauldin in lead roles. Written by
Early in the film, Henry Fleming ('Audie Murphy') is shown writing a letter to his family. The date at the top of the letter is 10 September, 1862. This makes the battle depicted in the film either Turner's Gap, South Mountain, Maryland, on Sept 14; or Antietam Creek (Sharpsburg), Maryland, on Sept 17. Scholarship generally agrees that the battle in the novel is more like Chancellorsville, Virginia, May 1863. The novel never names a place or gives a date. One year after the publication of the novel, Stephen Crane had a short story entitled "The Veteran," published in McClure's magazine. In the story Henry Fleming is an old man telling the story of his first battle in the Civil War. There Fleming identifies the battle as being Chancellorsville. See more »
None of the soldiers is wearing the proper cartridge box which would have been slung over the shoulder and which had a round "Eagle" breastplate. See more »
Wives, dogs, and chestnut trees - the more you beat 'em the better they be.
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I can't understand why this movie isn't more well known or why it doesn't get more critical applause. Well, I suppose it's in black and white, it's short, it has no expensive bankable stars, and no love interest. I can't think of any other reasons, because this is a very good movie indeed. John Huston's direction is outstanding, while still being understated. When he was uninterested, Huston could do a merely pedestrian job. But he must have been interested in "The Red Badge of Courage," from beginning to end.
Example from the beginning: a group of soldiers are gathered around a speaker who is spreading rumors about a coming battle, most of their backs turned to us. The camera slowly moves in towards the small crowd, not the speaker, but the backs of the listeners' heads, and one of the soldiers turns around towards the camera and steps quickly into a close up with an expression of deep self-doubt. What a way to introduce Audie Murphy as Henry Fleming! What a way to individuate a mob of naive young men!
Example from the end: Henry and his friend Tom, played by Bill Mauldin, are marching away from the battlefield, still alive, and a bit surprised. Tom says something about how the birds are beginning to sing again, and Henry agrees that as soon as the smoke and noise of battle end it doesn't take the birds long to get worked up again. Henry looks upward over his shoulder, and Huston gives us a point-of-view shot of a hazy sun drifting dimly through the tops of the trees that tower alongside the road. The cast could hardly do better. It is Audie Murphy's best performance by far. In "To Hell and Back," in which he played himself, he wasn't required to do much more than rudimentary acting, and the film itself is cliché ridden. Here, Murphy convinces us that he's worried, or scared, or hijacked by his amygdala, or whatever the situation calls for. His boyish voice is completely appropriate to the role, as is his overall appearance. He seems to have really given this movie some effort. Bill Mauldin as Tom is also surprisingly good. He was undoubtedly the most famous and most controversial cartoonist of World War II and spent a good deal of time with Murphy's Third Division in Italy. He may not be a trained actor, but his sincerity, his gawky face and outlandish ears are more convincing than, say, Tab Hunter's brawn ever was. All of the supporting cast are excellent, particularly John Dierkes as the dying soldier.
Do you want to have your hair raised? Read Steven Crane's original novel. He was 22 when he wrote it, years after the Civil War had ended, but no one would know it from the novel, which has the ring of reminiscence about it. The scene of the dying soldier as he actually dies, standing and trembling from head to foot as if in some Jacksonian fit, is unforgettable in its horror. It's impossible to identify the battle on which the book was based, if indeed there was any.
Let's face facts. The North lost damned near all of its most dramatic battles, and not through the fault of its soldiers or junior officers. (General Winterside's cognomen must have been influenced by the real-life General Ambrose Burnside, for whom our "sideburns" are named. Burnside was one of Lincoln's worst generals and had the good sense and the courage to admit it himself.} The Penninsular campaign, fought under MacLellan, another real hard-charging fire eater, was a dismal failure and ended in an ignominious retreat Crane was from New Jersey and is now buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Hillside, having died a young man. One can only wonder what he might have accomplished had he written more than just two novels. The photography may be black and white but it's splendidly done. I find the only two problems, and they're relatively minor ones, involve the production itself. This isn't back East where the war was fought. This is clearly California, with scattered live oak trees dark and evergreen against the dried summer bunch grass. And the musical score is generic, adding little to the picture aside from the expected Battle Hymn of the Republic and triumphant marches in major keys. A fine picture, all around.
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