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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
Louis B. Mayer was loathe to greenlight the film as he felt (largely correctly) that Civil War pictures never made money. He also disliked it because it had no marquee names or female roles. He only agreed to the making of the film because he was pursuing John Huston to direct Quo Vadis (1951), a film that Huston ultimately dropped out of. See more »
The drilling and action center around one platoon. While the platoon did exist in Civil War regiments (as half of a company), in practice it was rarely used. Units quickly lost enough personnel due to illness (if not combat) that companies were the smallest practical unit. See more »
There have been a large number of Civil War movies of every type made over the years. Yet The Red Badge of Courage is probably the best movie of this period, perhaps because it is also the simplest of any of them. It is based on Stephen Crane's great novelette of the same name. It almost makes one think Crane experienced the War himself, but he wasn't born until four years after the end of the Civil War and learned about the feelings of the veterans by reading magazines issued for Civil War veterans when he was in his early 20s. There is also some speculation that he visited veterans at a nearby old soldiers home and asked them about their experiences.
And how could Houston pick a better person to play the lead then Audie Murphy? Murphy was a combat veteran of the greatest war ever fought, and suffered post-traumatic nightmares from it. I fully understand why this great director fought the studio bosses to give Murphy the lead role. Bill Mauldin, a WW II veteran himself, also does an excellent job as the companion of "The Young Soldier."
I've been reading about the Civil War for 44 years and have seen most of the movies on that period, but I am always amazed at how this film captures the emotions and illusions of the millions of young men who fought in it. As a veteran of another, later, war, I can identify with the emotions of the young men depicted here.
The fact that there is very little dialogue (narration is supplied from Crane's book) actually helps the movie convey the mood of the volunteer soldier. And although Murphy plays a Federal soldier, he could easily represent a Confederate.
The movie espouses no side or cause, it is about the individual solider and his personal battle as he prepares to "meet the elephant," as the soldiers of that time called experiencing combat for the first time.
One last remark... the 1974 TV remake of the Red Badge of Courage, with John Thomas, suffers greatly in comparison, in both acting and authenticity.
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