A group of Confederate prisoners escape to Canada and plan to rob the banks and set fire to the small town of Saint Albans in Vermont. To get the lie of the land, their leader spends a few ... See full summary »
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A group of Confederate prisoners escape to Canada and plan to rob the banks and set fire to the small town of Saint Albans in Vermont. To get the lie of the land, their leader spends a few days in the town and finds he is getting drawn into its life and especially into that of an attractive widow and her son. Written by
Jeremy Perkins <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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The Only Film about the Confederates Secret Operations of 1864
There was a time that if you mentioned the Civil War in motion pictures, you could name four or five titles: BIRTH OF A NATION, ABRAHAM LINCOLN (both by D.W.Griffith), SO RED THE ROSE, THE GENERAL, and GONE WITH THE WIND. There were other films (THE PRISONER OF SHARK ISLAND about the assassination of Lincoln and Dr. Mudd's martyrdom). But no films touched upon the major battles as such - until the 1950s. In 1951 John Huston filmed THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE. The Stephen Crane novel is fiction, but the battle it chronicles (according to Crane) was Chancelorsville (May 1863). The next time an actual battle was filmed would be the "Shiloh" segment in John Ford's HOW THE WEST WAS WON. Ford (who also had done THE PRISONER OF SHARK ISLAND) did THE HORSE SOLDIERS, based on the raid by Col.Benjamin Grierson into Mississippi in 1863, during the Vicksburg Campaign. Aside from a reference to it in THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON (where Errol Flynn, as George Custer, led a charge of some importance), Gettysburg did not become a film until the 1990s, when Ted Turner made a pretty accurate film of that battle from the novel THE KILLER ANGELS.
The only film, aside from these, dealing with a land battle of sorts in the Civil War that dates from the 1950s is THE RAID, with Van Heflin, Richard Boone, Anne Bancroft, and Lee Marvin. Curiously enough it is also the only American film dealing with the savage turn in Confederate strategy that appeared in 1864. That year a raid had occurred on Richmond, led by Col. Ulrich Dahlgren, a Northern soldier (his father was an important Admiral). Dahlgren was killed, and the Southern leaders claimed papers found on him actually showed that Jefferson Davis and his cabinet were to be murdered by the raiders. Lincoln and the Northern authorities denied this (the controversy about the "Dahlgren" Papers lingers to this day). But Confederate strategy began to formulate fifth-column activities, such as sending infected clothing to northern cities to start epidemics, setting fire to New York City (in November 1864), seizing a warship on the Great Lakes, destroying Northern railroads, planning an insurrection in the Midwest with Copperhead leaders, and attacking towns in New England and the Midwest from Canada. The raid on St. Albans in October 1864 was one of the few planned activities that came off without any real hitches, and surprised the North disagreeably.
The raiders were centered in Montreal and Toronto, and crossed the border into Vermont where they attacked and robbed the banks in St. Albans. One civilian was killed, but the raiders managed to cross the boarder back into Canada safely. However, the Canadian authorities (under pressure and threats from the U.S. government) kept the Confederates under close confinement for months. No further raids could be attempted.
THE RAID fictionalizes well this story, giving it's leader (Heflin) a conflict between his attachment to Bancroft and her son (and his friendship with the citizens of the little town) and his duty to his Confederate government and comrades. In the end he follows his duty, and his last look back at the burning town, as he reaches the boarder, is the realization that he can never hope to see what he has given up again. Besides Heflin's fine performance, Richard Boone (currently gaining his television fame as Paladin on HAVE GUN, WILL TRAVEL) is excellent as a Northern veteran with one arm, who is pitied and somewhat despised by his neighbors and Bancroft. He turns out to be the only one in town to return fire on the Confederates, and gains back the respect that his crippling injuries had briefly lost for him. In all, it is a worthy little film, and shows how a curious little anecdote can sometimes blossom into a decent movie.
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