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In 1780 Major John Boulton is recruited by Colonial intelligence as a counterspy who will feign desertion to the British forces. His mission is to discover the identity of an American traitor with the code name Gustavus. Although prominent Tory Dr. Odell suspects Boulton of being a double agent, the spy wins the friendship and respect of British spymaster Major John Andre and, in doing so, discovers that the traitor is none other than American hero, General Benedict Arnold, who is planning to surrender the key colonial position of West Point to the English. Written by
Ironically, the narrator Paul Frees was a spy. According to author Peter Guralnick (in "Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley"), Frees was an undercover narcotics agent for the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs in the 1960s. See more »
"Blow the Man Down" is heard on the soundtrack during a scene involving the man o' war. The sea shanty was composed anonymously in the 1860s, eighty-odd years after the incidents in this film. See more »
A Rarity - a good film about the American Revolution!
I was glad to see that THE SCARLET COAT, after being absent from television for many years, has begun showing up on cable - usually on TURNER NETWORK. It is one of those films that I have referred to elsewhere that once was shown pretty frequently but then vanished from the small screen.
It is not as well recalled as other films about the Revolution - many of which are inferior. People recall 1776 for the solid musical underneath it.
They remember THE DEVIL'S DESCIPLE for Laurence Olivier's excellent (and fun) performance as General Burgoyne, and for the good work of his co-stars Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas. But they remember THE HOWARDS OF VIRGINIA, a dull film from the early 1940s that may be the most mediocre performance in Cary Grant's career. Except for 1776 the other two films have stars in them (1776 had some good character actors, William Daniel as John Adams - repeating his stage performance fortunately - and Howard De Silva as Ben Franklin - even in the small role of Edward Rutledge there is John Cullum singing that fascinating economic lecture "Mollasses to Rum to Slave".). So it goes with all of the other films - Griffith's America does have a diabolic performance of Lionel Barrymore as Walter Butler, the Tory. LAFAYETTE has Orson Welles portraying Ben Franklin (oddly enough nobody thought of making the musical BEN FRANKLIN IN Paris into a film - with Robert Preston in the lead as on Broadway). Robert Stack starred as JOHN PAUL JONES (a movie sunk by a wooden, lifeless script). Even Al Pacino could not save REVOLUTION. As for Mel Gibson's THE PATRIOT, it collapses in his desire to show sadistic British incidents which never happened (if a British Cavalry officer had burned down an Anglican Church with it's parishioners inside in the South in 1780, King George III - who took his being head of the Anglican Church seriously - would have had that officer hung!). A sad list - fortunately there is 1776 and DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK and THE SCARLET COAT.
The conspiracy of Benedict Arnold - Sir Henry Clinton - and Major John Andre is a subject that has only appeared in two movies - and oddly enough both were good. One is the comedy THE TIME OF THEIR LIVES, where Abbott and Costello link their colonial characters to the fate of Arnold's local co-conspirators. However, only the first twenty minutes of the film deal with the conspiracy at all (though the plot hinges on clearing Costello's name of treason charges).
THE SCARLET COAT is a solid dramatic treat, and wisely concentrates on the real tragic hero in the story: Major John Andre. Yes, he was a spy, and had he succeeded American history would have been part of the British Empire for at least another century (Arnold was selling more than control of West Point and the Hudson - Washington and his staff were scheduled to be there on the day the trap would have been sprung). But unlike Arnold (whatever blows he unfairly received after doing such marvelous service for the American cause up to 1777) Andre never betrayed his country - he was fighting for his king and homeland, and thought he was in the right. Michael Wilding makes this point very eloquently in the film's court-martial scene. As a result, the viewer's sympathies (as well as those of Cornell Wilde's character, and all the other characters in the film) remain with the Major even unto death. It is interesting to note that in the 19th Century the Arnold Conspiracy did remain the subject of American drama - but the play that held the boards was not named "Arnold" but "Andre". He couldn't be saved but we still regret what happened to him.
And then there is this 1955 film.
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