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Olivia de Havilland,
Fictionalized account of abolitionist John Brown and his six sons who fought to ensure Kansas would enter the Union as a slave-free state. Firmly believing that he was doing God's work, Brown was prepared to use force and violence to achieve his goals. His principal adversary is Martin White who organizes the raid on the town of Lawrence, burning it to the ground. Brown becomes judge, jury and executioner killing five of the raiders. Several of his sons disagree with him and leave. After completing his work in Kansas, Brown continues his quest to end slavery. His fervent belief that violence was the only way to achieve his goal led to his demise, convicted of treason and hanged after the raid on the federal armory in Harpers Ferry. Written by
Just as Raymond Massey set the Lincoln standard for essaying the role of our 16th president, he seems also to have set the standard for playing the fighting abolitionist John Brown. He did this first in Santa Fe Trail where Brown was a supporting character and again here in Seven Angry Men where Brown is the center of the story. While many of taken a run at Abe Lincoln very few have tried to do John Brown. The only other one coming to mind is Sterling Hayden.
Seven Angry Men refers to John Brown and his six sons, three of whom die during the course of Brown's crusade against slavery first in Kansas and then in his raid on the Harper's Ferry Arsenal. His six sons are Tom Irish, Guy Williams, Jeffrey Hunter, Dennis Weaver, and Larry Pennell all of whom had significant careers be it before or after this film. As a subplot there is a romance going between Jeffrey Hunter and Debra Paget whose Northern sympathizing father is killed toward the beginning of the film.
It will be a subject of debate among historians for years as to exactly what Brown's role was. He was a fanatic in a righteous cause, the abolition of slavery in the USA. The struggle over Kansas where Brown first appears was the opening gun of the Civil War. Four years earlier in 1850 the politicians in Washington, DC had thought they had put a damper on sectional feelings with the Compromise of 1850 which for the most part respected the line between slave and free states. But a guy named Stephen Douglas, Senator from Illinois had the brilliant idea of opening the question again to plebiscite. Our president at the time Franklin Pierce signed what was the Kansas-Nebraska Act which did just that. Settlers from the slave and free states poured in and a lot of shooting started. And that's where Brown, his sons, and his followers came in.
Massey as Brown is so dominant in this film that very few others are given much of a chance. Black actors James Edwards and Joel Fluellen have some interesting roles, Edwards as a follower of Brown and Fluellen who is a free black who works as the Harper's Ferry telegrapher.
The film was done by Allied Artists and it might have been better with a major studio. Major studios though weren't quite making films about such controversial subject matter in what was the beginning of the Civil Rights Era in America.
Seven Angry Men is as good a film about a controversial man and his era as you will get.
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