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It's obvious that Warner Brothers decided to duplicate the success of
Gone With the Wind when they hired Clark Gable for the lead role in
Band of Angels. As Hamish Bond, former slave trader, and now plantation
owner in the Louisiana delta country, Gable is an older and more
worldly wise Rhett Butler. A man deeply concerned about the sins he
committed in this life as a slave trader, living it down as best he
One of his new charities is Yvonne DeCarlo who received one rude shock when her father died. Her mom was black, one of the plantation slaves and she is technically one also. She's not the mistress of her father's plantation, she along with the rest of the property, real and human, is to be sold for back taxes.
Gable buys her and sets her up in his New Orleans home. Also in that house is a young black man named Ra-Ru played by Sidney Poitier. Poitier, in violation of the laws of the time, has been educated. And he's acquired enough education to appreciate the situation he's in. He's got a great hate for his benefactor who he really sees as no different than other, crueler slave holders.
Today's audience which has seen Steven Spielberg's great true film Amistad about the illegal African slave trade, can appreciate far better Gable's dilemma. It's as if the owners of the Amistad grew a conscience. Gable's description of life in the slave trade when he levels with Yvonne DeCarlo is a high point of the film as is his description of the rescue of an African baby who grew up to be Sidney Poitier.
The film does borrow liberally from Gone With the Wind in terms of Gable's character. But it also borrows from Birth of a Nation. Catch the scenes at his plantation on the delta when his slaves greet him and DeCarlo coming off the riverboat. Very much in keeping with that flawed classic. Had Gable done this film at his former studio MGM, I'm sure Ava Gardner would have been cast opposite him. Though DeCarlo is fine, Ava would have made the part a classic.
Actually it's Poitier who walks off with the acting honors here. His Ra-Ru is filled with fire and passion. What Gable thought of as an act of kindness, is not perceived by Poitier as that. He's educated enough to see exactly the institution of slavery for the dehumanizing force that it is. His confrontation with another plantation owner, Patric Knowles, when he tries to force himself on DeCarlo is not something one with the slave mentality would do. Knowles makes a big mistake in assuming Poitier thinks that way.
Actually Patric Knowles has another important scene with Gable after Poitier assaults Knowles and escapes. Gable has no use for him at all. He's originally from New England and doesn't like southern aristocrats as a group. Though Knowles is reputed to be a dead shot as a duelist, Gable faces him down and makes him turn tail in my favorite scene in the film.
Band of Angels did not get the best of reviews at the time it came out. I think it was ahead of its time and can be better appreciated by audiences today.
I saw Band of angels at the Cinemathèque in Paris about thirty years
ago, and yet i have not forget the film. What a splendid melodrama, a
melodrama like Emilio Fernandez "el indio" could do in Mexico, or the
great Philipino author of "Insiang". A melodrama with political flavor.
Of course we are in the United States in the Fifties, and we know
Yvonne DE Carlo will not leave at the end with Sydney Poitier! But the
idea -which is totally possible- of a person with black blood,
appearing totally white, and even ignoring her family links was a good
way to help a white audience realise the cruelty and the insanity of
racism (didn't Upton Sinclair wrote a novell on this theme?). The scene
in the boat where the slave merchant tries to rape Yvonne, and she
commits suicide, films frankly a theme that was not common on an
Hollywood film, the institutionalised rape of afro-American women by
whites. In the same time the scene where she is sold in auction, (and
bought up by Clarck Gable, one the most wanted man of the time), bring
another strange dimension, the s&m one: its no longer filmed
realistically, but like a nightmare or a dream, or a erotic fantasy. We
are no longer in Gone with the wind but in Histoire d'O.
Of course, politically, for today standards, it is quite poor, and Sydney Poitier fight for his share with gusto in a film unable to make anything else than a stereotype. It seems the script didn't knew really what to do for him.
The black Mistress of Gable is better treated by the script: her role is to be remembered. She plays it with great sharpness. Was she a theater actress?
And the style of Hawks, those slow movements of camera, those colors...
You have to put back the film in the context...Its a courageous film. Its a clever film. It a very beautiful film.
Warner Brothers spared no expense in this lavish film production of a young woman of mixed parentage who falls in love with the man who buys her at an auction but denies her racial heritage. Clark Gable dominates the film as an ex-slave trader and plantation owner in the antebellum South. Yvonne De Carlo is the mulatto who becomes Gable's mistress and Sidney Poitier as a proud man who was raised as Bond's son. Gable and De Carlo make an appealing pair in the film but they spend a great deal of time quarreling with each other. Gable has a dark secret about his past that he'd like to forget and De Carlo struggles to accept the truth about her racial origins. Gable later is a fugitive from Union justice for burning crops and stores, thereby risking the hangman's noose. The film's title refers to a newly-formed Union regiment of black soldiers in the waning days of the Confederacy. The film has an excellent music score by Max Steiner, great technicolor lensing by Lucien Ballard and a solid supporting cast.
I don't know how many times I've seen this movie--I've lost count. It's
not a classic like Gone with the Wind, but it's got that kind of
"soapy" feel--like Imitation of Life, Madame Bovary, or Madame X. What
is enjoyable about the film is the fact that it tries like hell to be
politically correct in some areas (e.g. Sidney Poitier prancing about
as if he were Hamish Bond's son, yet he has this love-hate relationship
with him), but doesn't bother to be politically correct in others, with
slaves singing happily (why do slaves always sing in these stupid
movies?) & Dolly (like Prissy from GWTW). It's obvious that the
beginnings of the Civil Rights movement impacted this film to a degree.
Sydney's character has so much attitude that there's no way he would
have really survived in those days, but who cares? He's definitely sexy
in this movie.
Still, with all of its faults, it's an enjoyable movie--just don't take any of it too seriously or as a piece of history in any way. It's just great to see up & coming Sydney the actor with the Clark Gable the legend playing a character similar to Rhett Butler, and for the last time. Yvonne's great, too (who knew she would eventually become Lily Munster?) and the rest of the movie is well-cast. I like the scene when Hamish's old sea buddy comes by, gets drunk, and while the wind & rain is swirling about him he holds up his finger and says "I think there's a wee breeze..." or something to that effect. Clark is just looking at him, smiling, and I just crack up over that part.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The world was full of all colors during the time leading up to the
Civil War in the South
The cry for freedom was in the air like a rising
Slaves have already gone wild on many plantations but not yet on
Pointe du Loup, Louisiana, where it was still serene
Hamish Bond maintains a plantation outside New Orleans At the slave mart he buys a beautiful girl for $5,000 She is the daughter of a supposedly wealthy Kentucky planter After her father's death she discovered he has left her nothing but debts She also discovered her mother was a black slave and that, according to the custom of the time, she is classified of Negro blood and literally sold down the river to discharge her father's debts
Amantha Starr is horrified and degraded at the treatment shea well-bred white girlreceives when she becomes classified as a woman of mixed race
Hamish doesn't relegate the proud dark-haired woman to slave quarters but treats her as a lady in his household, where romance develops Clark Gable plays the New Orleans wealthy gentleman who got a past he'd like to forget He knows better than most men that money is no cure-all He used to think it was He used to think it would open the door to friendship and other essentials more important than power He used to believe it was everything: a drug for loneliness, a painkiller for certain memories, the whole apothecary shop for every problem of life
He bought the attractive Amantha because she was on the slave block Somebody else was bound to bid her on That fellow with laced cuffs putting his hands on her and he hates lace cuffs
Yvonne de Carlo plays Amantha, the lady of quality with Negro heritage She didn't go on her way north, nor she jumped the boat at Pointe du Loup She has suffered, and she always will, with Hamish or without him There always will be the fires, the memories because she loves him, and because he's the only man she ever loved, or ever will
The young Sidney Poitier plays the rebellious ambitious chief slave Rau-Ru who gets off the sidewalk for nobody No constable or paddy roll ever stopped him No steamboat captain ever asked to see his pass Will he feels lucky enough to deliver his boss to the hangman one day?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I'm hesitant to call "Band of Angels" a masterwork or one of Raoul
Walsh's best. I just saw it for the first time and I felt that it could
have been better after all the hoopla and praises I have read about it.
A Warner Bros extravaganza based on the novel by Robert Penn Warren, "Band of Angels" is a grand and episodic Civil War epic, a lyrical love story between a virile slave owner named Hamish Bond (Clark Gable) and half-white, half-black southern belle Amantha Starr (Yvonne deCarlo). "Band of Angels" begins with Amantha as a young girl whose wealthy white father is a recently deceased plantation owner in New Orleans. Shocked and heartbroken, Amantha discovers that she is mulatto and her mother is long departed black nanny. To pay off her family debts, Amantha is forced into slavery. At the auction, Hamish, out of nowhere, buys Amantha, brings her to his mansion and treats her like a lady, regardless of her stubbornness. Initially uncertain, both soon grow into one another and they discover that they can't live without each other. The 30-year-old Sydney Poitier provides good supporting role as Rau-Ru.
"Band of Angels" has a striking Technicolor photography and rich, untamed emotions that are captured by Max Steiner's wistfully searing score. It is a warm nostalgic piece, slightly unfocused at times, but well handled by Walsh, though it is nowhere near his best.
Not a classic but it's worth seeing for Gable, DeCarlo, Poitier, and Max Steiner's music.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Although not American, I do enjoy films set at the time of the American civil war and inevitably come out on the side of the confederates, considering the Yankees or northerners as the bad guys. This film is a rich story, somewhat akin to Gone with the Wind but not as long, shot in gorgeous technicolor with to boot a magnificent music score by Max Steiner which I managed to find on CD though not without some difficulty ! Hamish Bond, personified by Clark Gable is on the Confederate side and I am full of admiration for this character who is full of hidden talents and surprises. On the other hand, Amanda starr's initially betrothed, Seth Parton, is an obnoxious, politically correct character ( the equivalent of todays American "liberal") who thinks that he alone is right and who wants to force his views on everyone else. Sidney Poitier, who I little appreciate in films also has an obnoxious, tiresome, vindictive and ungrateful character, which is difficult to bear, but these minor points apart, the film is excellent, especially in the development of the amorous relationship between Clark Gable and Yvonne de Carlo. I also liked Mr Bond's servant called Michelle who comes over as a very attractive person ( in love with him too, and therefore jealous of Amanda ). There are some beautiful scenes of the Mississippi and the riverboat with the slaves chanting on the banks. I have watched this film over and over for its plastic beauty, for the emotion it distils, for its beautiful music and above all for the fantastic character personified by Clark Gable ! I have for many years lamented the absence of a DVD for this masterpiece but I see now that in the USA at least, one has been programmed for January 2007. The film is known in France under the title "L'esclave Libre" ( The Free Slave ) and is aired fairly regularly on French Television.
This is a better film than history has accorded it, and presents even more reasons to view it today than in times nearer to its production neatly 50 years ago. First, it is a later film directed by Walsh, who made and average of over 2-1/2 movies per year from 1912 to the early 1960's. (Unfortunately, one of his last, "Marines, Let's Go," is one of the greatest wastes of celluloid in the history of the industry, but doesn't obviate the quality and significance of most of his work.) Since this is a Civil War-era film, but made before the defining, sweeping civil rights occurrences, turmoil, and advancements generated by the 1960's - it provides an excellent presentation of the previous approach to this subject. I recall reading sometime back a comment about Walsh's "Tall Men" film, also starring Gable, along with Robert Ryan and Cameron Mitchell - using the now-antiquated term "lusty," in describing the characters and actors in the picture, as well as the types of films often made by Walsh, and those with Clark Gable. Clark, as Hamish Bond, personifies "lusty" in this film, with a CAPITAL "L" - part of the film's depicting quintessential 1950's work. Yvonne DeCarlo is a lovely presence, and while her physical beauty wasn't completely-hidden by her "Munsters" persona, it's pleasing to see her, in plainer view and when she was younger. Sidney Poitier is excellent as usual. but doesn't he always seem as if he is on the verge of grabbing a spear, and leading a horde of natives in storming the southern African British garrison, undermanned and commanded by, say, Jack Hawkins, John Mills or Alec Guinness? Rex Reason, as a union officer, former acquaintance of De Carlo, who turns smarmy when he discovers her in New Orleans, provides a time capsule example for the word "hipocracy." That the plot is one of those is one of those where you can see both the short- and long-term developments coming (right to the film's climax) from the proverbial "mile away," doesn't diminish the enjoyment of this presentation on many levels -- the final being that this is among several of the films Gable made in what was the unexpected end of his iconic career, from a heart attack only a few years following.
It's with some sense of poignancy that, in the late 1950s, the old
guard of Hollywood began to finally fade away. With Band of Angels we
have a middle-aged Clark Gable in one of his last ever archetypal
he-man roles, Raoul Walsh, one of the few directors left who had been
around since the beginning, and John Twist, a writer of adventures and
romances who had started back in the silent era. These men were
professionals of their day, still able to turn out a good production,
and yet it was also clear they were becoming hopelessly out of time.
Band of Angels is one of many pictures from this time to take a stand on racial issues, and yet even by the standards of the time it is a woefully misguided attempt. Rather than using Yvonne De Carlo's situation to demonstrate the horrors of slavery and make the point that a person's colour is skin deep, it seems to present her being branded black as something horrifying in itself. It holds up kindly masters in mitigation of slavery, and even goes so far as to condemn a slave (the Sidney Poitier character) who is ungrateful for this condescending attitude. There's also a full supporting cast of cringeworthy stereotypes including a "mammy" and all the drawling and eye-rolling that cinema had mostly put-paid to by this time. The makers of the movie meant well, I'm sure, but it is clearly a case of old Hollywood trying to do The Defiant Ones while still stuck in Gone with the Wind mode.
And yet there is much to be said for old Hollywood. Walsh's dynamic direction brings an iconic look to scenes like Gable and De Carlo's kiss during the storm. He brings real intensity to the duel between Gable and Raymond Bailey, stealthily moving the camera forward as the two men get closer to each other (a trick he first used in his 1915 feature debut, Regeneration). Despite his age Gable is still very much the virile, eye-catching lead man, and this is a decent performance from him check out the look in his eyes when he slaps his rival at the slave auction. There is also some achingly beautiful cinematography from Lucien Ballard, with some gorgeous Southern scenery and really effective lighting of interiors, achieving a look with candlelight and shadow that was hard to pull off in Technicolor. Band of Angels is, if nothing else, a movie to be enjoyed visually and in this way more than any other harks back to a bygone age.
This film is called " Band of Angels " and with such a title and with Clark Gable as the star, one would expect it to be a motion picture about flying. Instead it's a great surprise to see it is set during the Civil War. Based on the novel by Robert Warren, it tells the story of Amantha Starr (Yvonne De Carlo) an attractive young white girl raised on a southern plantation in a well-to-do fashion. When her father dies, she discovers her wealthy father was in terrible debt and she is sold into slavery, and it is further discovered she is actually the daughter of a female Negro. Fearing the worse, she attempts suicide when she realizes she will be put up for sale at auction. Purchased by Hamish Bond (Clark Gable) a wealthy southern gentleman, introduces her to a fine house and unusual servants. Sidney Poitier is in great form as one sees the early caliber of his acting. Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Rex Reason and Torin Thatcher, make fine additions to this surprisingly good film. Recommended to any who seeks a good movie. ****
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