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In Shenandoah, Virginia, widower farmer Charlie Anderson lives a peaceful life with his six sons - Jacob, James, Nathan, John, Henry and Boy, his daughter Jennie, and his daughter-in-law and James' wife Ann Anderson. Charlie does not let his sons join the army to fight in the Civil War that he does not consider their war. Jennie marries her beloved Lieutenant Sam, but they do not have a honeymoon since Sam has to return to the front. Charlie's youngest son Boy is mistakenly taken prisoner by soldiers from the North so Charlie rides with his sons to rescue Boy, while James and Ann stay on the farm. It is time of violence and war, and tragedy reaches the Anderson family. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
It is intriguing how some comments confidently classify "Shenandoah" (1965) as an anti-war film and others see it as pro-war propaganda (insert Vietnam here). The anti-war advocates must be basing their position on the film's similarity to "Friendly Persuasion" while the propaganda pundits appear to have been influenced by the fact that screenwriter James Lee Barrett would write the script for "The Green Berets" a couple years later. But given that the screenplay was written in 1963 and actual production completed by late 1964, it is unlikely that Vietnam (pro or con) was much of a factor. National consciousness was a couple years away from regarding that little adventure as something of real significance.
I think the real strength of "Shenandoah" is that it maintains the same kind of uneasy neutrality that the Anderson family holds to throughout the film. It shows good and bad people on both sides as the family attempts to just distance themselves as much as possible from the conflict. That they are not entirely successful in doing so hardly sends a clear message of either pacifism of patriotism.
Director Andrew V. McLaglen's films are some of the least political you are likely to find, the exception being his frequent focus on strong women. In "Shenandoah", neither Charlie Anderson (James Stewart) nor his six sons are a match for daughter Jennie (Rosemary Forsyth). The father-daughter dynamic purposely gets a disproportionate amount of screen time as Jennie is shown to be the child most like the father and the only one who routinely stands up to him. This merits the most attention if one is looking for subtle political messages in the film.
Stewart is the only cast member with more screen time than Forsyth. Her romantic scenes with Doug McClure are also first rate, with a touch of comic relief as you begin to realize that he has little idea what he is getting himself into. And their reunion scene at the prisoner of war train is handled extremely well.
Civil war buffs will generally enjoy this film as it presents the war from the (until then unprecedented) point of view of a southern family who did not buy into the frenzy for secession in 1861 and remains resolute even as their property is overrun with union troops. It wouldn't be until "Cold Mountain" that another film would present the reality of a not so united southern home front. Eastern Tennessee and western Virginia remained pro-union, and Winston County, Alabama seceded from the state and attempted to stay in the union.
Of course the buffs will find many inaccurate historical details. At one point the doctor mentions losing a son the year before at Gettysburg, yet much later Carter notes that the besieged troops at Vicksburg are eating rats (the Gettysburg battle ended the day before Vicksburg surrendered). And just after Jennie drives away the federal procurement agents with a single shot rifle, the family rides off equipped with the latest lever action models.
Like McLaglen's "The Rare Breed", "Shenandoah" is somewhat of a chick flick, making it a novelty among historical action adventure films.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
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