A crude man is stuck in a loveless marriage. One day he decides to run away from his life and family. First he finds a mistress, but just because a man runs away from one disappointment, doesn't mean he won't run into another one.
After being framed, a cowboy is sent to jail. After his time is served, he leaves with vengeance in his heart. Soon he meets a young Native American woman and together they go to settle their score with a small town and its corrupt leader.
1968's "Journey to Shiloh" was made a couple years too early to be classified as a "counterculture antiwar" film, it was about the same time as John Wayne's "Green Berets", while most of the country was still solidly behind the war and only barely beginning to waiver.
The story and the theme are virtually identical to a 1959 German film "Die Brucken", in which seven just inducted teenage boys watch as cynical Wehrmacht soldiers evacuate their town ahead of approaching American troops. Full of enthusiasm for the "blood and honor" of patriotic ideology, the seven boys stay to defend a useless bridge. Both films are somewhat unusual anti-war pictures because the enemy is essentially faceless and the theme derives more from the tragedy of easily influenced and manipulated young people.
Aside from the obvious California scenery (which cannot even remotely pass for Texas or Mississippi), the absurd physical miscasting of John Doucette as General Braxton Bragg, and a rather weak battlefield sequence; "Journey to Shiloh" is reasonably accurate historically. I'm from Tom Green County, Texas (just west of Concho and Menard Counties- where the characters are from) and the boys' journey to get into the far away war was not uncommon for West Texas; where young men went to war seeking adventure without much clue what the fight was really about.
Calling these actors "boys" requires considerable suspension of disbelief as most of them were in their mid to late 20's. James Caan is the leader, the story is told from his point of view and he gets the vast majority of the screen time. Other sixties notables in the group are Michael Sarrazin, Paul Petersen, Jan-Michael Vincent, and Harrison Ford (who gets the least screen time-yet would become the most famous).
Interestingly, even the remaining two had their claims to fame. Michael Burns played Benjie "Blue Boy" Carter in the all-time camp classic "Dragnet" episode about the evils of LSD; the drug caused him to paint his face blue (years before Mel Gibson). And Don Stroud's portrayal of Lamarr in "Joe Kidd" might be the finest piece of overacting in cinema history.
Other notables in the cast are Rockford's dad and Ann Sothern's daughter Tisha Sterling. Sterling was an extremely promising actress in the late sixties (and my personal favorite) who in an ideal world would have had a lot more good roles. Here she plays a patriotic southern belle named Airybelle Sumner, who in the film's best scene inspires the boys (men) to fight for the noble honor of the south. They soon learn that her view of the south is somewhat at odds with reality.
"Journey to Shiloh" does not deserve its obscurity. It has its faults but is gripping entertainment with an important message. Considerably better than most films from the time period.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
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