Valley Forge (1975 TV Movie)
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Ohio born Baseheart plays the father of his country with the reserve and a sly sense of irony and humor worthy of Washington even if Baseheart falls considerably short of Washington's reported height of 6 feet.
The Revolution is an underplayed topic in theatre. In fact I came across this film by accident; I had failed to find this film not withstanding years of research into the topic. Comparable films: Scarlet Coat, Revolution, April Morning, The Patriot
On a bleak winter day at Valley Forge, Washington's starving soldiers risk a brutal flogging and perhaps even execution as deserters, as they tie up one of their own officers and leave camp without permission to stage a foraging raid to steal food from the nearby British army. Meanwhile, Washington is being betrayed by the treacherous and incompetent General Horatio Gates, who wants to replace him. He's even being undercut by the Continental Congress, which deliberately sends the army rotten food in an attempt to weaken it and force the army and its commander into submission. The economy is in tatters, Washington is informed, and America's important businessmen aren't making any money due to the war. Said businessmen have therefore bribed or cajoled the Congress into forcing Washington to accept a British offer of armistice, one that will end both unfair taxation and the dream of American independence with it. Ending the war will allow the country to get back to the business of making money.
The Congress's strategy is successful, for Washington sizes up his military situation as hopeless and he agrees to meet British General Howe to discuss the armistice. But when Washington discovers the food-stealing mission everything changes. After being informed of the huge food stores his "deserters" have filched from the enemy, Washington realizes the food will save his army, if only temporarily. He refuses to sign the armistice and returns to his struggling army determined to fight on.
Did America's fledgling Continental Congress purposefully send rotten food to Washington's army in an effort to force the war to an early close? Was George Washington ever ready to sign a peace treaty that would have denied independence to America and kept its citizens subjects of King George? I don't know the answer to either question, but given the circumstances Washington and his army faced anything is possible. The point this movie makes is that fighting the British and the elements were hard enough, but Washington faced far more obstacles, like mutinous generals and disreputable, treasonous elements within the Congress.
At any rate, this is a riveting drama that makes palpable the suffering of America's first freedom fighters and the life-and-death decisions they were forced to make. Richard Basehart is superb, though a bit vertically challenged as Washington, while Michael Tolan, as his subordinate and Harry Andrews as General Howe offer fine support. Also good are a very young John Heard and Edward Hermann as duplicitous Continental Congress emissaries and Christopher Walken as a Hessian officer and potential turncoat. They don't make too many movies like this any more (an exception is the excellent "Crossing the Delaware," starring Jeff Daniels as Washington) and fortunately I taped this one long ago. I hope it will air again for the benefit of those who can appreciate a historical drama done with a fine cast and a wonderful sense of time and place.