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Confederate soldier Frank Winslow is terrified of the war and eventually runs away from battle. But when he finds himself behind enemy lines with vital information, he must decide between his fear and his conscience.Written by
Jim Beaver <email@example.com>
I watched "The Coward" because, as a huge Buster Keaton fan, I wanted to see a movie he'd likely been spoofing bits of in "The General". I don't know how it looked to audiences of 1915, but to a modern audience, "The Coward" often looks like a spoof itself.
Charles Ray portrays Frank Winslow, the stately and handsome son of proud former Colonel Jefferson Beverly Winslow (Frank Keenan). The Colonel is an amiable enough husband, showing his wife genuine affection, but he's a steadfast old soldier as well, with no patience for those who don't eagerly rush off to battle. Frank, more a lover than a fighter, is scared witless at the idea of being cannon fodder. He tries to screw up the courage to enlist, like everyone else is gaily doing, but his nerve fails him and he goes home, confessing his fear to his white-haired mother. Dear old Dad considers this such a blow to the family honor that he pulls out a pistol and makes it pretty plain to Frank that the alternative to being shot at by Yankees on the battlefield is being plugged between the eyes by his father at home.
To say the acting is overblown is understatement. Dad's reactions to his son look more like symptoms of neurological problems than they resemble human emotion -- alternating between clenched-teeth catatonia and a sort of standing petit-mal seizure. If he was a dog, you'd shoot him.
It's fun to see the bits Keaton played with in "The General" -- the enlistment office scene, tossing away the picture of the disgraced young 'un, hiding under the tablecloth, stealing a uniform to sneak past the enemy. It's worth watching for that alone. And some of the affectionate moments between the Colonel and his wife were refreshing. But I'd not give it a second viewing.
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